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Australian navy in sanctions force - open letter to prime minister

Following is an open letter sent to the prime minister of Australia 
by the Australian Arabic Council, in response to the government's 
decision (announced on March 27, 1999) to send a navy frigate to the 
Arabian Gulf to join in the blockade against Iraq.



30 March 1999

Dear Prime Minister,

We wish to express our disappointment at the federal government's 
recent decision to send the HMAS Melbourne to the Arabian Gulf region 
to participate in enforcing the United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

The UN sanctions extend far beyond military sanctions, and include 
food, medicine, and a vast array of ordinary household items and 
materials for essential infrastructure, which have no possible 
military uses. Many goods now under embargo are necessary for 
humanitarian purposes in Iraq, such as parts for the repair of 
sanitation systems, and some heart and cancer medicines.

There is a large and growing world opposition to the sanctions 
because of the humanitarian catastrophe they are causing to innocent 
people throughout Iraq.

However, from a military and political point of view, the sanctions 
which were only expected to last for 6 months when first 
established) are counter-productive to their stated intentions.  They 
have greatly strengthened the power of the Iraqi president.  They are 
severely debilitating and fracturing Iraqi society. Thus the 
enforcement of the sanctions has become futile.

The situation is much more serious than this, however, when the 
genocidal effects of the sanctions are considered.

United Nations and other reputable non-government organisations have
estimated that over 1.5 million sanctions-related deaths, mostly of 
children under 5 years of age, have occurred since August 1990.  The 
current estimated rate is 250 deaths per day. The sanctions are 
causing massive suffering and death among Iraqi civilians from 
starvation and preventable disease, and the country is now threatened 
by famine. The children who survive the debilitating sanctions are 
doomed to suffer further deformities and handicaps due to 
malnutrition and disease, for the rest of their lives.

The usual justification for enforcing the sanctions is that the Iraqi
president is responsible for the sanctions because he refuses to 
comply with UN Security Council resolutions.  But why do we 
selectively and stringently enforce only such resolutions as apply to 
Iraq and not to other countries in the region? Why are we severely 
punishing the innocent Iraqi people for the actions of the Iraqi 

There are numerous international laws and conventions relating to the 
proper treatment of civilians to ensure their basic human rights are 
respected.  This includes the laws engendered in the Hague and Geneva 
Conventions, and recent protocols to the Geneva Conventions.
These laws refer to the rules of 'distinction' and 
'proportionality'.  Under the principle of distinction, one must 
distinguish between civilians and combatants at all times, and only 
attack military targets.

The principle of proportionality prohibits any "attack which may be 
expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to 
civilians, damage to civilian objects...which would be excessive in 
relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated".  
By the UN's own admission, well over half a million children have 
died as a result of the sanctions.  Yet, no military or political 
objective has been achieved as a result of the sanctions.

Not only do the sanctions contravene these international laws, but 
they also contravene the following conventions and charters:  the 
Charter of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 
Constitution of the World Health Organization, the Rights of the 
Child, and the World Declaration on Nutrition by the Food and 
Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization.

Lest Australia believes it is acting in the best interests of the UN 
and the UN Security Council, it must be noted that an increasing 
resistance to the sanctions, on moral and humanitarian grounds, is 
developing among most of the Permanent Members of the UN Security 
Council, and also within the General Assembly.  It should also be 
remembered that UN Resolution 661, which established the sanctions in 
August 1990, specifically excluded food and medicines from the 
embargo against Iraq.

Should Australia be party to such serious contraventions of 
international laws and conventions, even if it does suit the wishes 
of the US and British governments?

Would it not be more appropriate for Australia to enforce the 
inalienable human rights of the 22 million innocent Iraqi people, 
rather than enforce an illegitimate policy of extreme, prolonged and 
widespread cruelty, through the UN sanctions? 

We do not want 'blood on our hands' over Iraq, nor do we want to 
tarnish our neutral image in the Arab world. 

It is a pity that Australia is sending a military ship, armed with 
weapons, rather than a humanitarian ship armed with aid for our 
fellow human beings.

We ask our government to play a role as leader rather than follower in
calling on the governments of the world to address their differences 
with the government of Iraq in ways which do not violate the human 
rights of Iraq's inhabitants.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Nabil Sulaiman
Australian Arabic Council

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