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RE: Oral Intervention at UN Sub-Commission

Hi John,

Thank you very much for your posting earlier this week about Franciscans
International's intervention in Geneva.  You asked for comments on the
statement submitted by FI to the UN Commission on Human Rights in April of
this year, particularly in light of your planned intervention at the
Sub-commission.  I make some general comments on how a submission to one
might differ from a submission to the other and then go on to make some more
specific comments on the attached submission.

The Commission on Human Rights and its Sub-Commission on the Promotion and
Protection of Human Rights have different mandates and histories of the two
bodies (see for links
to these two bodies).  They are therefore "at different places" in this
debate, perhaps making tailored interventions appropriate.

For example, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iraq (originally Max
van der Stoel and now Andreas Mavrommatis) reports to the Commission.  He
was originally mandated by the Commission to look into human rights abuses
arising from Iraqi government behaviour.  As a partial response to his
reports to the Commission and (in the autumn) to the General Assembly's
Third Committee, a resolution is passed annually in each of these bodies
entitled something like "Situation of human rights in Iraq".

In spite of a name that suggests a general interest in human rights, the
resolutions are almost exclusively interested in Iraqi government abuses,
which they correctly and strongly condemn.  They are, however, almost silent
on the sanctions' effect on the enjoyment of human rights in Iraq.
Mavrommatis has tried to inject comments to this effect in his reports, and
there has been some recognition of this in the subsequent resolutions.
Nevertheless, the resolutions remain extraordinary if one pretends to have a
general interest in the "situation of human rights in Iraq".  I find it
likely that this sort of situation strengthens the perception that exists in
parts of the third world that the term "human rights" is a stick used by
rich countries to beat poorer countries.

By contrast, the Sub-commission is the archetypically "activist" UN body,
with a reputation for passing resolutions on issues that other bodies will
not touch.  They have expressed much more interest in the consequence of
sanctions in general, and of those on Iraq in particular.

These differences suggest different sorts of interventions.  For example, a
submission to the Commission might argue for a more balanced resolution: if
it wishes to call itself "situation of human rights in Iraq", then it should
address the whole situation.  I don't have as good an idea of what I would
want the Sub-commission to say or do.  My sense is that they've already said
a lot and further words from them may not make that much of a difference.
It would be perhaps be more useful to think about any particular actions
that they can take (e.g. commissioning another report, establishing a
committee).  I don't know enough about their "success stories" to know
whether they could have an Iraq success.

Until now, I've talked about the differences between these bodies.  There's
a key similarity: both are comprised of diplomats who are meeting in
Geneva's hotels and bars.  Iraq is worlds away, and but one more thing on
their agenda.  Thus, both equally need faithful witnesses to the suffering
of the Iraqi people, people who can make real to delegates the harm being
done by UN policy.

Now, on to specific comments on April's remarks from Franciscans

> The humanitarian disaster is such that UNICEF reports that more than
> 500,000 children under five years old have died as a result of the
> between 1991 and 1995. There are still 5000 children dying every month in

This is misleading or incorrect.  The only Unicef report that has produced
its own estimates of child mortality in Iraq is their 1999 report.  See for the press release and links to
the report, and for an
internal Unicef document containing questions and answers about the report.

The press release's key paragraph is the following:

<begin quote>
[Unicef Executive Director] Ms. [Carol] Bellamy noted that if the
substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s
had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer
deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight
year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March
statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states:
"Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors,
especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such
deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the
Security Council and the effects of war."
<end quote>


1. the excess deaths estimate applies to 1991 - 1998, NOT to 1991 - 1995;
2. Unicef has NOT claimed that these children "have died as a result of the
embargo"; they have, "as a partial explanation", quoted the March 1999
humanitarian panel report to the Security Council (see, which gives the sanctions SOME
responsibility for this.

As a methodological point, it is almost impossible to say that any given
child has "died as a result of the embargo": there are multiple sources of
hardship in Iraq, the legacy of two wars being enough of a starting point to
account for a lot of damage.

Finally, there are no independent estimates of monthly excess deaths.
Unicef's survey remains the only independent survey, and its results are in
five year bins.  One can calculate monthly figures from them, but they may
be highly misleading as the programme and living conditions in Iraq have
continued to change since 1999.

> UNDP calculates that it would take 7 billion dollars to rehabilitate the
> power sector country-wide to its 1990 capacity.

The UNDP estimate is contained in paragraph 26 of the Secretary-General's
1998 two year review report (see  In 1991 the Sadruddin
Aga Khan mission (see and estimated
these needs at $12 billion.  I'd don't know the methodology for either so
don't know why they differ as much as they do, or which might be more
accurate (one UN source tells me that the 1991 estimate is).

> Epidemiological studies show that the increased
> incidence of congenital abnormalities and defects, cancers in all
> age groups are directly related to exposure to depleted uranium

It would probably be a good idea to explicitly cite the reports that you
refer to.  I am not particularly knowledgeable about the DU issue, but I
understand that there has only been one attempt by a UN agency to study this
so far.  This produced an (internal?) WHO report, which called for further
study.  As I understand that the US position was "over our dead bodies".  A
new WHO mission was agreed upon some months ago, but seems to have hit a
hurdle.  If anyone on this list has been following this more closely, I'd
certainly appreciate an update.

> Because of the length of time that the sanctions have been in place,
> they are no longer economic but constitute a humanitarian problem.

I wouldn't pose a sharp distinction between "economic" and "humanitarian":
some of our human needs are material needs, and therefore met or not met by
economies.  Economic sanctions are designed to create economic problems not
for their own sake, but because they make life more difficult.

> therefore ask the international community to take all means possible to
bring an end to
> the sanctions which are killing the children of Iraq and to guarantee the
> respect of the rules of international humanitarian law in their regard.

One of my senses is that, as the sanctions on Iraq become more complicated,
our calls will need to be as well.  There are both tactical and more genuine
reasons for making more complicated appeals.  The genuine reasons flow from
the situation's growing complexity: does, for example, lifting sanctions
require debt reduction, without which investors won't invest?  What does a
straight lifting of sanctions mean for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan?  The
tactical reasons reflect the responses that the US and UK give to more
general appeals: yes, we're working to end the sanctions - but Saddam has a
role to play too.

Good courage there John,

Colin Rowat

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