Restructure Iraq Embargo, Try Leaders for War Crimes

(New York, January 5, 2000) -- In a letter released today Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations Security Council to tighten controls on Iraq's ability to import weapons-related goods, but lift most restrictions on non-military trade and investment in order to address the country's continuing humanitarian crisis.
In the letter to U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the current Security Council president, and the heads of other delegations, Human Rights Watch also called for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal to try Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The letter charged that nearly ten years of a comprehensive embargo, coming on top of the 1991 Gulf War destruction of much of Iraq's civilian economic infrastructure, has created a public health emergency which the existing oil-for-food program and the resolution passed in December do not adequately address. A memorandum attached to the letter cites field reports by U.N. agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"The most adamant proponents of comprehensive sanctions have always insisted that their quarrel is not with the Iraqi people," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division

of Human Rights Watch. "The time has come to put these words to the test."

Prohibitions against imports of a military nature should remain in place, the group said, as well as end-use monitoring of commodities with military as well as civilian applications.

The letter points out that no embargo, including the existing one, can ensure that Iraq does not get access to prohibited materials. It said that Iraq presently imports without significant restriction goods paid for with foreign exchange earned mainly from smuggling and remittances. It recommended that the U.N. offset the government's increased access to export and investment revenues under these proposed reforms by making all imports liable to inspection at ports of entry.

"The scale of the crisis and the extent of the impoverishment require more than food and medicine and some spare parts," said Megally. "Even with the high level of funding of oil-for-food in 1999, life-threatening conditions still prevail. We agree that the Iraqi government bears a large share of the blame. But Iraq's callous manipulation of the sanctions is part of the reality that the Security Council has to take into account. Instead of being content to put all the blame on Baghdad, as the U.S. government continues to do, the Council has to face up to its own share of the responsibility. Blocking the government's access to foreign exchange is one thing, but choking the entire economy to do so puts the burden mostly on ordinary Iraqis."

The letter also urged the Security Council to implement promptly the recommendations of the "humanitarian panel" it appointed last January. Many of these were part of the omnibus Iraq sanctions resolution adopted on December 17, but require further action by the Council or the sanctions committee. "These recommendations should not be treated as bargaining chips to be implemented only if the Iraqi government cooperates," said Megally. "They are the least the Security Council must do to fulfill its own humanitarian obligations."

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented war crimes and atrocities committed by the Iraqi government, the letter said, and fully supports efforts to constrain and hold accountable those responsible. The group pressed the Security Council to establish an international criminal tribunal, like those already set up for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, to indict and prosecute Iraqi officials for whom credible evidence exists of responsibility for such crimes. The group noted that such a step was entirely warranted on the basis of the evidence it has uncovered, and would help dispel any suggestion that addressing Iraq's humanitarian crisis implied leniency toward the government.

Megally noted that half the non-permanent members of the Security Council have just joined this week, and urged them to promote a fresh approach to the Iraq crisis.

Human Rights Watch said the Security Council had acknowledged back in 1990 its obligation to monitor the humanitarian impact of the sanctions,

but failed to follow through. The group said that an impartial humanitarian body or a special rapporteur should examine the practices of both the Security Council and the Iraqi government that affect the humanitarian situation in the country.

Letter to United Nations Security Council

New York, January 4, 2000
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
President of the United Nations Security Council
Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017 - 3505

Dear Ambassador Holbrooke,

As the Security Council continues to grapple with the question of Iraq's compliance with its international obligations, Human Rights Watch is writing to urge you to take further steps to respond to the ongoing humanitarian emergency there. Resolution 1284, adopted on December 17, 1999, includes some welcome features in this regard, but it by no means addresses the full extent of the crisis. We believe there is a pressing need for additional initiatives in order to reconcile more effectively the enforcement of the objectives articulated in Resolutions 687 (1991) and 688 (1991) with the humanitarian obligation of the Council and its member states to minimize harm to civilians and to ensure protection of their fundamental rights under international law.

The late March 1999 report of the Council's "humanitarian panel" (Annex II of S/1999/356), the Secretary-General's two-year review of the "oil-for-food" program issued on April 28, 1999 (S/1999/481), and the results of the UNICEF survey of child and maternal mortality released in August raise serious human rights and humanitarian concerns. These reports, as well as those from other humanitarian agencies in the field such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, make clear that life-threatening conditions continue to prevail in Iraq, stemming from a pervasive and protracted public health emergency. This emergency is largely a consequence of the destruction of the civilian economic infrastructure in the 1991 Gulf war, repair of which has been severely impeded by the comprehensive embargo on Iraqi exports and imports. Restoration of the civilian economic infrastructure is essential to returning child mortality rates and other public health indicators to the levels and trajectories that existed prior to the embargo and war. Although the "oil-for-food" humanitarian relief program authorized under Resolutions 986 (1995) and now expanded under Resolution 1284 (1999) provides materials for infrastructure repair, as a temporary relief program it does not encompass the planning and investment required to restore Iraq's infrastructure to a level needed to meet the most basic civilian necessities.

