Select Committee on International Development Second Report


13. In recent years, the use of sanctions has increased dramatically. From 1945 to 1990, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on only two occasions, on Rhodesia and South Africa. Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has imposed sanctions on no fewer than 12 occasions,[12] in addition to those sanctions imposed by various regional bodies and bilateral sanctions.

14. The advantages of sanctions as a foreign policy tool to the international community were summed up by Mikael Barfod of ECHO, "I think there are basically three. The first one is that sanctions are regarded as legitimate and a widely applied instrument to enforce international law... The second one is that sanctions are perceived as being a cheap and a low risk alternative to war. I think the third advantage is that sanctions are politically tempting instruments for governments to satisfy domestic constituencies by demonstrating an ability for action, that the government can do something."[13] This was a point also made by the Government in its memorandum, "Sanctions have long been an important tool of the UK's foreign policy and [are] likely to remain so...Sanctions are the only coercive measure available to the international community, other than the threat or use of force, to respond to challenges to international peace and security. If diplomacy fails there needs to be a third choice between doing nothing and military intervention."[14]

15. The Committee has received a great deal of information relating to the humanitarian/developmental impact of sanctions. Mikael Barfod of ECHO set out six areas where he felt sanctions would frequently result in undesired side effects: " The first one is the obvious one that economic sanctions hit the wrong targets in many cases. While the political regime of the target state in many cases remains largely immune against economic hardship, the ordinary population is fully exposed to sanctions ... Secondly, there is the question of what I would call a double embargo. Allocation of resources [by national governments] discriminates against [certain ethnic or social groups] in many cases. When external sanctions are imposed on these states the populations are often punished once more, undermining the economic basis of alternative political forces... The third that economic sanctions promote the creation...of black markets and organised crime and smuggling... Often these profiteers are closely affiliated with the ruling elite of the target state. In Serbia, for instance, the black economy is estimated to represent half of the gross national product... Fourthly, in political terms, the sanctions can be used to create a propagandistic rally around the flag effect, victimising any opposition to the ruling regime...Fifthly, sanctions may economically and politically destabilise non-target states through cutting off trade revenues and through stimulating an increased flow of refugees. Sanction-related losses for Bulgaria, for instance, have been said to be near 3.5 billion US dollars as a result of the crisis in Kosovo. Lastly, it is often said that humanitarian aid could and should mitigate the worst negative effects of economic sanctions. Governments exposed to sanctions often disallow or manipulate humanitarian access...In other words, humanitarian space can become very limited as a result of catch-all sanctions."[15]

16. Concern about the impact of sanctions is particularly acute in two circumstances — comprehensive economic sanction regimes — especially when these have been in place for a prolonged period of time — and regional sanctions regimes, often imposed by countries which lack the capacity both to implement the sanctions effectively and to ensure humanitarian exemptions, and which are often inadequately supervised by the international community .[16] This is reflected in the evidence (both written and oral) received by the Committee which, for the main part, focussed on the cases of Iraq and Burundi.

Comprehensive Economic Sanctions — Iraq

  17. Sanctions were imposed on Iraq by UN Security Council Resolution 661 on 2 August 1990, following the invasion of Kuwait. The sanctions prohibited the export of all products from Iraq, and the sale and supply of all products, including weapons and other military equipment, as well as the transfer of funds, to Iraq. Exemptions to the sanctions regime were made for supplies intended strictly for medical purposes and for certain basic foodstuffs. The Security Council also established a sanctions committee to monitor the implementation of the sanctions.

18. The sanctions regime imposed on Iraq has in recent years become an issue of increasing concern to many humanitarian and other groups. In the months preceding the publication of this Report, Hans von Sponeck has become the second humanitarian coordinator to question the sanctions regime and two successive UN reports have pointed to the humanitarian effects of sanctions on Iraq over the past nine years.[17] The Committee therefore felt it appropriate that a large part of the inquiry should focus on the sanctions regime in place against Iraq — the only comprehensive UN sanctions regime currently in place.

