Global Policy Forum

U.N. Official Resigns over Iraqi Sanctions


By Craig Aaron
November 15, 1998

Denis Halliday had seen enough. A 34-year veteran of the United Nations, Halliday, 57, resigned from his post as U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq in late September to protest the continuation of economic sanctions against the country, which have been in place since 1990. Halliday, who is from Ireland, was in charge of the U.N. "oil-for-food" program, which allowed Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months to purchase basic foods and medicine for more than 20 million people.

Following his appointment in August 1997, Halliday became an outspoken critic of sanctions and succeeded in convincing the Security Council to double the size of the oil-for-food program last February. But after witnessing little change in the widespread malnutrition, mortality and social decay that afflicts the country, he stepped down. Halliday spoke with In These Times from New York.

In These Times: Why did you resign from your post?
Denis Halliday: The conditions in Iraq are appalling. Malnutrition is running at about 30 percent for children under 5 years old. In terms of mortality, probably 5 or 6 thousand children are dying per month. This is directly attributable to the impact of sanctions, which have caused the breakdown of the clean water system, health facilities and all the things that young children require. All of this is just not acceptable. I don't want to administer a program that results in these kind of figures. Sanctions are being sustained by member states, knowing of this calamity. I wanted to be in a position to speak out on sanctions and the dreadful impact that they are having on the people-particularly the children-and the future of Iraq. I want to work with different groups and see if we can come up with some alternatives to sanctions as a means of the United Nations imposing its will in situations where it's required.

ITT: What are the social consequences of sanctions on Iraq?
DH: The traditional Iraqi family has begun to disintegrate. Many of the wage earners are now overseas. Some of them have taken their families, many have not; there are an increasing number of single-parent families, usually headed by women who are struggling to keep food on the table. Women now find themselves driven out of jobs and into menial tasks because they can't afford to do the intellectual type of work for the government, the civil service, universities, whatever. They are turning to sweatshops to make a living.

Iraq enjoyed a very high level of both health and education facilities for its people. These have collapsed, damaged by the war years, but now unable to recover because of a lack of money due to sanctions. A whole generation of Iraqis are not being educated. Among young children the dropout rate is more than 25 percent in the cities. They are turning to begging and street crime, which were once foreign in Baghdad. Crime was unknown here before. Now the city closes down at night because people are no longer secure.

Another area of real concern is the isolation factor. Young people are growing up isolated from the real world, only aware of the anger and resentment around them. It's going to lead to a dangerous sense of alienation from the rest of the world. I don't think we can afford that kind of situation. Some member states seem to believe that this sort of pressure will result in change of government. But that's not likely to happen. Iraqis aren't thinking about democracy. They're struggling to survive and feed their families.

ITT: What actions should the United Nations take?
DH: It has to look at the economic sanctions carefully and understand that they don't justify the ends. Right now we're killing people, we're killing children. Maybe there's a risk in lifting the economic sanctions and having the country run itself-which is what they could do best and do more efficiently-but its needed to get the people up to a level that they were ate 10 years ago and to restore the quality of life, education, jobs and so on that the Iraqi people needed and deserve. They are, after all, innocent of any of the decision making that resulted in the Gulf War disaster.

ITT: Are you hopeful that things will change?
DH: I'M' always optimistic. I think that people are beginning to understand the unacceptable damage that economic sanctions are doing. We are sustaining a program that is killing people, and nothing justifies that in my mind. There has to be some other way. We need a more focused sanctions, perhaps. Undoubtedly the member states will want to sustain the effort of disarmament. In the mean, time, we have no reason not to allow the economy and the people of Iraq to get back on their feet.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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