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Halliday: Economic Sanctions on the people of Iraq : First Degree Murder or Manslaughter?

Economic Sanctions on the people of Iraq : First Degree Murder or

A paper by Denis J. Halliday for the International Conference in Madrid,
November 1999

On the recourse to economic sanctions and war in the new world order-

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, friends I am particularly honoured to be
speaking at this the inaugural session of this conference. I am also
somewhat  nervous. Not because I am new to public speaking, but because I am
a layman surrounded by distinguished international jurists. It is like being
in the surf with sharks circling just beyond the waves. However, falling
back on the concept that a certain bliss accompanies ignorance - I will
briefly speak to the issue of United Nations economic sanctions on the
people of Iraq as a case of genocide – a  crime against humanity. I will
also touch on the incompatibility of such sanctions with the spirit of the
United Nations Charter and similar instruments of international law
requiring, as a result, the establishment of some form of oversight in
respect of the output of the Security Council.

During my visit to Paris in January of this year, to speak publicly about
the terrible impact of United Nations economic sanctions on the people of
Iraq, I used the term genocide for the first time. I did so at a briefing
for the press corps to describe a catastrophic situation that I had come to
consider nothing less than genocidal. And it was picked up by some
journalists and used for headlines in the Paris newspapers and then
similarly by one or two international wire services. Thereafter, during that
visit,  I was made to feel by some that I had crossed an invisible line of
impropriety!  I was criticized by a few for using the term in regard to the
impact of economic sanctions themselves. It seemed also that it was deemed
inappropriate particularly in respect of Iraq. Since then I have observed
that the term genocide offends many in western media and establishment
circles when it is used to describe the killing of others in an environment
for which we are ultimately responsible, such as in Iraq . To be even
handed, I must admit I was praised by others for having said what I said.
Perhaps for most, the term genocide is too emotive and too intimate to our
democratic obligation to accept responsibility for even the most
disagreeable actions undertaken by our respective governments. For others,
it was no more than an overdue recognition of the crimes against humanity on

I was certainly not the first to use the term genocide to describe the
extensive loss of life in Iraq under present circumstances.  Former US
Attorney-General Ramsay Clark, the British author Geoff Simons and a number
of British Members of Parliament critical of Labour Government sanctions and
military policy, have employed the term to convey their perception of the
Iraq situation..  Since the Spring of this year, the term has been used
frequently  by the establishment in the UK and the USA  together with the
mass media to describe the plight of Albanians in Kosovo and the killing of
the  people of East Timor. The first identification apparently justified
NATO aggression and the by-passing of the United Nations, resulting in NATO
missile attacks, use of  Depleted Uranium shells and targeting of civilian
infrastructure. Attacks that apparently served to increase the death rate of
Albanian civilians. The latter, resulted in the international community
taking action via the Security Council too slowly although in keeping  with
the national sovereignty provisions of the Charter. Clearly for these deadly
situations despite their historical involvement, those in the establishment
using the term genocide did not feel in anyway responsible. Only last week,
I was reminded of this during a BBC interview. Others commit genocide, we do

 More recently,  in a class I am teaching at Swarthmore College in
Pennsylvania, we discussed the appropriateness of using of the term genocide
to describe the human crisis in Iraq. We reviewed with some care the
definition as set out by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide of 1948. We noted the clear reference to the
expression “intent” as  being essential in any determination of  genocide.
In considering UN Security Council Resolution 687,  we did not find
  “intent” spelled out in the text of 1991. No one questioned if the
justification provided some years ago by the then Ambassador to the UN  and
now Secretary of State for the deaths of some five hundred thousand Iraqi
children implied  genocidal intent.

The choice for the class in respect of the consequences of Resolution 687
was one
between de jure, or de facto genocide, or as one student suggested, a choice
between first degree murder or manslaughter. Thus the title of this piece.
The class looked between the lines of the Resolution, but the majority of
students  gave the original drafters the benefit of the doubt, and likewise
those member states that supported and continue to support the imposition of
the uniquely comprehensive and devastating economic sanctions that
Resolution 687 represents, particularly devastating coming as it did on top
of the civilian-targeted bombing and missile attacks by the Gulf War allies.
However, some including myself consider that by the deliberate continuation
of the UN economic sanctions regime on Iraq,  in full knowledge of their
deadly impact as frequently reported by the Secretary-General and others,
the member states of the Security Council  are indeed guilty of
intentionally sustaining  a regime of genocide.

The information provided by the various organizations of the United Nations
system -FAO, WFP, UNICEF, and WHO- who have carried out surveys using
international experts of infant and child mortality rates in Iraq under
economic sanctions – underlines that we have de facto genocide. They have
provided data  showing the very significant increase in mortality rates over
the years since Resolution 687 was imposed. We have also been given data by
WHO showing significant increases in the deaths of adults, particularly
amongst the aged in need of sophisticated drugs no long available in Iraq.
We have WHO figures showing extraordinary increases in the incidence of
various cancers, Including leukemia in children, since the use of depleted
uranium by the UK and USA during the Gulf War. We know the sad human cost
today in Iraq of unclean water, collapsed electric power generation and
failed sanitation systems, as reported initially by the mission of then
Under Secretary-General and now President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari in
1991, and many times since by UNICEF and WHO.