19. Iraq's susceptibility to sanctions was increased by a number of factors. When sanctions were imposed in 1990, Iraq had emerged from a long period of conflict dating back to the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, a fact acknowledged by Dr. Salah A. Shaikhly, official spokesperson for the Iraqi National Congress, the umbrella organisation for most Iraqi opposition groups, "the origins of the present crisis in Iraq dates from the years of war between Iraq and Iran (1980-1988). The roots of what today appears to be the total collapse of the economy lie in that period." Secondly, the impact of the Iran-Iraq War on Iraq's economy and infrastructure was exacerbated by the 38 day allied bombing campaign that followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Thirdly, Iraq was heavily dependent on the export of one product — oil — for revenue. According to the UN, it was, therefore, "relatively easy to cut off exports that provided more than 90 per cent of Iraq's export earnings and 62 per cent of Iraqi GDP. Sanctions therefore had a greater impact on the Iraqi economy than any other sanctions regime on any other target state in history. Per capita income halved between 1989 and 1992 and has continued to decline."[18] Finally, prior to the imposition of sanctions, Iraq was estimated to have relied on food imports for 70 per cent of its requirements: in 1989, the total value of Iraqi food imports exceeded $2,000 million[19] and whilst, from the start, food and medicines were exempted from the sanctions regime, it was not until the final agreement by the UN of the Oil for Food Programme in 1995 that Iraq was provided with the necessary means to purchase them — both at national and local level.

20. A further factor exacerbating the impact of the sanctions is the human rights situation in Iraq. In his most recent report on human rights in Iraq, the UN's Special Rapporteur, Max van der Stoel,[20] concluded that "the gravity of the human rights situation in Iraq had few comparisons in the world since the end of the Second World War" and that the Iraqi regime had "effectively eliminated the civil rights to life, liberty, physical integrity, and the freedoms of thought, expression, association and assembly. In particular, the report highlighted grave violations of human rights against the population of the southern marsh area, the Shiite community and the Kurds. The report went on to conclude that the Government of Iraq had failed to comply with its obligations to provide adequate food, clothing, housing and good health and that "insufficient attention had been paid to allocating budgetary resources in favour of children to the maximum extent available."[21]

21. In order to offset the humanitarian impact of sanctions on Iraq, a number of further measures (in addition to exemptions for food and medicines) have been implemented. Throughout 1991, the UN expressed concern at the humanitarian situation in Iraq and proposed various measures which would permit Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil in return for humanitarian supplies.[22] The Government of Iraq declined to pursue these and subsequent initiatives and it was not until May 1996, after extended negotiations with the UN Secretariat, that Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out detailed arrangements for the implementation of an "Oil for Food Programme" under UN Security Council Resolution 986 as a "temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people."[23]

22. Under the terms of the 986 Resolution, Iraq is responsible for implementing the programme in the 15 governorates of the Centre and South of Iraq and the UN, on behalf of the Iraqi Government, is responsible for implementing the programme in the three Northern governorates of Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Revenues raised through the sale of oil were to be allocated to food, medicines and humanitarian supplies in the South/Centre (53 per cent) and North (13 per cent), to the UN Compensation Fund[24] (30 per cent) to administrative costs (2.2 per cent for administering the programme; 0.8 per cent for the operation of UNSCOM)[25] and to the escrow account (1 per cent).[26] The Programme runs in six month oil exporting phases. The current phase — Phase VII — was approved on 17 December 1999, and a distribution plan for humanitarian goods and services under the programme was approved (as amended) by the Secretary-General on 12 January 2000. The total allocation for the humanitarian programme is $3.522 billion with $1.05 billion earmarked for food. The other main allocations were $300 million for medicines and medical equipment; $198 million for water and sanitation; $321 million for electricity and $600 million for oil spare parts.

23. At a meeting on 17 December, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1274, which had been drafted and piloted through the Security Council by the UK.[27] Eleven Security Council Members voted for the resolution, with China, France, Malaysia and the Russian Federation abstaining. The resolution provides for the establishment of a successor to UNSCOM (the United Nations Special Commission on Monitoring) — the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC); lifts the ceiling on oil exports allowed for export under the Oil for Food Programme and provides for additional export routes. The resolution also proposes measures to streamline sanctions committee approval procedures (discussed below), providing for lists of humanitarian items which will no longer require the approval of the sanctions committee, and directing the sanctions committee to take a decision on all applications in respect of humanitarian and essential civilian needs within a target of two working days. The resolution further encourages member states and international organisations to provide supplementary humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi population and requests the Secretary-General to submit an action plan to the Security Council to outline means by which 986 funds might be better utilised so as to address the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. It further allows for funds deposited in the escrow account to be used for the purchase of locally produced goods and to meet the local cost for essential civilian needs. The resolution finally provides for the suspension of sanctions on the import and export of civilian goods 120 days after UNMOVIC and the IAEA[28] have confirmed that a system of monitoring and verification is fully operational.


