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Debate in Canada's House of Commons

Svend Robinson, a Canadian M.P., has forwarded CASI this transcript from
the Canadian House of Commons.



Debate May 10, 2001

Sanctions against Iraq

Mr. Svend Robinson (Burnaby-Douglas, NDP) moved:
That, in the opinion of this House, the Canadian government should lead
efforts at the United Nations to lift the economic sanctions imposed upon
Iraq since 1991, which have served only to inflict severe suffering on
civilians, especially the most vulnerable members of the Iraqi population,
namely the elderly, the sick and children.

He said: Madam Speaker, it is with a sense of profound sadness and anger
that I rise in my place in the House today to once again plead with our
government, the Government of Canada, to finally show leadership and to call
on the United Nations and on every other international forum for an end to
the genocidal sanctions that have been imposed upon the people of Iraq for
the last decade.

I cannot believe I am still standing in place today pleading with our
government to act, over a year after a strong, powerful and eloquent report
of a unanimous foreign affairs committee called on the Liberal government to
do precisely what I am seeking today, to lift the economic sanctions that
have had such a catastrophic impact on innocent human lives, innocent people
in Iraq.

The sanctions certainly have not had an impact on Saddam Hussein, but over
the course of the last decade, they have resulted in the death, according to
UNICEF, of over half a million children under the age of five.

I travelled to Iraq back in January 2000 with a delegation from a group
called Voices of Conscience, Objection de conscience. This is a group of
very fine women and men, mainly from Quebec, who are artists, journalists,
doctors and representatives of non-governmental organizations. We travelled
overland into Baghdad and then down into the southern part of Iraq.

For me it was a return visit because I had been to Iraq nine years
previously, just before war broke out. I visited in November 1990 leading a
delegation that included Lloyd Axworthy, then foreign affairs critic for the
Liberal Party, and a Conservative member of parliament named Bob Corbett.

The results of the imposition of that draconian sanctioned regime, as well
as the massive and ongoing bombings that many Canadians do not even know is
happening in Iraq today, were absolutely devastating both to the people and
to the infrastructure of Iraq.

We must never forget the appalling attack that took place in 1991. I will
not call it a war because, as one of the United States generals said, it was
like shooting fish in a barrel. I believe there were over 100,000 Iraqi
casualties of that attack.
Prior to that attack, Iraq was one of the most advanced countries in the
Middle East in economic, social and cultural rights. Iraq has the second
largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. They belong to the
people of Iraq. They were nationalized in 1972. Iraq had an extensive health
care system, clean and abundant drinking water, sewage treatment plants,
electric power generation plants, free education at all levels and a
comprehensive network of social services. The status of women in Iraq, a
country in the Middle East in which too often women are still very much
second class citizens, was one of the most advanced of any country in that

What our delegation witnessed on our return last year was the total collapse
of Iraq's human and physical infrastructure, a nation that has experienced a
shift from, as was described by the United Nations development program,
relative affluence to massive poverty. Unemployment is epidemic. Inflation
has skyrocketed. The average salary is about $5 U.S. a month. There has been
a dramatic increase in begging, prostitution and crime.

The agriculture sector is in disarray, ravaged by hoof and mouth disease,
screwworm and the effects of major drought. The once thriving and vibrant
cultural sector has been another victim of this inhumane sanctions regime,
as our delegation heard from the artists with whom we met.

While we were in Baghdad we also met with the then United Nations
humanitarian co-ordinator, Hans von Sponeck. Hans von Sponeck, who was a
distinguished public servant with the United Nations for many years,
resigned shortly after we left. He said that he could no longer participate
in the administration of the inhumane sanctions regime. In resigning in that
way, he joined the former United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator, Dennis
Halliday, and the former head of the United Nations World Food Program,
Jutta Burghardt. He pointed out in many speeches afterwards that, in his
words, Iraq was truly a third world country once again. He said, and I

I have never been in a country where I have seen so many adults crying.

In a recent speech, he quoted from a December 2000 UNICEF report that ranked
the increase in Iraq's child mortality rates the highest among 188 countries
in the world since 1991; a 160% surge as a result of a lack of medicine,
malnutrition and water borne diseases, such as dysentery.

Hans von Sponeck strongly opposes the sanctions and has called for the
lifting of the sanctions. He said that he wants it clearly underlined that
does not mean he supports Saddam Hussein, which is certainly also the case
for myself and members of the New Democratic Party.

While Saddam Hussein has an appalling track record of repression, including
the gassing of Kurds in northern Iraq at Halabja, and should be held
accountable before the international community for his crimes, we also need
to understand that the impact of these genocidal sanctions means that those
are who are directly responsible for imposing them are, in my view, also
guilty of crimes against humanity.