The informally termed Oil-for-Food programme, which as you know is fully
funded by Iraq via limited oil sales under UN auspices,  was designed  to
prevent further deterioration, not more than that. The Security
Council-approved but heavily constrained importation of limited and  basic
foodstuffs, medicines and drugs into the country, has done little more than
maintain high mortality rates and massive malnutrition as the recent UNICEF
report advised. Apart from considerable nutritional shortfalls, including
lack of  adequate animal proteins within that programme, we have not seen
the Security Council allow oil revenues to seriously repair the damage
caused by the bombing of Civilian infrastructure of 1991, 1996 and as
recently as December 1998. By this denial, the Security Council has
determined with deliberation to block adequate repair of water, power and
sewage systems so critical in the battle to save the lives of countless
infants and children. In other words, the Security Council through  its
member states  has knowingly the necessitated that food be consumed
alongside foul water, thereby creating a source for water-borne diseases
leading to thousands of deaths, particularly of infants and children.

Likewise, adequate hard currency has  not been available for re-equipping
of hospitals and other health care facilities; and agricultural food
production capacity remains starved of essential imported requirements. In
short, the Security Council has denied Iraq its right to adequately import
and at the same time its right to repair, and rebuild that civilian
infrastructure so critical for human well being, indeed for life itself. I
speak of civilian infrastructure that was illegally destroyed in breech of
the Geneva Conventions and Protocols by the Gulf War allies, in the first

The Security Council has in effect illegality twice-over violated
international law. Firstly,  the targeting of men, women and children -
noncombatants and civilians via  missile attacks and bombing of civilians
and civilian infrastructure in 1991 and thereafter. And secondly, in an even
more deadly and sustained manner of warfare, killing of hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi children, and adults, by the ongoing regime of
comprehensive economic sanctions. An embargo backed up by the massive
military presence of the USA throughout the middle-East. A military presence
not only intimidating to the women and children of Iraq, but equally to many
millions of peoples and their governments throughout the Region.   Whether
one wishes to term economic sanctions no Iraq a form of warfare or not,
crimes against humanity or not, the imposition of genocide or not,  the
sustained imposition of these sanctions constitute the punishment of
millions, and  the deaths of hundreds of thousands, of innocent human
beings. Whatever the terminology, whatever the semantics used, the results
are indisputably contrary to the spirit and the word of numerous
international legal instruments.

With, or without original intent, the impact of economic sanctions
constitute genocide. Whether it is de jure or de facto genocide,  the
semantics are irrelevant to those people of Iraq who have seen their
children die, their parents die and their own health and the health of most,
deteriorate into a state of physical malnutrition, a condition of near
national depression and an environment of social collapse.

The question posed in the title of this statement : Does the genocidal
impact of
economic sanctions on Iraq represent  first degree murder as in intent, or
manslaughter as in negligence resulting nevertheless in death?  I leave to
those here more competent that I. However, I would like to address one of
the tragedies of the Iraq crisis, over and above the massive loss of life
namely, the irreparable damage it has done to the integrity and credibility
of the United Nations itself.

By sustaining economic sanctions on Iraq in full knowledge of the deadly
consequences, the member states of the Security Council have undermined the
very basis of the Organization itself - the Charter. That is not to deny
that the device of economic sanctions is provided for in Chapter 7 of the
Charter - it is. One could query the intentions and goals in the minds of
the victors of World War II when these provisions were drafted in1945, at a
time when the infant UN was proportionally more heavily  made up of large
and powerful than small and weaker  member states. Then, as it is today, the
concept of economic sanctions, bilateral but also multilateral,  is more
attractive and viable to the powerful, the larger “bully boy” states,  than
to the smaller potential victims.

Regardless, the prolonged and uniquely comprehensive nature of the economic
sanctions on Iraq, and economic sanctions regimes imposed elsewhere in the
world, have thwarted the very spirit and  principles of the United Nations
Charter – the preamble of  which calls  inter alia for the well being of all
humanity. Likewise, prolonged economic sanctions neglect the rights spelled
out in Articles 25 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
providing for individuals “. . . the right to a standard of living adequate
for the health and well being of himself (herself) and of his (her) family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social
services”; that “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and
assistance”; and that “everyone has the right to education.”

In reality, there are numerous international conventions  neglected by the
continuation of economic sanctions regardless of human cost, not least of
which is the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These rights are
intentionally denied every time an Iraqi child is without nutritious and
plentiful food, a place in which to live decently, adequate medical
attention and a good  education.  A sanctions generation of Deprivation has
been created by the Security Council. The denial by the Security Council of
the rights of an Iraqi child to have opportunities for the future, to life
itself destroys what the United Nations is mandated to represent and
facilitate throughout the world.

Combating this incompatibility between the Charter and instruments of
international law with the impact of Security Council Resolution 687,  would
appear to call for several actions. One might be an initiative by the
larger, fully representative and more democratic General Assembly to seek
the advice of the International Court of Justice and by so doing, begin to
meaningfully assert its oversight function in respect of the work of the
powerful yet small and less democratic Security Council. Another might be
the establishment of an NGO to watch the impact of Security Council
resolutions world wide and to monitor their incompatibility with the
Charter, Universal Declaration of Human rights and other international legal

In conclusion, the de facto genocidal impact of the regime of economic
sanctions no the people of Iraq, violate the legal instruments that are
fundamental to the credible continuation of the  United Nations. The
Organisation urgently needs the protection of an oversight device or devices
in regard to the output of the dangerously out-of-control Security Council.
In the meantime, men and women of conscience, with moral posture and
integrity will continue to demand the termination of crimes against
humanity, indeed genocide, in respect of  Iraq.

November 1999

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on
the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of
compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in
this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it
destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and
places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently,
this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending
this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in
however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we
think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is
itself a marvelous victory."

--Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of
our times, p. 208)

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