"Sanctions Have an Impact on All of Us"

by Denis Halliday
published in MER209

The following comments are excerpted from a speech delivered on Capitol Hill on October 6, 1998 by Denis Halliday, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, shortly after he resigned his post in protest over the sanctions’ devastating impact on the Iraqi people.

Concerned international organizations have correctly focused on the plight of Iraq’s 23 million people, particularly its children. After eight years of sanctions, high levels of malnutrition and child morbidity and mortality continue. These victims are innocent civilians who had no part whatsoever in the decisions that led to the events that brought on UN sanctions in the first place. The World Health Organization confirmed to me that the monthly rate of sanctions-related child mortality for children under five years of age is from 5,000-6,000 per month. They believe this is an underestimate, since in rural parts of Iraq children are not registered at birth, and if they die within six weeks of birth, they are never registered.

There are many reasons for these tragic and unnecessary deaths, including the poor health of mothers, the breakdown of health services, the poor nutritional intake of both adults and young children and the high incidence of water-born diseases as a result of the collapse of Iraq’s water and sanitation system -- and, of course, the lack of electric power to drive that system, crippled by war damage following the 1991 Gulf war.

Many people have questioned the propriety of sustaining Security Council sanctions in the full knowledge of their devastating impact on the children of Iraq. Human rights violations in Iraq greatly trouble many of us. We see a tragic incompatibility between sanctions that are harming the innocent children and people of Iraq, and the UN charter, specifically the Convention on Human Rights and the Rights of the Child. The incompatibility with the spirit and letter of the charter constitutes a tragedy for the UN itself, and severely threatens to undermine the UN’s credibility and legitimacy as a benign force for peace and human wellbeing throughout the world.

It is not generally reported, but sanctions have had a serious impact on the Iraqi extended family system. We are seeing an increase in single-parent families, usually mothers struggling alone. There is an increase in divorce. Many families have had to sell their homes, furniture and other possessions to put food on the table, resulting in homelessness. Many young people are resorting to prostitution. The social impact of eight years of sanctions has devastated standards of traditional behavior, evidenced by the collapse of Muslim family values. Sanctions have undermined children’s and parents’ mutual expectations of each other. Sanctions have forced the Iraqi people to live with humiliation. Again, the children are the hardest hit. Now they are forced to work to bring money into the family. The school dropout rate is 20 to 30 percent. Children are now committing street crime, which was previously unheard of in Baghdad. The incidence of begging is now very common. The dropout rate will lead to higher levels of illiteracy in a country formerly renowned for maintaining a high standard of education.

In general, there is a sense of hopelessness and depression. I recently met with trade union leaders who asked me why the UN does not simply bomb the Iraqi people, and do it efficiently, rather than extending sanctions which kill Iraqis incrementally over a long period.

Sanctions continue to malnourish and kill. Sanctions are undermining the cultural and educational recovery of Iraq, and will not change its system of governance. Sanctions encourage isolation, alienation and fanaticism. Sanctions destroy the family, undermine women’s social and economic advances and encourage a brain drain. Sanctions constitute a serious breach of the UN Charter on Human Rights and children’s rights. Sanctions are a counterproductive, bankrupt concept that has led to unacceptable human suffering. And sanctions have an impact on all of us -- not only those in Iraq, but those of us outside who need to work with and look forward to Iraq’s reentry into the international community. I thank you very much, Congressmen.

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