24. In spite of such initiatives as the Oil for Food Programme, the Committee has heard a great deal of evidence on the harmful humanitarian impact of sanctions on Iraq. In assessing this evidence, we have been acutely aware of problems in gathering information, a point made be Mikael Barfod, "I think the problem is that it is very difficult to get precise information on the effects of sanctions on vulnerable groups in most cases. One reason is that there is simply a lack of statistical data... that can either be because the regime does not have the data or it does not want to produce it or even to release it. There is another factor as well which is something I would call diagnosis drift ...In other words, you blame everything on sanctions."[29] Such problems are exacerbated in the case of Iraq, where the leadership has a vested interest in exaggerating the impact of sanctions and in downplaying any culpability on its part in impeding the effective delivery of humanitarian relief. The Committee is concerned at the lack of reliable information on the humanitarian impact of sanctions on Iraq. Relief programmes will not be effective in the absence of such information on the nature and causes of humanitarian distress in Iraq.

25. Despite this lack of information, Mikael Barfod, who has visited Iraq on a number of occasions, told the Committee that he had "tried very hard before this hearing here to get some hard facts on Iraq which I thought would interest you and even there it is very difficult to come up with good data. Some sources claim that 240,000 children under five years have died from 1990 to 1997 as a result of the sanctions. Other sources say that 25 per cent of all children under five suffer from malnutrition. I have also heard figures that a quarter of children are low weight at birth, that a third of the children are malnourished at birth, that 41 per cent of the population do not have access to clean water, which of course affects children more than anyone else with diarrhoea diseases etc.. These health surveys that I have seen reveal shortages of pharmaceutical equipment, medical equipment, medicines, oxygen. Sometimes when you visit hospitals, you cannot even find an aspirin on any shelf and that obviously has particular effects on the vulnerable groups."[30]

26. Since the Committee launched its inquiry, two important reports have been produced assessing the impact of sanctions on Iraq. In January 1999, the Security Council established three panels on Iraq. The second panel was charged with "assessing the current humanitarian situation in Iraq and to make recommendations regarding measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Iraq." A summary of the report's findings is included in Box 1 below. In their submission to this panel on humanitarian issues, the UNDP noted, "having the largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, Iraq is still to come to terms with the notion of poverty... in 1987, per capita GNP was still at a comfortable level of $3,508... The country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty... In 1998, Iraq was ranked 42 out of the 77 poorest countries...making the country, at least in terms of income, comparable with such countries as Madagascar and Rwanda."[31] In addition to general indications of the social conditions in Iraq, the report provides details of specific sectors such as the psycho-social wellbeing of children, mental health, women in deprivation, safety at work, child mortality, the disabled, the elderly, education and the plight of internally displaced persons.

Box 1: The Report of the Second Panel of Inquiry into Iraq

Situation prior to 1990

Health: According to WHO, prior to 1991, health care reached 97 per cent of the urban population and 78 per cent of rural residents. A major reduction in infant mortality took place between 1960 and 1990. Over ninety per cent of the population had access to an abundant quantity of safe drinking water. Iraq relied on food imports for two thirds of its requirements.

Education: According to UNICEF, in 1989, the combined primary and secondary enrollment ratio stood at 75 per cent.

Power: In 1990, there were 126 power stations generating 8,903 mw. Oil exports accounted for 60 per cent of GDP and 95 per cent of foreign currency earnings. In 1989, Iraq was producing 2.8 million barrels per day.

Situation after the imposition of sanctions:

It is estimated that, as a result of the war and sanctions, Iraq's GDP fell by nearly two thirds in 1991, due to an 85 per cent decline in oil production. Per capita income fell from $3,416 to $1,500 in 1991 and has since decreased to less than $1,036 (and has been estimated to be as low as $450 in 1995). Meanwhile, average shop prices for essential commodities stood at 850 times the July 1990 level.

