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New Zealanders guilty of warcrimes, lawyer argues
ISMAG, 29 February 2000
Tuesday 29 February 2000
New Zealanders who help enforce sanctions against Iraq, knowing of the civilian impacts, are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a meeting of the International Law Association at the Victoria University Law School was told tonight.
In a paper entitled 'Sanctions, Genocide and War crimes', Christchurch lawyer Shuna Lennon examined New Zealand's continued participation in the United Nations Security Council blockade and sanctions regime which UNICEF claims have been responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqi children.
Miss Lennon, a member of the Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), says the sanctions are in breach of the Geneva Convention's prohibition against starving or attacking civilians and the International Convention against Genocide.
She said New Zealand must immediately advise the UN that it would not respond to any further requests for frigates, in light of the illegality of the blockade and sanctions regime.
Miss Lennon said the UN Security Council and all UN member states, including New Zealand, were bound by the international laws and that there could be no doubt that the UN was aware from its inception that the sanctions/blockade regime would be likely to contribute to the starvation of the civilian population.
Whether or not the ultimate purpose hoped to be achieved by the sanctions was legal, they were in breach of these fundamental humanitarian laws. Miss Lennon said the criminality of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was no excuse for what the UN and its member nations was doing, because the people being killed by the sanctions were not responsible for his criminal acts.
She said that the Geneva Convention applied to the situation because the blockade/sanctions regime amounted to seige warfare, which is automatically illegal because, by its nature, it targets civilians. The sanctions are also taking place within the context of ongoing bombing of Iraqi targets, and the Geneva Convention applies wherever there is armed conflict. The Convention against Genocide applies because the Iraqi people are being starved and killed in large numbers simply because they are Iraqi.
Miss Lennon said that, even if it is arguable that the Security Council did not know from the inception of the sanctions that they were certain to bring about civilian deaths, it undoubtedly knew from 1995 when UNICEF, The World Health Organisation, and the UNFAO, released reports outlining the full extent of the humanitarian catastrophe.
The New Zealand government must take full responsibility for the consequences of its participation in the blockade/sanctions regime, she said.
Since 1995 New Zealand has sent three frigates to help enforce the blockade directly contributing to the ongoing death of 4,500 children per month (UNICEF figures). The most recent, Te Kaha, was in the Gulf in November and December 1999.
The contents of the UN reports detailing the effects on civilians have been repeatedly drawn to the government's attention over the past two years and it must act on its knowledge. As early as 1996, on the eve of the RNZN frigate Canterbury going to the Gulf, Dr. Peter Pellett, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Masssachusetts, and author of a UNFAO report on Iraqi child malnutrition, said that if New Zealand's frigate helped extend the sanctions for another year, as much as 100,000 children would die.*
The New Zealand Government cannot wash its hands of responsibility by saying it is following the orders of the UN. It must not send any more frigates to participate in the blockade and must urgently review its stance on the whole situation. It should call upon the UN Security Council and all UN member nations to lift the sanctions and stop the killing.
The grave legal and policy implications of these arguments, especially in light of New Zealand's active participation in the situation, are acknowledged, says Ms. Lennon. Also fully appreciated is the extent to which these findings run contrary to received wisdom that the UN does not act contrary to the law.
An ISMAG spokesman, Dr. Marten Hutt, said that ISMAG fully supports and endorses the important work of Shuna Lennon in this legal research, which, he says, reflects a growing awareness among international lawyers and law of armed conflict experts on this issue.
We must not, Dr. Hutt continued, forget that this is the most comprehensive sanctions regime ever imposed on a country in human history. It is natural that the effects - on lives, and in law - are both extreme and grave. Besides being illegal, and in the face of senior UN diplomats resigning in protest,# the sanctions are are even more exposed as immoral, unjust and ineffective.
* as reported in NZ Herald and Evening Post in October 1996. See http://come.to/ISMAG
# last week, Hans Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Coordinator, and Jutta Burghardt resigned as head of the World Food Programme in Iraq. This was 16 months after Denis Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Humanitarian coordinator resigned. All three were senior, career diplomats. All three resigned in public protest at the civilian impact of the sanctions. Halliday will be visiting New Zealand on 14-20 April 2000 to speak to media, politicians and officials. Today the executive chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Duelfer, resigned, but it is unclear from Associated Press reports if this was in protest at the sanctions regime.
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