As an organization that has extensively documented war crimes and atrocities committed by the government of Iraq, Human Rights Watch is fully aware of the need for strong international measures to constrain and hold accountable those responsible for such crimes. We recognize, moreover, that the policies of the government - its failure to comply fully with Resolution 687, its refusal to implement any "oil-for-food" arrangement between 1991 and 1996, its mixed record of cooperation since then, and its use of scarce available resources for non-humanitarian purposes in order to redirect the consequences of sanctions away from itself and onto vulnerable civilians - have greatly compounded and magnified the humanitarian crisis. It is apparent that the Iraqi government has not complied with its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to use "the maximum of its available resources," including "international assistance," to provide an adequate standard of living and improve living standards.

The past ten years have made clear that the Iraqi government has no intention of making the humanitarian interests of the Iraqi people its first priority. The government's callous and manipulative disregard for its humanitarian obligations is not something the Council can reasonably expect will change. Rather, it is a reality the Council must take into account in deciding the appropriate means for securing the government's compliance with its disarmament demands.

Charges that Iraqi malfeasance and incompetence are entirely responsible for the severity and extent of the humanitarian crisis, moreover, are not credible. The Council should not use the high degree of Iraqi government culpability for the humanitarian crisis to obscure its own share of responsibility. The severe deprivations and widespread pauperization facing the great majority of Iraqis today cannot be dissociated from the unprecedentedly comprehensive and protracted character of the embargo. The Council should not continue the sanctions without substantial modification, in order to address the continuing humanitarian crisis and the inadequacy of the current humanitarian program. In trying to curtail Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction, the Council must devise means that do not aggravate the poverty and suffering of ordinary Iraqis, suffering that the government appears to find tolerable, even useful. In deploying instruments of coercion, including non-military instruments such as an embargo, the Council must be governed by the core humanitarian principle of minimizing threats to life and bodily harm of innocent people who bear no responsibility for the government policies being sanctioned.

Human Rights Watch therefore urges the Council to take the following steps to address Iraq's humanitarian crisis while targeting more directly the military ambitions of the Iraqi government and holding high government officials accountable for well-documented criminal actions: First: Address urgent humanitarian needs by implementing the recommendations of the Council's humanitarian panel promptly and without condition. Some of these have been incorporated into Resolution 1284 (1999), although in a form that requires further action by the Security Council or the sanctions committee. The Council has an absolute duty to address these urgent humanitarian needs without regard to the debate over the most effective way to secure Iraq's compliance with the Council's demands.

Second: Restructure the sanctions regime, so as to minimize its impact on the civilian population, by permitting the import of civilian goods and investments in the country's economy while strengthening prohibitions on imports of a military nature. The damage to Iraq's physical and social infrastructure and the acutely distressed income levels of most of the population will continue to limit the beneficial impact of a program restricted to humanitarian commodities. Third: Establish an international criminal tribunal to try Iraqi government officials and former officials for whom credible evidence exists of responsibility for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, and provide sufficient resources and authority for such a tribunal to discharge its responsibilities. Establishment of such a tribunal, in addition to being entirely warranted in its own right, will help clarify that addressing Iraq's humanitarian crisis does not imply leniency or concessions toward the Iraqi government and responsible officials. Fourth: Instruct the committee set up by Resolution 661 (1990) to oversee the Iraq sanctions (the sanctions committee) to conduct its operations with greater transparency and to monitor closely the humanitarian impact of the sanctions. Until now the Council's steps to meet its acknowledged responsibility to monitor these humanitarian effects have been inadequate. The lack of transparency in the committee's operations, in the context of the ability of a single member to block decisions, has raised legitimate concerns about politicization of the process for addressing humanitarian needs.

Addressing urgent humanitarian needs: Reports from U.N. humanitarian agencies and credible independent organizations such as the ICRC highlight a continuing dire humanitarian situation in Iraq. The humanitarian panel established by the Security Council in January 1999 summarized the information at its disposal as pointing "to a continuing degradation of the Iraqi economy with an acute deterioration in the living conditions of the Iraqi population and severe strains on its social fabric" (para. 43). The panel stressed that while not all of the suffering could be imputed to sanctions alone, "the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war" (para. 45).

The humanitarian panel set out a number of recommendations which in our view constitute the minimum steps required to address the humanitarian crisis. Resolution 1284 (1999) implemented one of these directly and immediately, namely the removal of any dollar ceiling on oil exports, thus allowing increased funding of the Iraq humanitarian program. Such increased funding, however, will be contingent on international oil prices remaining at the level reached in the last half of 1999 and Iraq's ability, given the dilapidated state of its production facilities, to continue exporting oil at its present peak capacity rate of around 2.2 million barrels per day. The resolution does not take on a related panel recommendation to authorize production sharing or other investment arrangements by foreign oil firms that could provide, outside of oil-for-food revenues, the equipment and maintenance needed to rehabilitate these facilities, although it does request the Secretary-General to appoint a group of oil industry and other experts to develop recommendations regarding this proposal within 100 days.

The resolution also encourages states and international organizations to provide "published material of an educational character to Iraq," a step that is vital in order to reduce the extreme isolation of Iraqi educators and health professionals in particular.

