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.

"The Council should make Friday's meeting open and public," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, "and the U.S. should stop pretending that the sanctions have nothing to do with the dire public health crisis confronting millions of Iraqis." Megally also criticized the many "holds," which stop contracts without rejecting them, that the United States and the United Kingdom have placed on key Iraqi imports.

The signatories of today's letter include Save the Children/UK and the Mennonite Central Committee, which have ongoing humanitarian aid programs in Iraq.
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
Human Rights Watch
Mennonite Central Committee
Peace Action Education Fund
Quaker United Nations Office
Save the Children (UK)

To: His Excellency Anwarul Karim Chowdhury
President of the United Nations Security Council
cc. Security Council Member State Delegations

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.

Yours sincerely,

James A. 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 Coordinator
Peace Action Education Fund

Jack Patterson
Quaker United Nations Representative
Quaker United Nations Office

Carolyn Miller
Head of Programmes
Save the Children (UK)

For more information contact:
Global Policy Forum: James A. Paul 212-557-3161
Human Rights Watch: Joe Stork 202-612-4327, Hanny Megally 212-612-1230
Mennonite Central Committee: John Rempel 212-673-7970
Peace Action Education Fund: Tracy Moavero 212-750-5795
Quaker United Nations Office: Jack Patterson 212-682-2745
Save the Children (UK): Andrea Ledward or Rita Bhatia 44-207-703-5400

Attachment: "Sanctions: International Law and Standards"

International Law and Standards Regarding
Sanction Regimes
Peace Action International Office
March, 2000


This paper identifies some of the international legal norms and standards applicable to the international community when applying a sanctions regime. The purpose of this paper is not to take a position with regard to the application of sanctions per se, but to illustrate that when such a regime is applied, it must be in accordance with the human rights and humanitarian principles enshrined in international law. This paper identifies key analyses and recommendations from a number of UN bodies, and also refers to principles articulated in Security Council Resolutions, the United Nations Charter, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other Human Rights conventions.

I. In Accordance With UN and International Human Rights Law

1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 3:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person

2.The UN Charter

The following articles of the UN Charter, which relate to human rights, must be fully taken into account when imposing a sanctions regime.

Article 1 (3):
[The purposes of the United Nations are] to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Article 55(c):
[With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote] universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Article 56:
All Members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55.

3. The Convention of the Rights of the Child

Article 3:
(1) In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

(3) States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 6:
(1) States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
(2) States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 24:
(1) States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.

(2) States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall 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 with emphasis on the development of primary health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;
c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;
d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers
e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breast-feeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;
f) To develop preventative health care, guidance for parents and family planning education services.

(4) States Parties undertake to promote and encourage international co-operation with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right recognized in the present article. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

Article 27:
(1) States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

(3) States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programs, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.

Article 28:
(1) States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity.

(3) States Parties shall promote and encourage international co-operation in matters relating to education, particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of e\ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be take of the needs of developing countries.

Article 38:
(1) States Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.

(4) In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, States Parties shall take all reasonable measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.

4. General Comment by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

E/C.12/1997/8: General Comment No. 8 (1997): The relationship between economic sanctions and respect for economic, social and cultural rights, 12 December 1997.

The provisions of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights, most of which are also reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are fully applicable during such a time as sanctions are imposed against a state. The targeted state is under a legal obligation to respect the civil and political rights of its citizens The international community is under a similar obligation to do everything that it can to protect the "core content" of the economic, social and cultural rights of the affected people.

The international community must be alert to the fact that the inhabitants of a country do not forfeit their basic economic, social and cultural rights due to violations of international norms committed by their leaders. Thus all human rights and humanitarian standards that relate to civilians remain in full effect at all times.

Lawlessness of one kind should not be met by lawlessness of another, and any sanctions regime which ignores fundamental rights detracts from the legitimacy of the entire operation.

It is possible to alleviate the suffering of children and all vulnerable groups cause by sanctions without jeopardizing the effect of the sanctions themselves.

5. Statement by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee

S/1998/147: Statement dated 29 December 1997 by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee to the Security Council on the humanitarian impact of sanctions:

Any adverse humanitarian consequence on civilian population should be avoided
Any sanctions regime must be take fully into account international human rights instruments and humanitarian standards established by the Geneva Conventions

6. Relevant Security Council Resolutions

(a) S/RES/1261 (1999)
Security Council Resolution 1261 (1999) on the Protection of Children in Armed Conflict

Article 17(c):
[The Security Council] Reaffirms its readiness when dealing with situations of armed conflict: whenever adopting measures under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, to give consideration to their impact on children, in order to consider appropriate humanitarian exemptions.

(b) S/RES/1265 (1999) Security Council Resolution 1265 (1999) on Protection of Civilians In Armed Conflict.