Let us look at the former United States secretary of state, Madeleine
Albright. When she was asked in an interview whether the deaths of thousands
and thousands of innocent Iraqi children were worth the price that was being
paid to enforce these sanctions, she looked right into the camera and she
said "yes, that is a price worth paying". That was a price worth paying, the
death of those children.

As my colleague for Vancouver East said, that is shameful and that is
genocidal. As Hans von Sponeck said "whether you die by bullets or by hunger
and disease, you are still dead". Iraq in the last 10 years has suffered
beyond any imaginable allowable limits.

We often hear talk of Iraq as a rogue state. The United States is seeking to
justify its new star wars scheme, the national missile defence program,
partly by suggesting that somehow Iraq, North Korea, Iran and others are
rogue states.

I want to suggest that the true rogue state on the planet today in fact is
the United States itself, which has shown such contempt for international
law and for the standards of basic humanity in enforcing these profoundly
immoral and illegal sanctions.

The United States, after all, is a country that has demonstrated contempt
for international law in many different ways. It has shown contempt for the
environment by turning its back on the Kyoto accord. It has shown contempt
for the rights of children by being one of the only countries in the world,
along with Somalia, that has refused to sign the international convention on
the rights of the child. It has shown contempt for international law by
supporting the absolute violent and appalling policies of the Israeli
government in its attacks on the Palestinians and its illegal policy of
occupation in settlements. Terrible violence is being directed against
Palestinians. It is the United States that has consistently been propping it
up. We can also look at the United States in the context of its support for
the illegal sanctions against Cuba. Once again, which state is the real
rogue state in the world today? We know which one it is.

The current situation in Iraq is absolutely tragic. The greatest burden of
these sanctions is borne by the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society: the
children, the women, the disabled and the elderly.

As I have mentioned, UNICEF has confirmed that infant mortality rates have
skyrocketed since the imposition of these sanctions. Over half a million
children have died as a result of the imposition of these sanctions and
4.500 children continue to die each month.

I met with doctors in Baghdad and Basra who, with tears in their eyes, spoke
of their sense of helplessness and powerlessness in being unable to save the
lives of more than 2% of the children in their care in the oncology wards.
They knew that many of those who survived would just return to hellish
conditions of malnutrition and open sewage. There was one nurse for 100
children in a ward that we visited.

There has been an explosive rise in the incidence of endemic infections,
such as cholera, typhoid and malaria, and major increases in measles, polio
and tetanus. Iraq has also seen a huge brain drain as a result of the
sanctions. The middle class has largely been destroyed and young people see
no hope for their future. We were told of Saturday auctions where proud
Iraqi families are forced to sell off their family heirlooms and furniture
simply to survive.

I visited a pediatric clinic in Basra in the south. The death toll there was
particularly high and it was linked to the use by the allies of depleted
uranium in bombing in the spring of 1991. As I have mentioned, the bombings
continue even today in that region. It is illegal. The no fly zones have no
legal basis whatsoever, yet the United States and the U.K. continue to bomb
and innocent civilians continue to die as a result of that bombing. Recently
they bombed just outside Baghdad. I was ashamed as a Canadian that our
government was one of the only governments that was actually prepared to
stand up and defend the United States and the United Kingdom in that illegal
bombing. The bombing goes on and the impact of depleted uranium in terms of
the congenital deformities, particularly in the south, has been terrible.

We also witnessed the results of what one Baghdad professor referred to as
the intellectual genocide of Iraq. Virtually no funding is left for
education as a result of the oil proceeds and so the system has collapsed.
They have no access to scientific and medical journals and no opportunities
to attend professional conferences. Parents give their children chalk to
take to schools. Our delegation brought in pencils and medical supplies as
an act of silent defiance.

What about the oil for food program? Well, it has not worked. In fact the
so-called 661 committee, which enforces the program, has been harshly
criticized by many commentators, including the secretary general of the
United Nations who said just last November that he had serious concerns over
the excessive number of holds that have been placed on applications and on
sectors, such as electricity, water, sanitation and agriculture, that impact
adversely on the poor state of nutrition in Iraq.

I would like to say a word about nutrition. Dr. Sheila Zurbrigg has
documented eloquently the state of famine that has gripped Iraq today. She
pointed out that in recent statistics the trends in mortality are getting
even worse and that the conditions are getting worse. She also said that
child malnutrition rates in the centre south part of the country do not
appear to have improved and nutrition problems remain serious and
widespread. Acute malnutrition is a huge problem and it is above 10%. Many
children are small for their age and visibly wasting away. One in seven
Iraqi children will die before the age of five. It is absolutely
unbelievable. The agricultural sector, as the FAO has pointed out, is in
crisis as well.