The resolution addresses two other key recommendations of the panel, although in a manner that makes their implementation contingent on further steps by the Council or the sanctions committee. First, paragraph 17 directs the sanctions committee to "pre-approve" humanitarian items on the basis of lists to be submitted by the Secretary-General. Such items, once the lists are approved, would be subject to approval by the Secretariat and no longer be required to come before the Sanctions Committee. Second, paragraph 24 requests the Secretary-General "to make the necessary arrangements, subject to Security Council approval," to allow oil-for-food funds to be used to purchase local products as well as to train Iraqi workers and professionals and to compensate them for installation and maintenance of items funded by the humanitarian program. U.N. humanitarian agencies on the ground have for a number of years pressed for the provision of such a "cash component," until now entirely absent in the government-controlled area. Given the sharp politicization that has in the recent past attended the Iraq-related deliberations of the Council and the sanctions committee, and the fact that these proposals have been under discussion for many months, we earnestly hope that both will be implemented without further delay. These recommendations should not be treated as bargaining chips to be implemented only on condition of Iraqi government cooperation. Rather, they are the least that the Security Council must do to fulfill its own humanitarian obligations stemming from this conflict. They embody the assessment of U.N. humanitarian agencies in the field regarding what steps are required to meet vital civilian needs. These recommendations should be implemented independently of other steps the Council may take to secure Iraqi government compliance with the demands contained in Resolutions 687 (1991) and 688 (1991).

Minimizing civilian impact: The humanitarian panel concluded in its report that "the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts" (para. 58). Implementation of the recommendations of the humanitarian panel will build on the achievements of the oil-for-food program in addressing immediate threats to the lives and physical integrity of ordinary Iraqis, but this humanitarian program does not contain the elements of comprehensive planning and economic revival that we believe are essential in order to reverse the dangerously degraded state of the country's civilian infrastructure and social services. Human Rights Watch therefore urges the Council to restructure the Iraq embargo so as to permit the import of civilian goods and investments in the civilian economy, while maintaining strict prohibitions on imports of a military nature.

The Iraqi government has had, and will continue to have, access to foreign exchange from smuggling and from the remittances of Iraqis living and working abroad. This access will certainly increase under the reforms we advocate here. We do believe, however, that a more inclusive monitoring of imports such as we propose can in part address the concern of the Council to prevent the government from developing weapons of mass destruction. There is no way to ensure completely that this greater access to foreign exchange will not be used for non-humanitarian or even prohibited purposes. We would point out that present arrangements under the total embargo also do not foreclose this possibility. The goods Iraq now imports using its existing foreign exchange resources are presently not subject to inspection: only items imported under the oil-for-food program are inspected upon entry, to see that they conform to approved contract specifications. We therefore recommend increasing international scrutiny of commodities entering Iraq, while removing prohibitions on the import of non-military goods and financial transactions.

The key elements of a restructured embargo would include the following: Removal of restrictions on the import of commodities that are not on the List of Dual Use Goods and Technologies and the Munitions List of the Wassenaar Arrangement or on the Schedules of Chemicals of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Continued prohibition of all imports and exports of a clearly military nature. Continued close but transparent scrutiny by the Sanctions Committee of contracts to import items that have "dual-use" applications.

Removal of restrictions on financial transactions involving civilian sectors of the economy, including foreign investments. Making all imported goods liable to international inspection at all Iraqi ports of entry in order to monitor compliance regarding restrictions on military and dual-use imports.

These recommendation would shift the emphasis from seeking to block all Iraqi government access to foreign exchange, and in the process continuing to choke the entire Iraqi economy, to preventing Iraq from importing military and dual-use commodities. We recognize that making all imports liable to inspection at ports of entry would incur substantial expense. This should be funded out of Iraq's export revenues, much as U.N. operations, including UNSCOM, have been funded since 1991. To the extent that Iraq does not permit such inspections in return for lifting non-military parts of the embargo, this proposal would require the consent of Iraq's immediate neighbors -Turkey, Iran, and Jordan. All three countries have, to varying degrees, argued for lifting of the comprehensive embargo, and would reap considerable benefits from the re-establishment of trade with Iraq, even if that trade includes an inspections regime. Any effective coercive measure of this sort involves high costs. Until now, those costs have been borne disproportionately by ordinary Iraqis, to the detriment of their lives and well-being. Our proposal is to focus the sanctions in order to reduce substantially the severe collateral impact on the Iraqi population.

Holding Iraq's leaders accountable: Human Rights Watch urges the Council to establish an international criminal tribunal, such as the tribunals the Council has created to address criminal accountability in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, to examine available evidence regarding the responsibility of Iraq's leaders for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and to bring those responsible to justice. The investigation should include the genocidal 1988 campaign to evacuate the Kurdish countryside, the so-called Anfal campaign, as well as war crimes during the occupation of Kuwait and crimes against humanity that have been credibly reported during the period from the Gulf war up to the present. The Council should provide all necessary resources for the Tribunal to fulfill its mandate in a timely and effective manner.

The Council should also request all countries to cooperate in arresting and bringing to justice in national courts Iraqi officials and former officials who appear within their national frontiers and for whom probable cause of responsibility for such crimes can be established.

