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Further pressure on NZ support for UN sanctions against Iraq
17 February 2000
Media statement for immediate release
Second Top UN official resigns in 3 days: puts further pressure on NZ support for UN sanctions against Iraq
The resignation of a second UN official in protest against the sanctions against Iraq has placed pressure on the new government, still reviewing New Zealand's policy of supporting the UN sanctions against Iraq.
Yesterday, Reuters and Associated Press announced that Ms. Jutta Berghardt, head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Baghdad since January 1999 has resigned, apparently in protest at the sanctions. This follows on from the resignation on Tuesday of Hans von Sponeck, the United Nations' humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq.
Von Sponeck and Burghardt are both senior German diplomats. AP and Reuters both cite sources that state she resigned because she saw sanctions as a "failure", and that in her resignation letter, she attributed civilian suffering to the sanctions. The WFP maintains she left for "personal reasons".
An Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG) spokesman, Dr. Marten Hutt, said that "It is clear this is the start of a UN revolt at senior levels. Von Sponeck was reported by Reuters today as saying "everyone here in the UN is concerned over the inadequacy of the oil-for-food programme...That is not just my view".
"How can New Zealand support a UN programme that UN officials implementing it are resigning in protest over? The situation is absurd. This places further pressure on the new government's foreign policy on Iraq. We know from our meetings with Phil Goff that he is personally deeply concerned with the delivery of humanitarian aid to Iraq. These latest resignations show that the oil-for-food programme is inadequate, even if implemented fully. We encourage the Minister to think beyond small bureaucratic gains and address the bigger question: what is the justification for non-military sanctions in the first place? We are awaiting the Minister's responses to these dramatic resignations"
Mr. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, will be in New Zealand next week, and the resignations of these top UN Iraq officials is expected to be be discussed with Prime Minister Helen Clark and Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff. Although under current review, the NZ government position is to support the sanctions against Iraq, mainly through sending frigates to the Gulf. UNICEF argues the sanctions directly result in the death of 4,500 children per month.
The resignation of Von Sponeck follows that of his predecessor, Denis Halliday, who will be in New Zealand briefing officials and politicians in April. Halliday also resigned in protest at what he called the "futility" of sanctions.
An Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG) spokesman, Dr. Marten Hutt, said that "The statements and resignation of Von Sponeck and Burghardt is the latest in a long line of diplomats, soldiers, doctors, politicians and journalists - who have recently seriously questioned the nature of policy towards Iraq. As Oscar Wilde might have said "To have lost one senior UN official is careless, to lose two is a tragedy". Von Sponeck and Burghardt, like Halliday before them, have been brave and honourable. The sanctions are immoral, unjust and ineffective".
"With Phil Goff and Helen Clark meeting Kofi Annan next week, and possibly Denis Halliday in April, now is the time for the new government to reconsider their policy position on Iraq sanctions ".