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HRW plays the sanctions game

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2000 10:20:57 -0600 (CST)
From: Ali Abunimah <>

January 6, 2000

It is puzzling and disappointing that Human Rights Watch (HRW), an
organization that is apparently fully aware of the disasterous impact of
sanctions on the people of Iraq should call for their "restructuring" and
continuation(see release below). HRW calls for the continued instrusive
control of everything Iraq imports, through the UN Sanctions committee
which has consistently delayed contracts, and to maintain controld on
"dual use" commodities which to date include such things as pencils. HRW
also calls for a new intrusive regime of inspections of all of Iraq's
imports at ports of entry and of their ultimate use.

HRW calls for the international community to hold Iraq leaders for their
human rights crimes and calls for the establishment of an "international
tribunal" for this purpose. Many people would support this call.

But why does HRW fail to recognize the sanctions themselves as a human
rights issue? They do discuss this in their background document, but
ultimately the issue is firmly presented as a "humanitarian crisis." The
sanctions are not an accident. They are a deliberate policy concocted by
individuals and governments who are fully aware of their consequences,
which HRW openly acknowledges. Why does HRW not call for the authors of
the murderous sanctions to be held to account in the same way? HRW
conveniently describes the effect of sanctions as a "humanitarian" issue,
(which suggests they are not the result of conscious human decisions),
instead of a "human rights" issue arising from the rational calculations
of US and other leaders, who knowing fully well that their policy was
killing children, declared that the price was "worth it." HRW states, "we
agree that the Iraqi government bears a large share of the blame" for the
effects of the sanctions, but offers no evidence in support of its backing
of US policy. UN officials have time and again said that there is no
effort by the Iraqi government to deliberately withhold food and medicine
fromt he people, and that difficulties in distributing supplies under the
"oil for food" program arise from the devastated infrastructure of the

In its own background materials on the sanctions, HRW explains that the UN
"oil for food"  uses the "government rationing system already in place"
and acknolwedges that this has been the key means in getting supplies to
the people. Contradicting itself even further, HRW states "The devastating
impact of the sanctions is largely a consequence of their unprecedentedly
comprehensive scope and duration."  (Explanatory Memorandum Regarding
theComprehensive Embargo on Iraq Humanitarian Circumstances in Iraq, HRW,

HRW also says it has documented human rights abuses by the Iraq
government. Very well, what about an international tribunal that also
tries those who leaders in the "West" who armed Iraq for twenty years even
when they knew fully the reports about what Iraq was doing. Selective
justice, when applied in Iraq, or anywhere else is no justice at all, but
simply a charade designed to continue the war against Iraq by other means.

We should not buy this sort of selective concern for human rights and the
accountability of governments.

Ali Abunimah


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. 

Individual letters were also sent to the heads of mission of the other
members of the Security Council. 

 For more information contact:
 Hanny Megally (212) 216-1230 (New York)
 Joe Stork (202) 612-4327 (Washington) 

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