Monitoring Humanitarian Impact: Under Resolution 666 (1990), the Council insisted that it alone would determine whether "humanitarian circumstances" had arisen, and instructed the sanctions committee to keep the situation under "constant review." Neither the Council nor the Committee has done this since July 1991, when the Council received the report on humanitarian needs in Iraq from Sadruddin Aga Khan, the Secretary-General's special representative. Those members who have been the strongest proponents of continued sanctions have disparaged reports by specialized U.N. and other humanitarian agencies in the field but have not sought to develop more reliable or accurate accounts. The Notes of the president of the Council on "The Work of the Sanctions Committee," issued on January 29, 1999 (S/1999/92), expressed the consensus of the Council that "sanctions committees should monitor, throughout the sanctions regime, the humanitarian impact of sanctions on vulnerable groups..." In the case of Iraq, this recommendation has yet to be taken up.

Paragraph 28 of Resolution 1284 (1999), which requests the Secretary-General to report on the progress made in meeting humanitarian needs, appears to meet this monitoring obligation only partially. Human Rights Watch strongly urges the Council to establish an independent framework and mechanism for monitoring the humanitarian impact of sanctions imposed under its authority. This on-going evaluation should include in this case an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the U.N.'s humanitarian program, and the problems and complexities associated with that program. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, might be best positioned to carry out such a task. Another approach would be to create a Special Rapporteur whose mandate includes scrutiny of practices of both the Security Council and the government of Iraq as those pertain to the humanitarian circumstances of the population.

While Resolution 1284 (1999) includes several measures to facilitate more timely decisions by the sanctions committee, the Council should also instruct the committee to introduce greater transparency into its deliberations by making available information concerning its decisions and explanations for rejections and holds placed on applications.

In conclusion, we urge the Council to implement this set of recommendations in order to address more satisfactorily the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions regime it has authorized. The United States, the most adamant proponent of comprehensive sanctions, has frequently asserted that "we have never had a quarrel with the Iraqi people," to cite Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's words. But this embargo, unprecedented in its comprehensiveness and now well into its tenth year, has taken an enormous toll on Iraqi lives and had a ruinous impact on Iraqi society. It may be argued that the embargo, because it is not military in nature, does not require strict adherence to international humanitarian law. However, the most basic humanitarian principles must be taken into account in the application of coercive measures that affect the well being of a civilian population. We believe the Council has an obligation to address the question of whether it is appropriate to continue to impose severe hardship and bodily harm on civilians through means short of war that it would be prohibited from imposing in time of war.

I have taken the liberty of also addressing this letter to the New York-based representatives of the Security Council's other member states. We look forward to receiving a positive response at your earliest convenience. As always, Human Rights Watch stands ready to discuss our recommendations with you and with representatives of other member states, and we would be pleased to meet Your Excellency in furtherance of this aim.

Yours sincerely,


Hanny Megally
Executive Director

Enclosure: Explanatory memorandum regarding the comprehensive embargo on Iraq

cc: Heads of Mission of Member States

Explanatory Memorandum Regarding the Comprehensive Embargo on Iraq Humanitarian Circumstances in Iraq

The comprehensive nature of the embargo imposed on Iraq since August 1990, its intensification of the Gulf War damage to the country's civilian infrastructure, and its unprecedented duration have produced a longstanding and serious humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

By 1995, U.N. agencies in the field were reporting that the deterioration of the economy and the country's infrastructure had accelerated to the point that the country was experiencing "pre-famine conditions."(1)According to the 1996 UNICEF State of the World's Children,

The balance sheet of several years of sanctions against Iraq reveals a minimum of political dividends as against a high human price paid primarily by women and children. The food rationing system provides less than 60 percent of the required daily calorie intake, the water and sanitation systems are in a state of collapse, and there is a critical shortage of life-saving drugs.(2)

These were the circumstances when the Security Council passed Resolution 986 in April 1995, authorizing Iraq to sell under U.N. auspices up to $2 billion worth of oil every six months. Thirty percent of the proceeds were designated for the Compensation Commission and four percent to cover the expense of U.N. operations in Iraq, including UNSCOM. Fifty-three percent and thirteen percent of the amount would be available to the government of Iraq and to the U.N.-run humanitarian program in the three autonomous northern provinces respectively to fund humanitarian imports. Iraq entered negotiations on implementation of the resolution in January 1996, and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on May 20 of that year. The first letters of credit were signed in February 1997 and deliveries commenced in late March. In response to reports of the secretary-general concerning the inadequacy of the program, in February 1998 the Council passed Resolution 1153, expanding the oil export ceiling to $5.2 billion every six months, with the same distribution of proceeds. Owing to generally low oil prices, Iraq only met (and in fact exceeded) this ceiling in the most recent sixth phase of the program ending November 20, 1999.(3)

Increased Iraqi access to food, medicines, and other commodities since mid-1998, under the expanded oil-for-food program, has affected the humanitarian situation positively in some areas, while in others it has stopped the situation from worsening or slowed down the rate of deterioration. The cumulative contribution of the program to date has been $9.5 billion in funds available for humanitarian imports in the government-controlled center and south, or $455 per person, and $2.4 billion for the three autonomous northern governorate, or $710 per person.(4) The program contributed greatly toward heading off the famine conditions that appeared to be threatening in 1995. The provision of food has been relatively straightforward, mainly because the U.N. program has utilized the government ration system already in place. The direct provision of food commodities has supplemented the monthly ration basket the government provides to nearly all families, and in the process has lowered the free market cost of rationed and non-rationed foods. A similar situation appears to exist with regard to medicines.

