Skip to main content

Groups Call on Security Council to Address Iraq Humanitarian Crisis

In a letter sent today, Human Rights Watch and five other international organizations and faith groups urged the U.N. Security Council to address the grave humanitarian consequences of the sanctions it imposed on Iraq ten years ago this Sunday.

"The steps the Council has taken to date do not come to grips with the fundamental problem," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "Sanctions intended to block the government's access to foreign exchange have contributed to pervasive life-threatening public health conditions for millions of innocent people. An emergency commodity assistance program like oil-for-food, no matter how well funded or well run, cannot reverse the devastating consequences of war and then ten years of virtual shut-down of Iraq's economy."

The letter noted that U.N. bodies including the Security Council have called for targeted sanctions in the future that minimize impact on civilians, and called on the Council "to apply these recommendations without further delay to the case of Iraq."

"The Iraqi government bears a large share of the blame for the crisis," said Megally, "but in seeking to compel Iraq's compliance on disarmament matters the Council should devise means which directly impact those in power, not the ordinary citizens who already suffer under their repression."

The other groups signing the letter include Save the Children (UK), the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quaker United Nations Office, Global Policy Forum, and the Peace Action Education Fund. This coalition wrote to the Security Council prior to its March 24, 2000 debate on Iraq policy, urging the Council to give priority to humanitarian and human rights principles in the design and operation of the sanctions regime.

In early January Human Rights Watch sent a lengthy letter and memo urging the Security Council to lift most restrictions on non-military trade and investment while tightening controls on Iraq's ability to import weapons-related goods. Human Rights Watch, citing its own documentation of Iraqi government responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, also called for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal to hold accountable those responsible.

A copy of the letter sent today is attached.

Open Letter to the Security Council
Concerning the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq

Global Policy Forum
Human Rights Watch
Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office
Peace Action Education Fund
Quaker United Nations Office
Save the Children UK

To: His Excellency Hasmy Agam
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for Malaysia
President of the United Nations Security Council

Cc: Security Council Member State Delegations

August 4, 2000

Dear Mr President and other Member State representatives:

The approach of the tenth anniversary of the imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq prompts us to share with you the following urgent thoughts. In March our six organisations wrote to the Security Council to urge it to address the humanitarian emergency in Iraq in a thorough and transparent manner. We affirm the positive steps that have been taken so far but remain convinced that additional far reaching steps are desperately needed in order to comply with human rights and humanitarian principles.

We welcome the Council's mandate to the Secretariat to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Resolution 1302. We are hopeful that the Secretariat will, in fact, be able to complete this assessment by November 26 of this year.

We are glad to note the Council's approval of accelerated procedures for contract approval in five sectors. At the same time we draw attention to the fact that "holds" by Council members on pending contracts are still a serious problem. We note that more than a quarter of the holds, in dollar value, are in the electricity sector, which is critical to the repair of the country's public health infrastructure.

We regret that no progress seems to have been made in the discussions underway to build a "cash component" into the humanitarian program in the government-controlled areas. We urge speedy agreement on and implementation of local procurement and disbursement of cash revenues for recurrent expenses. The 30 March 1999 report of the Council's own "humanitarian panel," as well as reports of U.N. organisations in the field such as UNICEF, have stressed the vital need for such a component, and Resolution 1284 (1999) approves its use.

The deterioration in Iraq's civilian infrastructure is so far reaching that it can only be reversed with extensive investment and development efforts. When comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq were extended under Resolution 687 (1991), the expectation of the Security Council and other parties was that sanctions would be in place for a relatively short time. Whatever the extent of Iraqi non-compliance with the provisions of that resolution, the Council must recognise that the sanctions have contributed in a major way to persistent life-threatening conditions in the country, and that short-term emergency assistance is no longer appropriate to the scale of this humanitarian crisis.

A number of United Nations bodies, including the Security Council and General Assembly, have acknowledged the critical need to devise sanctions that are targeted, effective, and credible. Most recently, the 19 July report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council and the General Assembly on children and armed conflict (A/55/163-S/2000/712, section F) stressed the need to protect children from the impact of sanctions. Referring to the "immediate and long-term costs [of sanctions] to children, including the collapse of health and education infrastructures, reduced economic opportunities, increased child labor in informal sectors and increased infant morbidity and mortality", the report went on to note in particular "the suffering of Iraqi children."

It is essential to apply these insights, conclusions, and recommendations without further delay to the case of Iraq, where the continued imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions is undermining the basic rights of children and the civilian population generally. We call upon Security Council member states in the strongest terms to take the further steps that are necessary to protect and advance these fundamental rights of civilians and to address forthrightly the unacceptable discrepancy between the emerging general principles of sanctions policy and the application of sanctions in the case of Iraq.

Mindful of the enormous responsibilities which stand before you, we are,

Yours sincerely,
James Paul
Executive Director Global Policy Forum

Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

John Rempel
Liaison to the United Nations
Mennonite Central Committee

Tracy Moavero
International Office Co-ordinator
Peace Action Education Fund

David Jackman
Quaker United Nations Representative
Quaker United Nations Office

Carolyn Miller
Head of Programmes
Save the Children UK

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country