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UN Compensation Commission


The current (October) issue of the French paper Le Monde Diplomatique has a
long, interesting article on the operations of the United Nations
Compensation Commission, whose job it is to process claims for compensation
against Iraq. Le Monde Diplomatique post articles on their website
( with a month's delay, so you should be
able to read it in French in November.

They also publish an English language edition but everything is done to
prevent ordinary people from having access to it. To get the printed edition
you have to take out a subscription to the Guardian Weekly (I used to have a
subscription to the Guardian Weekly but got fed up with the weekly ritual of
having to black out the Steve Bell cartoon to avoid having to see it as I
flicked through the paper). They also have a website
( but, unless there is something I
haven't understood, you can only access it by paying in dollars, which is a
little rich for what is, so far as I can see, by a long margin, the best
advocate of the case against 'globalisation'.

The Iraq article, by Alain Gresh, is headlined 'L'Irak paiera!', which is a
reference to the old French slogan 'L'Allemagne paiera!' which, as the
article points out, many people believe was responsible for the rise of
Hitler. There is a valuable job to be done drawing a comparison between the
treatment of Germany after the First World War with that of Iraq. The
general issue of compensation payments is of prime importance for the
anti-sanctions campaign. Basically the campaign against sanctions is now a
campaign against the 'Oil for Food' arrangement, which is how sanctions are
administered at the present time. 'Oil for Food' gives us total control over
all legal Iraqi imports and exports, thus incidentally criminalising any
import/export activity we might disapprove (whisky and cigarettes for

The system allows us to cream off Iraqi money to pay compensation claims ­
11 billion dollars (a third of total Iraqi exports) since 1996. Now let us
be frank. If the anti-sanctions campaign succeeds in its aim of restoring to
the Iraqi government and people control over the Iraqi economy, then it will
become very difficult to extract money of this sort for compensation claims.
Under the present system it is very easy. Very little attention is ever
given to this, but it must be one of the reasons why our government is so
anxious to keep Oil for Food in place.

(A little digression on my use of the term 'we' and 'our'. In the course of
the recent spat between John Smith and Larry McCain, the view was expressed
that 'the enemy of humanity' was not the American people but the American
government. The United States, however, is a democracy. So is the United
Kingdom, which backs the US policy 100%. Neither in the US nor in the UK has
any substantial section of political life expressed revulsion at the policy
of mass starvation which is presently being conducted against Iraq. If the
word 'democracy' means anything, we are, all of us, including the 'working
class', responsible. And since we are so closely linked to the US, we cannot
say that the US are more responsible, more deserving to be called 'enemies
of hum<ˆ $p=\¿selves. It i<`t someone else who is doing this.)

To come back to the Monde Diplomatique article. Iraq is not represented on
the UN Compensations Committee. It has no right to examine the files or
argue against any of the claims made, which is an extraordinary state of
affairs for a body which claims to be observing legal procedure. As the
article says: 'Even a criminal has the right to defend himself. And no-one
asks him to pay for the trial, the judges, the "investigation". Each year 50
million dollars are taken off Iraqi exports to pay for the Commission, the
least journey undertaken by its experts ­ in the business class ­ the
substantial emoluments of its commissioners ...'

Iraq has no vote in the UN General Assembly because it has not paid its
subscription 'when the biggest debtor to the organisation ­ over one billion
dollars ­ is the United States.' The Iraqi proposal that its subscription
could be included in the sum lifted off its oil revenues was, of course,
rejected. The Iraqi ambassador to Geneva, Mr Mohammed el-Douri, operates
under rather difficult circumstances: 'the Xerox company refused to sell him
photocopying machines, doubtless worried in case he converted them into
chemical weapons ...'

The Kuwaiti government has put in claims for 21.6 billion dollars. According
to Mr El-Douri, these were submitted in May and June 1994. The claims were
never communicated to Baghdad which was only informed of them, through a
résumé, in February 1999, five years later. The Iraqis were given until 19th
September to prepare a response. They did so. The Kuwaitis replied. But the
Kuwaiti reply was not communicated to Baghdad. The Iraqis were given a
chance to put their case in person on the 14th December ­ for an hour! At
the end of which process the Commission ruled that they must pay 15.9
billion dollars, provoking (at long last) protests from the French and

All of this went against the recommendation of the UN Secretary General in
1991 that Iraq should be 'informed of all claims and should have the right
to present its comments to the Commissioners' (I assume the original of this
and other quotes are in English. I am translating from the French).

The article goes on to discuss the claims that have already been processed
indicating among other things that, of claims for 'mental pain anguish' (the
term is given in English) Kuwaitis (160,000 claims) were reimbursed almost
100% while Jordanians (mainly Palestinians, 40,000 claims) were only
reimbursed to 40%. Very little documentary evidence was presented to support
these claims and 'in many cases different files carried the same telephone
numbers and concerned the same losses.' Complaints about this, notably from
the Chinese representative on the commission, were brushed aside (a detailed
breakdown of claims is given in a separate article). 'Many Kuwaiti
businessmen were compensated for businesses which belonged to [non-Kuwaiti]
Arabs, often Palestinians, since Kuwaiti law obliged foreigners to employ a
local "prête-nom" {'front man'] to open a business' (I note in parenthesis
that German legislation in the 1930s required Jews to do the same, with the
result that many of the properties destroyed in the Kristallnacht were
actually owned by Aryans, who received the compensation ­ PB).

'Israeli flower or vegetable shops and many cinemas and hotels have received
millions of dollars to compensate for loss of business during the crisis ...
Can anyone imagine Great Britain demanding compensation from Germany because
of the decline in cinema audiences between 1939 and 1945?'

The total claims received come to around 320 billion dollars, 180 of them
for Kuwait alone. If this is cut down to 100 billion dollars it will still
amount to 300 billion over 10-15 years, once interest is added (as it was
decided it would be in December 1992). That amounts to a third of the petrol
receipts, at the present high price, until 2050 or 2060, without mentioning
debts contracted prior to August 1990.

The man responsible for the whole process, the Assistant Executive
Secretary, Michael F. Raboin, is quoted as saying: 'We thought that the UN,
with the UNCC, was inaugurating a new age, characterised by the victory of
Law.' Two articles that may be interesting are cited in footnotes ­ a
critical view by Michael E. Schneider: 'How fair and efficient is the United
Nations Compensation Commission system?', Journal of International
Arbitration, vol 15, no. 1, March 1998; and a defence by Raboin's assistant,
Norbert Wühler: 'The United Nations Compensation Commission: A new
contribution to the process of international claims resolution', Journal of
International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999.

Peter Brooke
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