The situation overall, however, remains alarming. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned in May 1999 of the "steady deterioration of living conditions" and stressed that "humanitarian action alone can not be a substitute for the country's needs."(5) In January 1999 the Security Council established three expert panels to report back on the situation regarding disarmament, humanitarian conditions, and missing Kuwaiti persons and property.(6) The second panel, on humanitarian conditions, concluded that "the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts" (para. 58). The panel also observed that "[e]ven if not all the suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of the war"

(para. 45).

The crisis has been particularly acute in the area of public health, putting millions of Iraqis, if not an entire generation, at grave risk. The humanitarian panel noted that communicable diseases that had previously been brought under control "have now become part of the endemic pattern of the precarious health situation" (para. 21). Chronic malnutrition has affected nearly one in four Iraqi children for much of the last decade. UNICEF, comparing the 1984-89 and 1994-99 periods in the government-controlled center and south of the country, found that infant mortality had increased from 47 to 108 deaths per 1000 live births, while child mortality (under five years of age) has increased from 56 to 131 deaths per 1000 live births.(7) This is a rate of increase that is unprecedented. Put simply, children under five are dying at more than twice the rate of ten years ago. Lack of access to sufficient and appropriate food and medicine has been one element, but also crucial has been the degradation of the water and sanitation sectors, contributing to chronic intestinal and acute respiratory infections.

There are no similarly reliable estimates regarding the threat to life that sanctions have posed for other vulnerable sectors of the Iraqi population. Nor have there been any attempts to measure the harm suffered by those Iraqis--the great majority--who do survive beyond their fifth birthday, an effort that would require longitudinal studies of changes in physical well-being, mental capacity, educational achievement, and the like. The humanitarian panel concluded, based on the observations of the agencies in the field, that "almost the whole young child population was affected by a shift in their nutritional status towards malnutrition." One public health expert who has closely studied the Iraq situation, Dr. Richard Garfield of Columbia University, has emphasized that "excess deaths should thus be seen as the tip of the iceberg among damages to occur among under five-year-olds in Iraq in the 1990s."(8)

The devastating impact of the sanctions is largely a consequence of their unprecedentedly comprehensive scope and duration, coupled with the fact that their imposition followed the military campaign to compel Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. This campaign, conducted under the authority conferred by Resolution 678 (1990), included air attacks that crippled most of Iraq's electrical power system. Because of the centrality of the country's electric power grid to water and sewage treatment, the health care system, agricultural irrigation, and other vital civilian areas, these attacks have had grave civilian consequences. The embargo, in turn, has severely impeded the repair and reconstruction of these sectors that together function as a life support system for most of Iraqi society. More than nine years after the war, it is less and less possible to resort to the make-shift repairs and cannibalization of parts that for a number of years enabled the country to keep in operation some of its pre-war stock of generators, transformers, water pumps, and similar sorts of equipment.

This physical breakdown has been accompanied by the devastation of the country's human resource infrastructure. Real incomes and purchasing power of the great majority of Iraqis plummeted, leading many salaried professionals and skilled workers to emigrate or to shift to casual unskilled labor. This systematic "de-skilling" of the population has been aggravated by the severe intellectual isolation stemming from the extension of the embargo to cover professional and scientific journals and books as well as travel outside the country to professional conferences and the like. The damage to the country's physical and human infrastructure and the acutely distressed income levels of most of the population have seriously compromised the beneficial impact of a program limited to commodities alone.

As available funds have increased following the humanitarian program's expansion under Resolution 1153, the 661 Committee has authorized the expenditure of a greater share of funds under the 986 program for the purchase of materials for infrastructural repair, including water and sanitation and electric power sectors, recognizing the critical role of these sectors particularly in addressing rising child mortality rates. Subsequently, the Council, in Resolution 1175 (1998), authorized use of $300 million in both the fifth and sixth phase of the program for rehabilitation of the oil sector, recognizing that this was essential in order to sustain funding for the entire humanitarian program. In October 1999 the Committee declined to act on the recommendation of Secretary-General Annan that Iraq be permitted to spend an additional $300 million on oil spare parts in the current sixth phase, following reported objections by the United States that additional funds generated in the sixth phase should be expended only on humanitarian commodities in the strict sense. Resolution 1284, however, adopted on December 17, 1999, asks the Secretary-General to report on the revenues necessary to meet humanitarian needs and if warranted to recommend additional allocations for oil spare parts and equipment.

The economic siege of the country has contributed directly to the general pauperization of the vast majority of people. The comprehensiveness and protracted nature of these sanctions, now in their tenth year, have had long-term consequences by, in particular, impeding the repair of the country's infrastructure--communication, transportation, education, government services. These generalized humanitarian consequences have radically complicated and limited the possibilities for meeting basic civilian needs under a program restricted to the delivery of commodities. The Secretary-General expressed this in his two-year review when he noted that "there is little experience with the type of problems encountered when the whole spectrum of basic services starts to fail, as is happening in Iraq" (para. 55).

