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661 committee voting procedure

Colin's recent posting asked about 661 committee voting procedure, ie who
can authorise a hold on a Iraqi import of food / medicine. This is a
complex area, which I'm not sure I understand fully myself, but this is
what I've read so far:

The basic procedure was laid down in a decision of the 661 committee at
its 36th meeting on 22/3/91. As far as I'm aware, this procedure still
stands. The Committee determined:

"The Committee decides upon a simple notification procedure for foodstuffs
supplied to Iraq and a no-objection procedure for civilian and
humanitarian imports (other than supplies intended strictly for medical

Historical background: SCR661 stated that foodstuffs could only be
imported by Iraq "in humanitarian circumstances". This was interpreted by
members of the 661 committee very differently. The US & UK argued that
since no-one had shown that there was a humanitarian crisis in Iraq,
foodstuffs could not be imported at all, as there were no "humanitarian
circumstances" to speak of. On these grounds, for example, the UK stopped
a delivery of milk powder (Proceeding of Session, Cambridge International
Documents Series on the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, vol II, p.810). 

This situation was only resolved with the famous report by Martti
Ahtisaari on 20/3/91, on Iraq's forced decline into the pre-industrial
age. A similar ICRC report also came to the attention of the Committee. On
22/3/91, the Committee determined that food and other civilian material
could be imported into Iraq, on the above-mentioned "no-objections"
procedure, ie any of the 15 members of the Committee could ask for a hold
on the export. The distinction between foodstuffs and medical supplies
comes from SCR661.

The most important question is: how is it to be determined that a product
is a foodstuff or for medical purposes, and not really a disguised
Tomahawk missile? This is not quite answered in the decision of the
Committee on 22/3/91, but I can only presume that it is on the same,
no-objection procedure - again, any member of the Committee (ie. any
member of the Security Council) can decide unilaterally that a substance
that Iraq wishes to import is not only a foodstuff or medicine, and should
be put on hold or rejected.

So far this situation has not been put the test; the only countries
issuing holds are the US, UK and (in former times, I believe) France - see
earlier postings. But of course, the situation may change, and a
particularly misanthropic member may appear on the 661 committee. 

Generally, the committee does have a "framework document" setting out its
working procedure; as far as I can tell, it is changed by the committee
itself (on the basis of unanimity) on a fairly frequent basis. I have not
been able to get hold of a copy, but the early debates on the framework
document (which do not reveal much) have been published - again in the
Cambridge International Documents series (see earlier reference). Maybe
Colin's contact would be able to supply us with the latest framework

As a final note, it's interesting to compare the procedures of the 661
committee with the Compensation Committee. In the latter, there is no veto
for any Committee member; a majority of 9 will see the payment go through.
In other words, the money earnt through Iraqi oil sales goes much
more easily to non-Iraqi claimants that it goes into purchasing goods to
be imported into Iraq.

The reference for the 22/3/91 decision of the Committee is:
Weller, ed., Iraq and Kuwait: the Hostilities and their aftermath
(Cambridge: Grotius Press, International Documents series), p.603.
It is also reprinted in the note by the Secretary-General, S/22400.

Glen Rangwala
Faculty of Social and Political Sciences
Free School Lane
Tel: 44 (0)1223 334535
Fax (shared): 44 (0)1223 334550
Home tel: 44 (0)1223 462187

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