The following comments are excerpted from a speech delivered on Capitol Hill on October 6th by Denis Halliday, former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, shortly after he resigned his post in protest over sanctions’ devastating impact on the Iraqi people.
“The impact of UN sanctions on Iraq takes many forms. We’ve focused on the appalling figures related to malnutrition in general and the death of children in particular, but there are other implications which are of consequence for today in Iraq and tomorrow in the long term, both for that region and possibly for the rest of the world.
Concerned international organizations have correctly focused on the plight of Iraq’s 23 million people, particularly its children. After eight years of sanctions, high levels of malnutrition and child morbidity and mortality continue. These victims are innocent civilians who had no part whatsoever in the decisions which led to the events that brought on United Nations sanctions in the first place.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed to me only ten days ago that the monthly rate of sanctions-related child mortality for children under five years of age is from five to six thousand per month. They believe this is an underestimate, since in rural parts of Iraq children are not registered at birth, and if they die within six weeks of birth, they are never registered.
There are many reasons for these tragic and unnecessary deaths, including the poor health of mothers, the breakdown of health services, the poor nutritional intake of both adults and young children and the high incidence of water-born diseases as a result of the collapse of Iraq’s water and sanitation system–and, of course, the lack of electric power to drive that system, both crippled by war damage following the 1991 Gulf War.
Many people have questioned the propriety of sustaining Security Council sanctions in the full knowledge of their devastating impact on the children of Iraq. Human rights violations in Iraq greatly trouble many of us. We see a tragic incompatibility between sanctions which are harming innocent children and people of Iraq and the United Nations charter, specifically the convention on human rights and the rights of the child. The incompatibility with the spirit and letter of the charter constitutes a tragedy for the United Nations itself, and severely threatens to undermine the UN’s credibility and legitimacy as a benign force for peace and human well-being throughout the world.
The first significant response to the human cost of sustaining the sanctions was the report of the Secretary General of February 1, 1998, in which Kofi Annan proposed increasing gross expenditures to 5.2 billion dollars per six months, which would have allowed us not only to purchase more food, but to enhance the food basket with animal proteins, minerals and vitamins, all of which are currently absent, and, in addition, to mount a multi-sectoral approach to malnutrition, which was heretofore not viable under 986. [We would have been able to invest] in the totality of needs by putting real money into the health sector for preventative care, and making massive investments in water and sanitation systems, enabling the people of Iraq to have access once again to potable water.
This dream of an enhanced program died almost immediately due to the collapse of oil prices. That’s clearly beyond the control of the United Nations, and now we’re left with a program which [only] marginally improves the UNSC Resolution 986 program, but allows the government to put some whole cream milk and cheese into the food basket beginning next month. It’s moving in the right direction–it’s just moving too slowly.
I would like to address the immediate and long-term social consequences of sanctions. It’s not generally reported, but sanctions have had a serious impact on the Iraqi extended family system. We’re seeing an increase in single-parent families, usually mothers struggling alone. There’s an increase in divorce. Many families have had to sell their homes, furniture and other possessions to put food on the table, resulting in homelessness. Many young people are resorting to prostitution.
The social impact of eight years of sanctions have devastated standards of traditional behavior, evidenced by the collapse of Islamic family values. Sanctions have undermined the children and parents’ mutual expectations of each other. Sanctions have forced the Iraqi people to live with humiliation. Again, the children are the hardest hit. Now they are forced to work to bring money into the family. There’s a school drop-out rate of some 20 to 30 percent. Children are now committing street crime, which was previously unheard of in Baghdad. The incidence of begging is now very common. The drop-out rate will lead to higher levels of illiteracy in a country formerly renowned for maintaining a high standard of education.
In general, there’s a sense of hopelessness and depression. I recently met with trade union leaders who asked me why the United Nations does not simply bomb the Iraqi people, and do it efficiently, rather than extending sanctions which kill Iraqis incrementally over a long period.
In summary, sanctions continue to malnourish and kill. Sanctions are undermining the cultural and educational recovery of Iraq, and will not change its system of governance. Sanctions encourage isolation, alienation and fanaticism. Sanctions destroy the family, undermining women’s social and economic advances and encouraging a brain-drain. Sanctions constitute a serious breach of the United Nations charter on human rights and children’s rights. Sanctions are a counter-productive, bankrupt concept that has led to unacceptable human suffering. And sanctions have an impact on all of us–not those only in Iraq, but those of us outside who need to work with and look forward to Iraq’s re-entry into the international community. I thank you very much, Congressmen.”
This will be published, along with accompanying articles in the next issue of Middle East Research, www.merip.org