Human Rights Dimensions of the Iraq Embargo

The policies of the government of Iraq have greatly compounded and magnified the humanitarian crisis. These include Iraq's failure to comply fully with Resolution 687; its refusal between 1991 and 1996 to implement any "oil-for-food" arrangement and its mixed record of cooperation since then; and its use of scarce available resources for non-humanitarian purposes--including military purposes as well as palaces and monuments--thereby redirecting the consequences of sanctions away from itself and onto vulnerable civilians. The recent reports of the Secretary-General on the operation of the humanitarian program have criticized the government's excessive warehousing of medicines and failure to order foods specially designed for the nourishment of infants, small children, and nursing mothers, and also noted Iraq's failure to cooperate with the program by routinely not providing government escorts for observer teams, thus preventing them from carrying out their duties. Broadly speaking, it is clear that the Iraqi government is not fulfilling its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to use "the maximum of its available resources," including "international assistance and cooperation," to provide an adequate standard of living and improve living standards.

At the same time, the member states of the Council, given their responsibility to the international community as members, have an obligation not to destroy or undermine the right of people to an adequate standard of living, the improvement of living conditions, freedom from hunger, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The Security Council must share responsibility for the enormous impact of the measures it has imposed on the well-being of Iraq's population. For this reason, we urge the Council to revise the present embargo in favor of a regime that targets specifically the ability of that government to import military and dual-use goods, and lifts restrictions on the import of civilian commodities and on financial transactions broadly, restrictions that have a disproportionately harmful impact on ordinary Iraqi people.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates States Parties, which include Iraq and all members of the Security Council with the exception of the United States, which has not signed the convention, to "take appropriate measures: (a) to diminish infant and child mortality; (b) to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children; [and] (c ) to combat disease and malnutrition including...through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water" (Art 24, 2). While there may be varied interpretations regarding the measurement of such rights as guaranteed by the Convention, policies that in fact promote the deterioration of nutrition and health, for instance, or directly impede their realization, clearly contravene these standards.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in a December 12, 1997 General Comment [E/C.12/1997/8], observed that sanctions "almost always have a dramatic impact on the rights recognized in the Covenant," noting that in addition to disrupting access to items necessary for survival, "unintended consequences can include reinforcement of the power of oppressive elites" and "the generation of huge windfall profits for the privileged elites" (para 3). The Committee further consider[ed] that the provisions of the Covenant, virtually all of which are also reflected in a range of other human rights treaties as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cannot be considered to be inoperative, or in any way inapplicable, solely because a decision has been taken that considerations of international peace and security warrant the imposition of sanctions. Just as the international community insists that any targeted State must respect the civil and political rights of its citizens, so too must that State and the international community itself do everything possible to protect at least the core content of the economic, social and cultural rights of the affected people of that State (para 7).

Our recommendation is consistent with the view of many members of the Council itself. An October 30, 1998, draft of the issue paper of the chairs of the sanctions committee noted that "[t]he decisions of the Security Council to impose sanctions imply the Council's obligation to ensure that proper implementation of sanctions does not result in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and its responsibility to do all within its power for the respect of the basic economic, social, and cultural rights and other human rights of the affected population...."

Human Rights Watch is fully aware of the toll of recurrent and horrific human rights abuses committed by the government of Iraq. For this reason, we urge the Security Council to establish an international criminal tribunal, such as those the Council has authorized for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to indict and bring to justice Iraqi government officials and former officials against whom there is credible evidence of responsibility for acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The tribunal's writ should include the 1988 campaign to evacuate the Kurdish countryside as a site for anti-regime insurgency, in which the government destroyed more than 2,000 villages and a dozen towns, seized every Kurd in the "prohibited area," trucked off an estimated 100,000 civilians for execution, and used chemical weapons against its own citizens. Human Rights Watch has compiled ample documentary evidence, including hundreds of interviews with survivors and witnesses, and carefully reviewed some 18 tons of Iraqi secret police documents. The investigation should also include, but not be limited to, war crimes committed in the invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91, the massive displacement and habitat destruction in the southern marsh areas, and, most recently, the "prison cleansing" campaigns in which more than 2,500 persons in detention have reportedly faced summary and extrajudicial execution.

Reconciling enforcement and human rights

The Council acknowledged its own responsibility to monitor the impact of the sanctions when it insisted, in Resolution 666 (1990), that it alone would determine whether "humanitarian circumstances" had arisen, and instructed the Sanctions Committee established pursuant to Resolution 661 (the "661 Committee") to keep the situation under "constant review." However, neither the Council nor the Committee has done this since July 1991, when the Council received the report on humanitarian needs in Iraq from Sadruddin Aga Khan, the secretary-general's special representative. The Council's response was to pass the first "oil-for-food resolutions, Resolutions 706 and 712, whose provisions were inexplicably far below those recommended in that report.(9) Those members who have been the strongest proponents of continued sanctions have dismissed or disparaged reports by specialized U.N. and other humanitarian agencies in the field and yet have not sought to develop more reliable or accurate accounts. The Notes of the president of the Council on "The Work of the Sanctions Committee," issued on January 29, 1999 (S/1999/92), expressed the consensus of the Council that "sanctions committees should monitor, throughout the sanctions regime, the humanitarian impact of sanctions on vulnerable groups..." (para. 11). Yet in the case of Iraq, this recommendation has yet to be taken up. Paragraph 28 of Resolution 1284 (1999), which requests the Secretary-General to report on the progress made in meeting humanitarian needs, appears to meet this monitoring obligation only partially.