Article 16:
[The Security Council] Reaffirms its readiness, whenever measures are adopted under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, to give consideration to their impact on the civilian population, bearing in mind the needs of children, in order to consider appropriate humanitarian exemptions.

II. The following sections summarize recommendations from official UN documents regarding various aspects of sanctions regimes and the protection of human rights.

1. Prior Impact Assessment

(a) The Machel Report: Impact of Armed Conflict on Children; Note by the Secretary General A/51/306, 26 August 1996:

Sanctions should be judged against the standards of universal human rights, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The primary consideration when developing a sanctions regime should always be the potential human impact, which should influence the choice of sanctions, their duration, the legal provisions and the operation of the sanctions regime. Sanctions should not be imposed without advance assessment of the economic and social structure of the target country.

(b) General Comment by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

There should be more precise targeting of the vulnerabilities of targeted states. A UN Mechanism is required to anticipate the impact of sanctions;

(c) Statement by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee:

There should be comprehensive information and objective analysis of the potential humanitarian impact of sanctions when deciding a sanctions regime.

(d) Note on Work of the Sanctions Committee
Note by the President of the Security Council: Work of the Sanctions Committee S/1999/92, 29 January 1999:

Periodic meetings of the sanctions committees should be held for discussions on the humanitarian and economic impact of sanctions.

2. Monitoring

(a) The Machel Report:

Sanctions should not be imposed without an advance assessment of the ability of the international community to sustain continuous monitoring.

There must be a system of monitoring to assess the impact of the embargo on health and well-being - such a system should measure changes in access to medicines and medical supplies.

(b) General Comment by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

A UN mechanism should be created to anticipate and track the impact of sanctions The international community is required to establish a system of effective monitoring which must last the duration of the time the sanctions are in force.
This is because the international community, in applying sanctions, has assumed responsibility for that country. They therefore have an unavoidable responsibility to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of the affected population.

(c) Statement by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee:

Information on what humanitarian supplies are required under a sanctions regime must be made available on a regular basis

(d) Note on the work of the Sanctions Committee:

The sanctions committee should establish appropriate arrangements and channels of communication with organs, organizations and bodies of the United Nations system, as well as other intergovernmental and regional organizations, neighboring countries and other countries and parties concerned, in order to improve the monitoring of the implementation of sanctions regimes and the assessment of their humanitarian consequences on the population of the target State and their economic consequences on neighboring and other States.
The Sanctions Committees should monitor, throughout the sanctions regime, the humanitarian impact of sanctions on vulnerable groups, including children, and make required adjustments of the exemption mechanisms to facilitate the deliver of humanitarian assistance.
The Chairperson of the sanctions committees should make visits to the regions concerned, as appropriate, in order to obtain first-hand accounts of the impact of sanctions regimes and the results and difficulties in their implementation.

The Secretariat should be requested to provide, whenever necessary, its assessment of the humanitarian and economic impact of sanctions to the sanctions committee.

3. Humanitarian Exemptions / Aid

(a) The Machel Report:

When imposing sanctions, humanitarian exemptions should be formulated with clear guidelines Humanitarian assistance programs should be established to assure new sources of supply for vital goods. Neutral, independent bodies should be established to monitor the situation of vulnerable groups

(b) General Comment by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

The identification of a wider range of exempt goods and services
The authorization of agreed technical agencies to determine necessary exemptions
Those applying the sanctions are under an obligation to respond to any disproportionate suffering experience by vulnerable groups in the community.
To address this the states must take economic and technical measures, both individually and through international assistance and cooperation.

(c) Statement by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee:

Sanctions should not impede the work of humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance to the civilian population
Humanitarian aid must be timely
Humanitarian exemptions must be provided for in the sanctions regimes
These exemptions should be reviewed regularly and adjusted in the light of the humanitarian requirements under the sanctions regime.

(d) Note on the Work of the Sanctions Committee:

UN agencies as well as humanitarian organizations and other relevant organizations should benefit from special, simplified procedures in requesting humanitarian exemptions, in order to facilitate the implementation of their humanitarian program. Consideration should be given to how humanitarian organizations could have the possibility to apply for humanitarian exemptions directly to the sanctions committee.
Foodstuffs, pharmaceutical and medical supplies should be exempted from United Nations sanctions regimes. Basic or standard medical and agricultural equipment and basic or standard education items should also be exempted. Consideration should be given to the drawing up of lists for that purpose. Other essential humanitarian goods should be considered for exemption. In this regard, it is recognized that efforts should be made to allow the population of the targeted countries to have access to appropriate resources and procedures for financing humanitarian imports.
The sanctions committee should make required adjustments of the exemption mechanism to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

4. Long-Term Perspectives

(a) The Machel Report:

No sanction regime should be allowed to continue indefinitely
The sanction regime must clearly define the circumstances under which the embargo will be lifted
If the regime is seen to be failing, it should replaced by other measures.


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