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U.N. Security Council Must Ease Iraq Crisis
Humanitarian Emergency Should be Focus of Friday Debate
(New York, March 23, 2000)
In a letter sent yesterday, Human Rights Watch and five other organizations asked the United Nations Security Council to take decisive steps to address the humanitarian emergency in Iraq. The letter urged member states to use the Iraq debate scheduled for this Friday, March 24, to address the crisis "in a thorough and transparent manner" and to give priority to fundamental humanitarian and human rights principles in the design and operation of the sanctions regime.
In early January, Human Rights Watch asked the Security Council to lift most restrictions on Iraq's non-military trade and investment while tightening controls on the country's ability to import weapons-related goods. The organization, citing its own extensive documentation of government responsibility for genocide and crimes against humanity, also called for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal to try top Iraqi leaders.
The Security Council scheduled this Friday's meeting to discuss the Secretary-General's March 10 report on the oil-for-food program (S/2000/208). In that report the Secretary-General noted that an "excessive number of holds" continued to impede the relief program and regretted that the sanctions committee, made up of the Security Council member states, had not responded to his earlier request that it provide "written and explicit explanations" regarding holds within twenty-four hours (paragraphs 84 and 87).
The Secretary-General's report cited as an example the hold on a harbor dredger for the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq's major port of entry, an item whose absence makes the offloading of vital food and spare parts slow and inefficient (paragraph 72). "This appears to be an instance where concern for potential dual use lacks balance and a sense of proportion," said Megally, "It makes a mockery of the Council's stated concern for the well-being of ordinary people."
Holds on contracts in the water and sanitation and electric power sectors, the report said, have been a major factor impeding progress in the area of public health, where emergency conditions persist. The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a December 1999 report, said that the oil-for-food program "has not halted the collapse of the health system and the deterioration of water supplies, which together pose one of the gravest threats to the health and well being of the civilian population."
A copy of the joint letter is attached.
Open Letter to the Security Council Concerning the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq
Global Policy Forum
To: His Excellency Anwarul Karim Chowdhury
March 22, 2000
Dear Mr President and other Member State representatives:
We are writing to you to express our deep concern about the commitment in the Security Council to improving the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. We urge the Council, in its March 24 debate on the most recent report of the Secretary-General on Iraq (S/2000/208), to address this emergency in a thorough and transparent manner, to show determination to implement the humanitarian provisions of UNSCR 986, 1153 and 1284 (1999), and to accord the necessary priority to fundamental humanitarian and human rights principles in the design and operation of the Iraq sanctions regime.
Our views are based on our long experience with Iraq issues, and months of dialogue with UN agencies, diplomatic missions and other non-governmental organisations. We believe strongly that humanitarian and human rights principles have been consistently subordinated to political considerations in the Council's approach to Iraq. We fully acknowledge that the Government of Iraq shares much responsibility for the current situation, and continues to pose security concerns. We are convinced, however, that the Security Council, with the support of the Secretariat, must take swift and decisive action to halt and reverse the longstanding humanitarian emergency in Iraq.
Firstly, the Security Council, should mandate the Secretariat to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and should facilitate the greater availability of existing information about the impact of the Oil for Food Programme and the comprehensive sanctions. Towards this end, the Council should authorise a greater degree of transparency and accountability with regard to the decisions and procedures of the 661 Sanctions Committee on Iraq and the Security Council itself.
Secondly, the Council and the Sanctions Committee should encourage and facilitate input and analysis from independent, technical experts from UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations on practical ways of improving the humanitarian situation. To facilitate this, information concerning the humanitarian situation should be disseminated more widely.
Thirdly, the Security Council should hold an open and informed debate, beginning with the March 24 meeting, that acknowledges the link between the sanctions design and the humanitarian emergency. The ICRC has stressed repeatedly that the increase in disease epidemics and the deteriorating health situation in Iraq, is related directly to the disrepair of public services such as water, sanitation and electricity, a situation that is sustained by inadequate finances and the large number of items placed on hold.
Fourthly, the Security Council must recognise that short-term emergency assistance is no longer adequate or appropriate in Iraq, and longer term infrastructure needs and investment must be addressed. The determinants of the public health emergency have changed during the years under sanctions but this has not been adequately reflected in a change in the design and implementation of the humanitarian programme. The Oil for Food Programme has at best halted further deterioration in basic nutritional and health indicators in the Iraqi population, primarily through the delivery of food and medicines. UNICEF has documented that the programme has failed to reverse that deterioration in the Centre/South of Iraq, and that unacceptably high mortality and morbidity rates persist. The health status of the population is contingent upon public services that have now deteriorated to such an extent that they undermine other health interventions. The present humanitarian programme remains a temporary, emergency, relief-driven operation that only partially meets vital needs. It has fostered a culture of dependency and helplessness and isolated a whole generation from the outside world. Inadequate both in terms of financing and in design, it cannot address the current humanitarian needs and priorities of the Iraqi population. If the Security Council continues to insist that the Oil for Food programme remain a short term programme, based on relief supplies, despite evidence of the long term impact of sanctions of Iraq's war-damaged society, the Security Council will not be meeting its human rights and humanitarian responsibilities.
Fifthly, all the humanitarian provisions of existing Council resolutions must be speedily and fully implemented if the Council's stated humanitarian commitment is to retain any credibility. UNSCR 986, 1153 and 1284 have all mandated improvements which have yet to be fully implemented. In part this is because of the Government of Iraq's lack of co-operation, but also because of a lack of consensus within the Security Council. The Council, in UNSCR 1153, recognised that infrastructure repair and a project-based approach was just as critical as the delivery of food commodities to address the unacceptable declines in health and nutritional status. The high number of holds on individual contracts in the electricity, water and sanitation sectors, which often have a wider impact on whole programmes, have clearly undermined the impact of Resolution 1153. Unless pragmatic attempts are made also to implement a cash component in the Centre in order to meet recurrent costs, there will continue to be inadequate training, transportation and service delivery.
Finally, even if all the already mandated changes were implemented, it is doubtful that all the needed improvements could be secured under the current structure of the Iraq sanctions regime. The deterioration in the country's civilian infrastructure is so extensive that it can only be reversed with much needed cash and investment in general infrastructure, and the oil sector in particular. The present arrangement, moreover, unreasonably traps U.N. humanitarian agencies between the demands of the Security Council and the Government of Iraq. A shift to longer term development planning is now vital. This should be combined with discussions of development plans relating to the post-sanctions scenario, particularly with reference to Northern Iraq.
Whilst not ignoring the ongoing security concerns posed by Iraq, the Security Council must do all in its power to protect the fundamental rights of the civilian population. We are therefore compelled to call for a radical redesign of the sanctions regime to make the sanctions more targeted, effective and credible. The current sanctions regime hurts the most vulnerable and fails to touch Iraq's political leaders.
James A. Paul
Attachment: "Sanctions: International Law and Standards"
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