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A Critique of the UN Report on Sanctions


22 Jun 1999 - Prepared for End the Arms Race by Joanne Svenson



On January 30, 1999, the President of the UN Security Council requested a panel be formed to report on the current humanitarian situation in Iraq. The report consisted of data made available by the office of the Iraq Program as well as several UN organizations and NGO's. It concludes with recommendations to both the Security Council and the Iraqi government.

The report, released on April 15, 1999, points to a "continuing degradation of the Iraqi economy with an acute deterioration in the living condition of the Iraqi population and severe strains on its social fabric since the initiation of economic sanctions (p.44).

In brief, Iraq's GDP fell by two thirds, child mortality rate increased by 222%, and communicable diseases became epidemic. And, although the 1995 "oil for food" program (resolution 986) increased the average caloric intake by 937 kcal/day, the reports states: "food imports alone [can] not address the problem of malnutrition in the absence of a drive to rehabilitate the infrastructure, especially as regard health care and water/sanctions" (p.43). These are disturbing facts in a country that prior to 1991 provided quality health care to 97% of the total population. In short, the report is a graphic acknowledgement of the devastation of once thriving and progressive country.

Where the report fails, however, is in its recommendations. Besides the obvious suggestions, which include a redesigning of how the revenue from resolution 986 gets allocated, a release of frozen foreign assets and an easing of entry approval regulations for humanitarian aid, there are three recommendation which are problematic. P These resolutions are problematic not so much in their form, but in their implications.

The first is a lifting of the ceiling on allowable oil exports. Superficially this is an excellent suggestion as it includes an acknowledgement that the Iraqi oil industry is in serious decline due to war damaged infrastructure, outdated equipment, insufficient maintenance and a drought in world prices. Oil production, before 1991 provided for 60% of the GDP. It has since fallen by 87%. However, the catch to this recommendation is that there be a bilateral production agreement between the Iraqi government and foreign oil companies, in which the latter would be given the right to import the necessary equipment and spare parts. (These same parts and equipment are currently prohibited from entering the country because of sanctions). This is followed by a recommendation that private foreign investment be encouraged in other industries including fertilizer and agriculture. To understand the implications of these two recommendations it is necessary to review a little of Iraq's recent history.

After W.W.I, Iraq was put under British mandate and with the signing of the San Remo agreement, British companies and their allies were guaranteed exclusive rights to Iraqi oil. By 1938, multinational petroleum companies controlled the oil rights to 99.9% of Iraqi land with concessions extending beyond the year 2000. Although a 50-50 profit sharing agreement between Iraq and the multinationals was brokered in 1952 the final computations did not take into account Iraq's cost of production nor the artificially low prices that Iraq had historically been forced to set for its oil. It wasn't until 1975, after years of unsuccessful negotiations to get the multinationals to acknowledge and compensate for decades of unfair business practices, that the Iraqi government secured enough power to nationalize its oil industry. Agreeing to the recommendations as outlined above would be setting the stage for a repeat occurrence of foreign exploitation.

The third recommendation that gives cause for concern is for imported food or grain to be considered a supplement and not a replacement for local produce. Once again a fine idea except it fails to acknowledge the environmental disaster know as Depleted Uranium (DU). DU is the heaviest metal in the world with a radioactive half-life of at least 4000 years. During the Gulf War, coalition forces fired at least one million rounds of ammunition coated in DU and, according to the US Department of Defense, at least 40 tones of DU were left on the battlefields of Iraq. Upon impact, DU coated ammunition explodes into millions of tiny radioactive particles which can be inhaled, absorbed into the water table and enter into the food chain.

Less than a decade later after DU was used, Iraq is feeling the consequences. Besides noting an abnormal increase in the size of locally grown vegetables, genetic defects like Downs Syndrome and congenital defects have tripled since the war. Encouraging local food production is analogous to a cultural death sentence in an already beleaguered population.

As stated above, the report does not shy away from the effects of war and sanctions on the Iraqi citizenry. It does, however, miss the point in its recommendations. At the very least economic sanctions must be lifted and a full environmental cleanup should be initiated by those responsible for the DU disaster. A quote from the report states it best: " 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" (p.45).

For more information, see United Nations Security Council document S/1999/356 of 30 March 1999.

Return to "Stop killing the people of Iraq".

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