Global Policy Forum

We're Punishing Children,

The Australian
January 17, 2001

In an open letter to John Howard, prominent Australians explain why economic sanctions against Iraq should be lifted

Ten years after the start of the 1991 Gulf War, the people of Iraq remain victims of a silent weapon í? comprehensive economic sanctions.

Sanctions had been imposed by the UN Security Council in August 1990 to force the restoration of the sovereignty of Kuwait, but were reimposed after the war by Security Council resolution 687 on April 3, 1991, the primary goals of which were the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the capacity to produce such weapons.

After a decade of suffering by innocent people, and the deaths of children on a scale far exceeding that caused by any military weapon in history, the sanctions continue to bring misery and degradation to all sectors of Iraqi society except their target, the Iraqi Government.

Surveys by agencies such as the UN Children's Fund and an enormous amount of anecdotal information indicate that the impact of sanctions has seen a dramatic increase in infant mortality and morbidity in the general population in Iraq. The scale of the tragedy is not questioned by any humanitarian agency which has reported on the situation. As early as 1993 the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Program reported that the sanctions had virtually paralysed the whole economy and generated persistent deprivation, chronic hunger, endemic undernutrition, massive unemployment and widespread human suffering. The situation has not improved since then.

The oil-for-food program, which began in 1996 to enable Iraq to sell a small amount of oil in order to buy food and medicines, has barely made an impact on the gravity of the suffering. The CARE organisation reports that children, mothers, the aged and sick were all cared for before 1990, but are now dying while the outside world mistakenly believes it has solved Iraq's problems with the much-delayed oil-for-food shipments.

Both former heads of the oil-for-food program, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, resigned from the UN in protest at the effects of the sanctions. Von Sponeck stated: "As a UN official, I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognise as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended."

Halliday refers to the sanctions as genocide. Both men resigned not because of Iraqi Government corruption but because of UN Security Council policy.

The question of Iraq's disarmament is an important one. There is no doubt that the UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) weapons inspection teams were extraordinarily effective in eliminating the vast bulk of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the capacity to produce them. Equally, however, there is no guarantee that such weapons will not be built again. Since the departure of UNSCOM from Iraq in December 1998, such an outcome is perhaps even more likely than previously. As the continuation of sanctions has been ineffective in securing the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, it is difficult to argue that the sanctions are still an essential element in suppressing Iraq's weapons programs. It is important to note also that Security Council resolution 687 of 1991 did not refer only to Iraq's disarmament but to (paragraph 14) the goal of establishing a Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction. It is perhaps even clearer now than in 1991 that the elimination of these weapons from the region is imperative, and yet this essential step towards peace remains neglected.

The Government of Iraq bears enormous responsibility for the welfare of the Iraqi people. Similarly, the UN Security Council bears responsibility for the effects of its own policies. However, as both sides in this dispute refuse to budge, the children of Iraq continue to die. It would not be unreasonable to expect that those nations which claim higher moral standing might take it upon themselves to break this impasse.

While the imposition of sanctions in 1990, and again in 1991, might have appeared at the time the best available instrument of coercion, 10 years later we see that comprehensive economic sanctions have limited effect when applied to such a situation as Iraq. Only the most vulnerable will suffer.

It is time for a change of direction. In particular, it is time to allow the people of Iraq to rebuild their society, to create a future for their children, and to engage with the international community. Economic sanctions should be lifted, but strict sanctions on military materials must remain. And it is time to work for a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

As Australians proudly celebrate our centenary of Federation, we must strive to retain the noble principles which unite us, the principles of justice and a fair go, and to assert our independent standing in the international community. We urge you to review Australia's policy towards Iraq so that it properly reflects our common aspirations for peace with justice for all people, including the people of Iraq.


MALCOLM FRASER Chairman CARE Australia, former prime minister

Rev FRANCIS P. CARROLL Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn

ELIZABETH EVATT AC Former chief judge of the Family Court

DOUG EVERINGHAM Former federal minister for health, member National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament

Rev LEONARD ANTHONY FAULKNER Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide

PETER GARRETT President Australian Conservation Foundation

Professor IAN MADDOCKS Chairman, National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament

Sir WILLIAM REFSHAUGE Patron Medical Association for Prevention of War

CHRIS SIDOTI Former human rights commissioner

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