I have mentioned Dr. Sheila Zurbrigg. I will also pay tribute to the many
Canadians, individuals and organizations that have worked so tirelessly and
with such commitment and dedication against these inhumane and genocidal
sanctions. These include the Canadian Network to End Sanctions on Iraq, the
Nova Scotia Campaign to End Iraq Sanctions, End the Arms Race, Physicians
for Global Survival Canada, Objection de conscience or Voices of Conscience,
Project Ploughshares, Kawartha Ploughshares and many such groups across the

In closing, I once again remind the House of the unanimous recommendation of
the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that the
government immediately work for the lifting of economic sanctions. It is
essential that the sanctions be lifted, that they be lifted now and that
Canada show the leadership that makes it possible.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise
in the House today to wholeheartedly support the motion brought forward by
the member for Burnaby-Douglas.

The work of the member for Burnaby-Douglas has been outstanding, not just on
this issue but also in understanding and promoting international human
rights. He speaks with a great sense of hope for people in Canada who seek
an alternative to Canada's foreign policy. The member has been a beam of
light for a lot of people in in the work that he has undertaken.

I listened with great sadness as he described his personal visit to Iraq and
what he encountered while there.
Members in the House and Canadian enjoy the basic necessities of life,
although there are people in this country who live in poverty. However what
is happening to the people of Iraq is something that is truly horrifying.

I listened to the debate and was quite alarmed at what I heard. The member
who spoke for the government side and the member who spoke for the Canadian
Alliance were both members of the committee and, as we heard from the member
for Burnaby-Douglas, were part of the unanimous report that came from that
committee which sought to have these sanctions removed.

It quite alarming that in a committee members can somehow find the courage
and the reason to see the absolute horror and devastation of what has
happened with the sanctions, yet on another day in the House somehow be in
favour of them. In fact the member for the Alliance characterized the motion
as being naive. I am quite surprised by that. If we look at the impact of
these sanctions, which have been in place for over a decade, on a civilian
population, we see nothing less than the total destruction of a civil

If we followed the Alliance member's reasoning and logic, if we can call it
a logic, then for the net result what would be success in the eyes of that
member? Would it be that every child has died? Would it be that 50% of the
population of children under five have died? The logic of what is being
presented is actually illogical.

I take issue with the fact that, as we have heard, the target of the
sanctions is Saddam Hussein. If that is so, then there has to be an
agreement that the goal of those sanctions has been a failure. Here we are
10 years later and the guy is still in power. Meanwhile the civil society,
the infrastructure, the hospitals, the health care, the water system and
everything has been totally destroyed. I would say to those who have been
proponents of this kind of course of action and this kind of foreign policy
that this has been an abject failure.

In my community of Vancouver east, and in Vancouver generally, I have
received many letters and phone calls from individual constituents who have
been horrified and outraged at the destruction these sanctions have caused
the people of Iraq.

I have personally attended rallies, vigils and meetings. I know that some of
the real activists in Vancouver, people like Linda Morgan who was very
involved in organizing the delegation that went to Iraq last year, are very
committed to an international campaign of solidarity with people from other
countries to draw attention to what is taking place in this country. As a
Canadian member of parliament, I feel ashamed that our government has so
blindly followed this sanction policy for so many years.

Let us be clear about what the motion before us today says. It does not say
that Canada should take unilateral action. It does not say that Canada
should just strike out on its own. It says that the Canadian government
should lead the efforts at the United Nations to lift economic sanctions.
There are many Canadians who would see that as a positive, hopeful and
powerful role for the government to play rather than standing by and
watching the devastation take place.

I listened to the news the other day to hear what was going on, as we all do
every day. I made note that the Pope has now called for lifting of the
sanctions. I believe there is a growing consciousness globally that if this
is what we have sunk to as an international community, if the lowest common
denominator of foreign policy is to basically impose hunger, famine, lack of
medical supplies, lack of education, lack of clean water and if this is what
foreign policy has come to, then where are we in terms of an international

As Canadians we should pause and reflect about our complicity is in these
sanctions. I urge members on the government side, particularly those members
who are part of the foreign affairs committee and who apparently supported
the lifting of the sanctions, to think about what this government policy is

It seems to me that historically after a conflict or war there is often a
period of reconciliation where the international community comes together to
rebuild from the devastation of war. Yet in this situation not only was
there a war that was horrific, and we could argue that another day in terms
of what that was all about, but another war has unfolded, a war that has
been even more devastating and that has been going on now for 10 years,
which is the war of these sanctions.