The ability of a single country representative to place an application on hold also continues to be a matter of concern. The secretary-general's ninety-day report dated August 19 (S/1999/896) complained of "a significant increase in the number of holds being placed on applications, with serious implications for the implementation of the humanitarian programme" (para. 101). In an October 22 letter to the President of the Council (S/1999/1086), the secretary-general noted that the number of holds "has continued to increase" and urged the Committee to "undertake an urgent review of all applications currently on hold."(10) In a November 17 statement to the Council, Benon Sevan, executive director of the U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme, noted that 602 contracts worth $1.042 billion were then on hold. Some $73 million worth of contracts on hold in the agricultural sector resulted in the loss of as much as 20,000 tons of wheat production, he said, citing FAO estimates. He also noted that $377.7 million, or 51 percent, of electricity sector contracts from the fourth through sixth phases were still on hold, which could allow Iraq to increase its present power generation capacity by fifty percent. He cited similar concerns in the area of maintenance and safety equipment, and telecommunications. In light of the fact that applications forwarded to the Committee have been determined by the Office of the Iraq Program to comport with the distribution plan approved by the Secretary-General, and in light of the mandate of the Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq to "observe" the end-use of imports under the 986 program, the increasing use of holds, most of them reportedly by the United States, appears to be capricious and unjustified.(11) At the very least, this situation highlights the long-standing need for the Council to address the absence of transparency and the apparently high degree of politicization with regard to the decisions of the sanctions committees.

Human Rights Watch recognizes that we are proposing steps that go beyond addressing humanitarian concerns in the most immediate sense of food, medicines, and spare parts for infrastructure repairs that address acute threats to life and physical integrity. While the oil-for-food program has gone a long way to meet these life-threatening aspects of the embargo, it was never intended to be a development program, and does not contain the elements of such a program. But this is precisely what is needed in order to begin to reverse the dangerously degraded state of essential civilian infrastructure and services in the country.

We therefore strongly recommend that the Council revise the embargo so as to enable the rehabilitation of the country's civilian economy while retaining comprehensive import restrictions for all military goods and rigorous monitoring of "dual-use" materials. We urge that the Council offset the lessened financial oversight of such an arrangement by making all goods entering Iraq liable to inspection at ports of entry, and continuing to monitor their end use. We note that under present arrangements, only those goods imported under the oil-for-food program are subject to U.N. inspection. All other imports, whether contracted by the government or other bodies or persons, and financed primarily through foreign exchange acquired through smuggling or remittances from Iraqis working abroad, presently enter the country without scrutiny. While our proposal would likely result in an expansion of import activity, it also calls for the establishment of a mechanism to inspect imported commodities for the purpose of ensuring that they are not military or "dual-use" in nature, unlike at present.

Our proposal also envisions continued monitoring of the end-uses of imports, particularly those that might be diverted to military use. The duties of the Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq include monitoring the end-use of imported commodities. While additional monitors would be required under the restructured embargo we are proposing, the reports of the Secretary-General indicate that the observation personnel now in Iraq have generally been able to carry out their tasks, despite instances of Iraqi government non-cooperation. So far as we are aware, there have been no allegations that materials imported under the oil-for-food program have in fact been diverted to any significant extent to non-humanitarian purposes over the two-and-a-half years that the program has been operational.

Because of the cumulative and systematic damage to Iraq's civilian economy and civilian infrastructure, the Security Council should allow for investment and development activities, under international supervision, in order to address the severe and pressing needs of most of Iraq's civilian population. These reforms will provide the Iraqi government with access to additional revenues, and it is a matter of serious concern that some portion of these revenues may well be used for purposes other than rebuilding the civilian infrastructure and meeting humanitarian needs. We believe that the Council, after nearly ten years of comprehensive embargo, must weigh any reasonably anticipated constructive consequences of the embargo's continuation in its present form, in terms of gaining government compliance with the Council's disarmament demands, against the demonstrated and severe harm it has caused to Iraq's civilian population.

We agree that the Iraqi government bears great responsibility for provoking and aggravating this humanitarian crisis. Precisely for this reason, we do not believe the Council can reasonably expect that the government will modify its behavior, even at the price of gravely damaging Iraqi society. The Council must do all within its reach to remove itself as a party to this destructive and deadly dynamic by ensuring that its actions lie well within the parameters established by basic humanitarian principles. The Security Council, when it adopted Resolution 1153 (1998) expanding the oil-for-food program, noted its "determin[ation] to avoid any further deterioration of the current humanitarian situation." Existing conditions in Iraq as a result of war and sanctions, even in the absence of further deterioration, continue to have lethal consequences, especially for the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The preamble to Resolution 1284 (1999) notes that the Council was "determined to improve that [humanitarian] situation." At a minimum, the resolutions of the humanitarian panel should be implemented without further delay in order to meet the goal articulated in Resolution 986, "to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people until the fulfillment by Iraq of the relevant Security Council resolutions." The Council should also revise the sanctions regime to target military and dual-use imports, and take immediate steps towards the long overdue establishment of an international criminal tribunal that would indict and, to the extent possible, try those individual Iraqi officials and former officials credibly reported to be responsible for acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

