Global Policy Forum

Russia Seeks Humanitarian Limits on Sanctions


by Thalif Deen

InterPress Service
4 February 1997

United Nations, (IPS) - Russia is challenging the use of U.N. sanctions as a tool to punish countries. All U.N. sanctions should have ''humanitarian limits'' so they do not cause ''unacceptable suffering'' among civilians, Russia says in a working paper released here. Russia says the United Nations should periodically adjust sanctions in light of changing humanitarian situations in a country suffering under a U.N. embargo.

The Russian proposal comes amid strong criticism of the Security Council for continuing sanctions against Iraq that were imposed in August 1990. Under the U.N. charter, sanctions are imposed by the Council, of which Russia is a powerful member, armed with powers to penalise member-states or veto the decisions of other members. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), said last year that some 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of five were dying every month from malnutrition and disease. And in many cases, U.N. sanctions have been blamed for shortages of food and medical supplies.

The Philippines Tuesday called for the United Nations to draw up ''clear, fair, and comprehensive guidelines for the imposition of sanctions.'' ''It should be kept in mind that sanctions were meant to modify a state's behaviour, not to punish it,'' Filipina delegate Maria Ramiro-Lopez told the Committee on the U.N. Charter. She pointed out that sanctions were not only causing devastation to ''vulnerable segments'' in society, but were also economically destabilising innocent, neighbouring countries.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia suggested Tuesday that the International Court of Justice was the most competent body to give an advisory opinion on sanctions and other enforcement measures. ''The Committee should suggest that the U.N. General Assembly request the Court to take that step,'' said that country's Naste Calovski.

In its working paper, Russia is also calling for an exemption from sanctions restrictions of all international humanitarian organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. The Russians also call for ''guaranteed, unimpeded, and non- discriminatory access of humanitarian aid to populations of countries against which sanctions have been imposed.'' The paper says sanctions should not be imposed without time limits, and that new conditions should not be added for ending or suspending sanctions.

Since 1977, the United Nations has imposed sanctions on South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Haiti, Rwanda, Angola, Liberia, Libya, Somalia, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. The only countries currently facing economic embargoes are Iraq and Libya, while military sanctions apply to Somalia, Liberia, and Rwanda.

Graca Machel, author of a study on the 'Impact of Armed Conflict on Children,' has noted that U.N. sanctions have had a devastating impact on women and children. ''Those with power and influence will usually have ways of acquiring what they need, while the general population struggles to survive with what remains,'' said the former First Lady of Mozambique. Machel says economic sanctions often cause resource shortages, disrupt the distribution of food, pharmaceuticals and sanitation supplies and reduce the capacity of the public health system to maintain the quality of food, water, air and medicine.

''While adults can endure long periods of hardship and privation, children have much less resistance, and they are less likely to survive persistent shortages,'' she added. Machel's study also highlights the negative consequences of the 34-year-old U.S. economic embargo on Cuba aimed at the FidelCastro regime. Reports from Cuba, Haiti and Iraq show a ''rapid rise in the proportion of children who were malnourished'' following the imposition of sanctions on all these countries, it says, noting that while economic sanctions are seen as ''cheaper, non-violent alternatives to warfare'', they have proved to be ''blunt instruments.''


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