Therefore, I feel a sense of deep tragedy about what has taken place here. I
hope the motion today will help draw attention to the plight of the Iraqi
people and to some of the very credible reports which have been produced by
the international community such as UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and many
others who have witnessed firsthand what has happened and have given
evidence to their witness of that.

Another point I would like to make is the member from the Canadian Alliance
made an outrageous statement that the Arab summit was not in favour of
lifting the sanctions, which was absolutely not the case. That is totally

In fact, the Amman Declaration of March 28 from the 13th Arab summit,
clearly stated:

We call for lifting the sanctions on Iraq and for dealing with the
humanitarian issues pertaining to Iraq, Kuwaiti and other prisoners of war
according to the principles of our religion and national heritage.

Therefore, the Alliance member was clearly false in his assertion.

In closing, I want to thank the member for Burnaby-Douglas for bringing
forward this issue again; a sane idea, a saner policy for a humane world
where we do not destroy a civil society because we are trying to get at one
I hope the members of this House will consider this motion and, like the
local and national organizations who have worked so hard, put pressure on
our Canadian government to convince it to be part of an effort to lift these

Mr. Svend Robinson: Madam Speaker, in the final minutes of this debate I
want to certainly thank my colleague, the member for Vancouver East, for
once again eloquently speaking out for justice, for human rights, for the
rights of the people of Iraq to live in dignity and in support of this
motion for the lifting of sanctions. I also want to thank my colleague from
Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough for his very thoughtful comments.

I must say that I am really quite shocked at the fact that not a single
Liberal member of parliament was prepared to stand during the course of this
debate and speak out in support of what Liberal members voted in favour of
during the last parliament. The foreign affairs committee in that last
parliament passed a motion unanimously with the support of every party,
including the Alliance Party and the Liberals. I see the parliamentary
secretary here who was a member of that committee and voted in favour of
this motion, as did the member for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. The motion passed
unanimously stated:
Notwithstanding the adoption of security council resolution 1284, the
committee urgently pursue the delinking of economic from military sanctions
with a view to rapidly lifting economic sanctions in order to significantly
improve the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people.

That is what the motion today calls for. It is unbelievable that members who
voted in favour of this principle in the last parliament now are condemning
it. How many more innocent Iraqi lives have been lost over the course of
just the last year?
They say we have to maintain these economic sanctions because of concern
about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They ignore the report that they
signed on to. In fact that report states very clearly, referring to a March
1999 report of the UN expert panel on disarmament "The bulk of Iraq's
prescribed weapons programs have been eliminated-100% of verification may be
an unattainable goal".

Indeed the former lead United Nations weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, has
emphatically declared that Iraq was qualitatively disarmed of weapons of
mass destruction from 1991 to 1998. Yet of course there was no lifting of

I have no doubt that if the international community, with Canada leading in
this, were to make it very clear to the Iraqi government that we were
prepared to lift economic sanctions by a specific and firm date with
international guarantees, Iraq would be prepared to allow the readmission of
arms inspectors into that country and an assurance that any evidence of
weapons that were being produced illegally would be dealt with and dealt
with firmly. However, that is not what is happening here today.

I want to appeal to members once again to recognize the impact of this. The
fact is that we as Canadians are spending some $35 million every year in
enforcing these insane and genocidal sanctions. We have spent over $1
billion since 1991 in this region. I do not believe that Canadians who know
of the impact of these sanctions on innocent human lives support this for
one minute.

Dennis Halliday, the former United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator, in
speaking of these sanctions said "We are destroying an entire society. It is
as simple and as terrifying as that".

He is right. The purpose of this motion is to call for leadership. It is a
tragic coincidence that we are debating this motion on the eve of Mother's
Day. I recall so vividly meeting many Iraqi mothers who had lost children as
a result of these sanctions. I recall looking into the eyes of an Iraqi
mother who pleaded with me "Why are you killing my innocent child?" I could
not answer that question.

I appeal on the eve of Mother's Day for the international community and
Canada to show leadership to end the impact of these destructive and
genocidal sanctions and ensure that no more children, no more innocent
people in Iraq, die as a result of these sanctions. That is my plea. That
was the unanimous plea of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and
International Trade in its report.

  In closing, I seek unanimous consent of the House at this time that this
motion might be made votable so at the very least the House could debate the
issue and ensure that Canadians are given an opportunity to be heard in the
committee on a profoundly important issue of life and death.

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