Global Policy Forum

Human Rights Watch Criticizes SC on Sanctions

HRW Press release
September 21, 2000

Copies of the letters to the government of Iraq and the Security Council are attached.

Human Rights Watch today strongly criticized the government of Iraq for refusing to cooperate with United Nations efforts to assess the country's humanitarian situation. In a letter sent yesterday to the government, Human Rights Watch called on President Saddam Hussein to reconsider its stance of non-cooperation.

In a separate letter to the U.N. Security Council, Human Rights Watch criticized the negative humanitarian impact of "holds" placed on equipment ordered for infrastructure repair, and urged the Council to remove sanctions on the import of civilian goods and financial transactions.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a report last week to the Security Council on the current phase of the oil-for-food program, said that Iraq had refused to issue visas to experts he had selected to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions. He also wrote that the government refused to discuss with the U.N. how a "cash component" to the oil-for-food program could allow U.N.-controlled funds to be used to purchase locally produced goods and services.

The same report frequently cited serious problems stemming from protracted holds by the Security Council's sanctions committee on key infrastructure repair items affecting public health. The report underscored the fact that humanitarian relief, no matter how significant, cannot address the overall impoverishment of ordinary people, and noted that many Iraqi families lack the income to purchase basic goods, including fruits, vegetables, and meat products that are available on the market.

"Iraq's stance of non-cooperation is deplorable," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The government clearly does not place a high priority on addressing the vital needs of ordinary citizens." At the same time, Megally pointed out, the Secretary-General's report painted a disturbing picture of a continuing public health emergency. "One key factor in this is the resistance of the United States in the Security Council to making necessary changes in the sanctions regime," Megally said. "It's unfortunate that the major media stories on the report focused exclusively on Iraq's non-cooperation."

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Security Council in early January to advocate restructuring the sanctions on Iraq to minimize the impact on the civilian population by permitting the unrestricted import of civilian goods and investments in the civilian economy.

September 20, 2000

His Excellency Saddam Hussein
President of the Republic of Iraq
c/o HE Dr. Saeed H. Hasan
Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations
14 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10021

Dear President Hussein,

Human Rights Watch is writing to express our regret and dismay concerning your government's refusal to extend requested visas to experts appointed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to address aspects of the ongoing humanitarian emergency in the country. In his September 8 report to the Security Council (S/2000/857) on the operation of the oil-for-food program, the Secretary-General wrote that your government had told his office that it does not intend to cooperate with experts he was appointing to conduct a comprehensive report and analysis of the humanitarian situation, and had refused on two occasions to issue visas to experts authorized to discuss with the government ways that Iraqi oil revenues controlled by the U.N. could be used for the purchase of locally produced goods and services.

The same report does note that teams from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted missions in Iraq in the period under review, and that there were also missions of specialist consultants to report on conditions in the water and sanitation sector and the electricity sector. The report also states that the government "has generally met the requirements of the United Nations for entry visas for international staff involved in the implementation of resolution 986 (1995)." The government's rejection of these two initiatives is inconsistent with this overall policy of cooperation, and will impede efforts to address in a comprehensive way the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions.

Human Rights Watch has urged the Security Council on a number of occasions to commission an independent mechanism to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and to make recommendations to both the Security Council and the government to address that crisis. We therefore welcomed the long-overdue decision in June of the Security Council, in Resolution 1302 (2000) extending the oil-for-food program, to authorize the Secretary General to commission such a study. It has long been our view that this crisis derives in considerable part from the impact of the comprehensive economic embargo on Iraq, and that such an independent assessment would likely support our recommendations for radical changes in the operation of those sanctions in order to minimize their impact on the civilian population.

The second set of visa requests relate to the need, long-stated by U.N. and private agencies working in Iraq, for a "cash component" to the oil-for-food program in order to provide some income to families and communities, and to train and compensate Iraqi workers and professionals in installing and maintaining equipment funded under the oil-for-food program. At present Iraq's oil revenues are controlled by the U.N. and can only be used to pay for humanitarian-related commodities that are imported into the country. A "cash component" provision would authorize the use of some of these revenues to purchase locally produced goods and services as well.

As this latest report of the Secretary-General indicated, "locally produced food items, including vegetables, poultry, eggs, meat and dairy products, have become increasingly available in markets throughout the country. Unfortunately, most Iraqis do not have the necessary purchasing power to buy these foods." A cash-component arrangement would very partially address this aspect of the crisis. The Security Council finally took the first step towards authorizing such a program in Resolution 1284 (1999) by asking the Secretary General to recommend possible operational modalities, given the sharply different views of the government and some members of the Security Council as to who would control and allocate these sums.

On a more positive note, we were pleased to read in the report that bilateral discussions have begun on setting up programs to clear anti-personnel land mines, something the government until recently has been unwilling to undertake. We encourage the government to give high priority to the rapid development of an extensive and effective land mines clearance project.

In conclusion, Human Rights Watch strongly urges your government to reconsider its stance of non-cooperation with the earlier-mentioned initiatives­to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian crisis and to work with the U.N. to establish a mechanism whereby a portion of Iraq's oil revenues can be used for local purchases and hires.

I am attaching to this letter one that Human Rights Watch is also sending to the U.N. Security Council with regard to the Secretary-General's report.


Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division

September 20, 2000

His Excellency M. Moctar Ouane
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Mali to the United Nations
President of the United Nations Security Council
111 East 69th Street
New York, N.Y. 10021

Dear Ambassador Ouane,

Human Rights Watch is writing to you concerning the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, a crisis which derives in considerable measure from the comprehensive economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council. The most recent report of the Secretary-General to the Council on the operation of the oil-for-food program (S/2000/857) notes some recent improvements, but also stresses the continuing emergency situation in the public health area.