1. This was the assessment of a July-September 1995 Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Crop and Nutritional Status Assessment Mission. For the great majority of households in the government-controlled center and south, the monthly basket of rations provided by the government was the key to survival. These rations comprised locally-produced food commodities as well as some imports purchased by the government with increasingly scarce foreign exchange. In October 1994 the government claimed it could no longer sustain annual expenditures of $700 million on food and slashed the monthly ration basket by thirty-seven percent. A joint report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the FAO in June 1995 reported that four million persons were nearly entirely dependent on rations and that one million were at serious risk. A World Food Program (WFP) Assessment Mission report of September 25, 1995, asserted that the problem was less one of food availability than the inability of Iraqis to afford market prices: it calculated that the free market value of a ration basket for a family of five was the equivalent of $10.50, or about three times the average salary of a government employee.

2. This section of the report can be found at

3. Benon Sevan, the executive director of the UN Humanitarian Program for Iraq, told the Security Council on November 17, 1999, that the overall shortfall in actual to authorized revenues stood at around $2 billion.

4. Statement of UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy to the Security Council, October 28, 1999.

5. Statement of Michel Minnig, ICRC representative in Iraq, Agence France Presse, May 8, 1999.

6. Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil, who chaired the panels, submitted the three reports to the Security Council on March 30 1999. The report of the humanitarian panel is Annex II of document S/1999/356.

7. The UNICEF survey found that in the three autonomous northern governorates, where the U.N. itself administers the "oil-for-food" program, under-5 mortality declined from 82 deaths per thousand live births in 1984-89 to 69 in 1994-99, while infant mortality in the same period fell from 66 to 57 deaths per thousand live births. These declines came despite an increase in child and infant mortality in these areas in the 1989-94 period. In a document issued on August 16, 1999 ("Questions and Answers for the Iraq child mortality surveys"), UNICEF stated that because "oil-for-food" had been operational for only two of the five years covered in survey, the different trajectories in the north and in the government controlled areas could not be attributed to the differing administrations and "it is too soon to measure any significant impact" of the program on child mortality. The agency noted that "since 1991 the north has received far more support per capita from the international community" and that the more "porous" borders in the north meant for less effective embargo enforcement. Other factors not mentioned by UNICEF, in addition to the larger per capita contribution of the oil-for-food program itself, include a relatively larger and more varied rain-fed agricultural sector, which made this area less dependent on food rations and lowered the market cost of food, and a "cash component" equivalent to approximately ten percent of the value of the aid provided in the "13 percent account," facilitating distribution of goods and installation and repair of equipment. Another differential aspect, this one negative, was the impact of the "internal" embargo imposed on the autonomous northern provinces by the Iraqi government which affected wages of public employees and ration allocations as well as costs of running public institutions.

8. "Morbidity and Mortality among Iraqi Children from 1990 through 1998: Assessing the impact of the Gulf War and Economic Sanctions" (March 1999), available on the website of the Fourth Freedom Foundation.

9. Report to the Secretary-General on Humanitarian Needs in Iraq by a Mission led by Sadruddin Aga Khan, Executive Delegate of the Secretary-General, 15 July 1991. The report estimated that it would cost $22 billion to restore Iraq's key sectors--power, water, sanitation, food, health, and oil--to pre-war levels, and proposed a limited UN-controlled sale of Iraqi oil to fund a portion of the country's humanitarian needs. Sadruddin Aga Khan suggested a sum of $6.9 billion for the first year, with an initial four-month sale of $2.65 billion (one-third plus start-up costs). After several weeks of debate in July 1991, Resolutions 706 and 712 were adopted in August and September allowing Iraq to sell $1.6 billion over six months, with thirty percent to go to the UN Compensation Fund and about four percent for UN expenses in Iraq, including UNSCOM, leaving $930 million for humanitarian imports over six months, compared to the $2.6 billion over four months proposed in the report. The Council resisted efforts of the secretary-general to raise the six-month allotment to $2.4 billion. The other major discrepancy between the report and the resolutions concerned the account in which the sums would be deposited: Sadruddin proposed a special account within the Iraqi State Oil and Marketing Organization, which would be open to Security Council scrutiny and from which payments could be made only for Council-approved humanitarian imports, while the resolutions specified a UN-controlled account. Yet another issue of contention was the question of in-country monitoring of the distribution of the imported commodities. Iraq never accepted the terms of the two resolutions, although intermittent negotiations continued until late 1993.

10. In an October 25 interview with the Washington Post, Secretary-General Annan charged that U.S. holds were "disrupting" the humanitarian program. "I think one should be transparent and not withhold some of these items unreasonably because it undermines our professed desire to help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people," he said.

11. Reuters (November 18, 1999) cited U.N. sources as stating that of 389 contracts on hold the US accounted for 337 while the U.K. accounted for 29 and both countries together for 23.


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