The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Human Rights Watch position on Iraq sanctions

As a person who has for a long time studied the legal aspects of the 
Iraq sanctions, I wish to comment on Joe Stork's defense of HRW's 
position.  My comments are made with reference to Joe Stork's letter 
to Nathan Geffen which was forwarded to me as member of a mailing 

On #1
I tend to concur with Joe's legal and substantive findings regarding 
the US/UK bombing campaign.  From the point of human rights per se, 
these bombings are not an issue. They are however an act of war for 
which humanitarian law is applicable (as correctly identified by 
Joe).   Joe seems moreover credible in maintaining that the number of 
civilian casulties in Chechnia is far greater than that of the US/UK 
bombings on Iraq.  Having said that, it must emphasized that the 
bombings against Iraq by the US/UK are gross violations of 
international law and constitute, as I see it, blatant breaches of 
the UN Charter.  To refrain from pointing to this gross illlegality 
(which under the terms of the Nurnberg Charter would also be 
criminal) and merely stating that such bombings "may well be illegal" 
is far from satisfactory from an organisation such as HRW.  Would Joe 
have considered aerial bombings of locations within the United States 
by Iraqi planes as "may be illegal", had the Iraqis the capabilities 
to inflict such harm and claiming that the US is the most dangerous 
power for world peace (which it clearly is) ? Or does the legalitly 
merely hinges on the subjective determination (by whom ?)  of the 
identity of the "most dangerous" state ?  And further can a human 
rights organisation waive aside a blatant breach of the Charter as 
irrelevant from a human rights perspective ?

On #2
a. I beg to seriously differ with Joe and HRW on the question of 
Iraqi responsibility for the consequences of the sanctions.  It must 
be obvious that the Iraqi government has neither decided to impose 
sanctions on Iraq nor consulted whether it aggrees for Iraqi foreign 
trade to be controlled by a UN Committee nor does it willingly 
participate in the implementation of the sanctions.  It is entirely 
on the receiving end of acts decided and implemented by other states. 
For this specific reason it cannot be held accountable for acts 
committed and implemented by others and which are clearly violations 
of human rights (even if such violations are justified on 
considerations of 'world peace').

b. There is however a reason for CRITICIZING the Iraqi authorities 
for not defending the Iraqi population by all means at its disposal, 
including demanding that the legality of the sanctions be subject to 
an independent legal review, say by the ICJ, that those who impose 
the death of Iraqi children through sanctions be brought to justice 
for international criminal acts, and perhaps by calling upon UN 
member states to opt out unilaterally of the sanctions regime and 
defy the illegal and criminal sanctions.  I believe that there Iraqis 
who do make such criticism. And I suspect that the reason for this 
failure of the Iraqi authorities to act more forcefully on behalf of 
their people, is that they are not overly concerned about the rule of 
law, neither internal nor international.  In this respect - but 
mainly in this respect - the Iraqi authorities can be condemned. But 
such condemnation is moral, not legal.  Legally, I submit that those 
who have chosen, among various alternatives, to impose and maintain 
for many years a COMPREHENSIVE trade sanctions regime targeting the 
entire population of a country, are legally responsible for the 
adverse consequences of such acts.

c. As for the question of intent, we cannot merely assess verbal 
disclaimers but the extent, the timing and the substance of the acts 
committed. Such assessment shows that the acts (imposition of the 
sanctions with their ghastly details) were neither accidental, nor 
spontaneous, but premeditated and maintained in spite of evidence of 
increased child death and other grave harm. The sanctions were from 
the onset targeting the civilian population as such, thus violating 
the most fundamental humanitarian principle (of not targeting 
civilian populations).  By assorting the various "oil-for-food- 
arrangements with extraneous conditions, such as the removal of 30 % 
of Iraqi exports earnings for war reparations and monies for UN 
operations, the UN SC  breached the spirit of humanitarian principles 
(such principles do not permit belligerents to assort relief actions 
with political and extraneous conditions).  The UNSC displayed its 
bad faith by not allowing for a long time a vast array of items of 
civilian use, thus negating the human rights of the Iraqi civilian 
population to education, health, development and freedom of travel. 
There is therefore, in my opinion, prima facie evidence of bad faith 
by the UNSC (and the UN/UK) which discredits the disclaimer against 
"intent".  There is hardly a case to be made that acts pursued 
systematically for 9 years and which have shown great harm from the 
first day, are not meant to harm.  Whether the "intent to harm" 
includes the killing of half a million children, is another question, 
but we must recognize that the very imposition of comprehensive 
economic sanctions against a given population is certainly sufficient 
evidence of an "intent to harm" that population (or incite it to 
rebel - which in that case would constitute a blatant and gross form 
of international terrorism).

On #3
I concur with Joe on the necessity, under international law (and 
ethics) to call for the trial of Iraqi public officials for various 
crimes against humanity and war crimes.  I think however that in 
order to remove the taint of "victors' justice', it would be 
important that such a call be made by an impartial judicial body, 
willing and mandated to assess the crimes committed by the US/UK and 
other countries against the people of Iraq through acts committed in 
the Gulf War and the sanctions.  It would be a perversion of justice 
if those who have caused the death of half a million Iraqi children 
(and even if they were "merely" 100.000) would not be indicted while 
Iraqi officials would.  I therefore urge on Joe and HRW to reconsider 
its unilateral condemnation of Iraqi officials.  One way out of this 
dilemma (if HRW does not concur that the sanctions are criminal acts) 
would be to demand that an international inquiry commission be 
established, with international lawyers from non-belligerent 
countries, from the ICJ and from the belligerent countries, would be 
represented, as well as observers from various human rights 
organistions, in view of determining the legal responsibilities of 
the various parties with regards to international humanitarian and 
human rights law in Iraq and surrounding countries.  Surely the terms 
of reference and the composition of such a body are crucial, but this 
should not too a difficult problem.  Such an approach would be much 
more in tune with an objective approach towards the subject-matter 
and would give HRW a lease on life in this matter.

(as a short rejoinder, I agree with Joe that one cannot put on the 
same foot those who commit crime with those who abet those crimes or 
refuse to condemn them).  Complicity is surely and most often a 
lesser crime than that of the Principals.

On #4 and #5 I do not wish to intervene in the discussion at this stage.

Elias Davidsson

Elias Davidsson - Post Box 1760 - 121 Reykjavik - Iceland
Tel. (00354)-552-6444     Fax: (00354)-552-6579
Email:     URL:
This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
Full archive and list instructions are available from the CASI website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]