While the factors contributing to such a complex emergency situation cannot be reduced to a single cause, the report frequently cites the problem of protracted holds by the Security Council's sanctions committee (the "661 committee") on key items. Regarding the "infrastructural degradation" evident in the water and sanitation sector, for instance, the report states that "in the absence of key complementary items currently on hold and adequate maintenance, spare parts and staffing, the decay rate of the entire system is accelerating."

Concerning the electricity sector, the capacity and reliability of which is crucial to water treatment, refrigeration, and public health generally, the report states that the governorates outside of the capital continue to experience outages of between twelve and eighteen hours a day. A fire this August in the Mussaiyab power station increased these daily outages to up to twenty hours in some governorates. "The entire electricity grid is in a precarious state and is in imminent danger of collapsing altogether should another incident of this type occur," the report states. Twenty-five percent of the electricity sector contracts submitted to the 661 committee, the Secretary-General writes, were on hold.

The report states that there have been some improvements in the health sector but notes the "continuing hold placed on equipment for a computerized stock management system" and characterizes the overall provision of health care and services as one of "steep decline."

In its weekly report for the period ending September 15, the Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP) stated that the total value of contracts on hold in all sectors was $1.97 billion. Many are on what the Secretary-General termed "complementary items"--in other words, holds that often make it impossible to install or operate "central items" already approved and delivered. The negative humanitarian impact of the holds is thus greater than the number of contracts or dollar amounts suggest.

In our letter to the Security Council of January 4, 2000, Human Rights Watch urged the Council to instruct the 661 committee to introduce greater transparency into its deliberations by making available information concerning its decisions and explanations for rejections and holds placed on contract applications. We regret that so far as we are aware no such instruction has been issued, and we have seen no greater transparency in the committee's operations.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Council to establish an independent framework and mechanism for monitoring the humanitarian impact of sanctions imposed under its authority. We were encouraged that in June the Council, in resolution 1302 (2000) extending the operation of the oil-for-food program, asked the Secretary-General to appoint a group of independent experts to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Iraq. We have written separately to the government of Iraq strongly objecting to its refusal to cooperate with this mission, as well as its refusal to discuss modalities of a "cash component" that would allow the use of some of Iraq's oil revenues to pay for local products and services (copy of letter to the government of Iraq attached).

We want to stress, however, that this regrettable absence of cooperation by the government does not diminish the obligation of the Council to monitor the humanitarian impact of the sanctions on Iraqi society. Many sectoral studies by U.N. agencies operating in the country are available, as are the regular reports of the U.N. observation teams and the recent and forthcoming reports to the Secretary-General of experts looking at the sectors of food and agriculture, electricity, and water and sanitation. The findings and recommendations in these reports should form the basis for Security Council action towards meeting serious humanitarian needs.

The recently issued Assessment of the Food and Nutrition Situation technical report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for instance, notes that while existing food rations, combined with market food purchases, have "halted further deterioration in the nutritional situation, they have not by themselves been able to reverse this trend." One factor is that the ration diet is lacking in vegetables, fruit and animal products, including dairy, which are too costly for many families in the markets. The FAO report also notes that "malnutrition is often caused by factors other than those related to food." In particular, poor water supply and sanitation lead to frequent and repeated infections among children. The report concludes that acute malnutrition among children under five has decreased only slightly from the twelve percent recorded in 1995, and that at least 800,000 children under five are chronically malnourished.

The deterioration of Iraq's civilian infrastructure in areas vital to public health remains one of the key impediments to addressing the continuing humanitarian emergency in the country. The other is the impoverishment of the population, which goes to the heart of the sanctions strategy. The Secretary-General's report notes, for instance, that locally produced fruits, vegetables, poultry, eggs, meat, and dairy products are increasingly available in Iraqi markets. "Unfortunately," he writes, "most Iraqis do not have the necessary purchasing power to buy these foods." The monthly food ration represents the largest proportion of most household incomes, and "seventy percent of families barter or sell items in the food basket to obtain other essential goods."

The Secretary-General's latest report underscores the disturbing fact that the impact of the sanctions, notwithstanding the achievements of the oil-for-food program, continues to be felt mainly by ordinary Iraqis. In the light of this, Human Rights Watch is compelled to call your attention once again to the key recommendation we made to you in our January letter: to restructure the sanctions regime in order to minimize its impact on the civilian population, by permitting the unrestricted import of civilian goods and investments in the civilian economy.

We continue to believe that prohibitions must remain on imports of a military nature, and that the government is likely to use its greater access to foreign exchange for prohibited purposes. We believe that there is no way to foreclose that possibility entirely. Indeed, under present arrangements, goods Iraq now imports using foreign exchange from smuggling and other sources enter the country unrestricted and uninspected. Making all imported goods liable to international inspection at Iraqi ports of entry, if undertaken with the same sense of purpose that the international community displayed in monitoring and enforcing the embargo on Yugoslavia in the 1992 - 1995 period, could go a very long way toward preventing Iraqi government acquisition of military and dual-use commodities, especially if this is coupled with continued monitoring of military industries and activities inside the country.

Human Rights Watch strongly urges the Council once again to address in a more satisfactory way the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions it has authorized in Iraq, and to take into account the most basic humanitarian principles when applying coercive measures that affect the well-being of the civilian population. We look forward to an opportunity to discuss these recommendations with you and with the representatives of other Council member states.

Sincerely, /s/

Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division

cc: Heads of permanent missions of Member States of the UN Security Council

For more information, please contact:
Joe Stork (in Washington), 202 612 4327
Hanny Megally (in New York), 212 216 1230
Hania Mufti (in London), 44 207 713 1995

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