Health: Maternal and under-five mortality has more than doubled. UNFPA and the ICRC believe that as many as 70 per cent of women are suffering from anaemia. The dietary energy supplement had fallen from 3.120 to 1.093 kilo calories per capita per day by 1994-95. Low weight babies rose from 4 per cent in 1990 to around a quarter of registered births in 1997, mainly due to maternal malnutrition. A nutritional status survey conducted in 1997 determined that almost the whole young child population was affected by a shift in their nutritional status towards malnutrition. Potable water is currently 50 per cent of the 1990 level in urban areas and 33 per cent in rural areas. The functional capacity of the health care system has been degraded by shortages of water and power supply, lack of transportation and the collapse of telecommunications.

Education: School enrollment for all ages has declined to 53 per cent. According to UNESCO, in Central and Southern Iraq 83 per cent of school buildings need rehabilitation.

Power: Power generation has fallen to 3,500 mw. Power shortages have worsened to up to six hours a day since July 1998.

27. Secondly, in August 1999, a report on child and maternal mortality conducted by UNICEF and the Iraqi Ministry of Health revealed that under-five mortality had more than doubled from 56 deaths per 1,000 live births (1984-89) to 131 (1994-99). Infant mortality — defined as the death of children in their first year — increased from 47 per 1,000 live births to 108 per 1,000 live births. UNICEF estimated that, if the substantial reductions in child mortality achieved throughout Iraq in the 1980s had continued into the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole in the eight year period from 1991 to 1998. In addition to the quantitative measures of declining living standards and infrastructure, the Committee has also heard evidence on the qualitative impact of sanctions on Iraq. Save the Children argued that humanitarian assistance should "go beyond the narrowly defined and should include the right to education, development and an adequate standard of living."[32]

28. A number of witnesses also expressed concern at the long-term impact of sanctions. The sanctions regime in place against Iraq is unprecedented in terms of longevity and its comprehensive nature. Hans von Sponeck, the UN humanitarian coordinator, told the Committee that it was not just nine years of sanctions that had taken a toll on Iraq, but that these nine years were preceded by ten years of conflict, such that Iraqis were now experiencing a second decade of a totally "non-typical" life, which had had its impact. The long term impact of sanctions was not going to be easily reversed and would not be possible to correct through humanitarian exemptions alone. Of particular concern were the effects of sanctions on infrastructure and on governance and social institutions as a whole.

29. The report of the second UN panel on humanitarian issues in Iraq (see Box 1 above) describes a "massive deterioration in infrastructure", a state of affairs summarised by Friendship Across Frontiers, "the early bombing of 1991 has contributed to severe deterioration of the quality of sanitation, mainly due to the unavailability of spare parts, scarcity of trained technicians [and lack of training]... As a result, water-related diseases, particularly among children are escalating." Disruption in transport due to the poor condition of roads and vehicles had played a major part in placing cheap products beyond the reach of the city dweller, "Power generation has been disrupted since January 1991 and what the Iraqi engineers manage to cannibalise in machine parts falls far short of sustaining an adequate service. It is common to experience 6-8 hours a day without power in many parts of Iraq."[33]

30. One problem is that many of the items required to rehabilitate infrastructure will have a dual use. Save the Children stated, "There has been an attempt to map the water supply [in Iraq] and one of the needs that was paramount was water testing equipment... field test water quality equipment would be extremely difficult if not impossible to pass through the Sanctions Committee because in fact it essentially tests for the chemical constituents of water and the biological aspects and in fact it has a biological incubator built into it. I can imagine the Sanctions Committee would immediately reject this as an item that could be imported into Iraq and yet it does serve a very important humanitarian need at this time. That is one example of a dual-purpose humanitarian product."[34] The role of sanctions committees in processing humanitarian exemptions to sanctions regimes is discussed in greater detail below.

31. The impact of sanctions on governance and social institutions were also described to the Committee, "Official pay is miserably inadequate, forcing most to supplement their income on bribery and corruption right across the establishment. Petty crime and home insecurity were practically unknown prior to sanctions...regrettably prostitution, which is socially unacceptable, has been allowed in by sanctions."[35] Of particular concern to others was the erosion of the professional classes who were being replaced by a new class of "fixers, manipulators, profiteers, people who simply take advantage of the circumstances." This did not auger well for tomorrow's social structure in Iraq. Even Iraqi opposition groups, whilst cautioning against lifting sanctions in place against Iraq, accepted that sanctions were hurting the Iraqi people, "A teacher does not earn more than 7,000 dinars and he has to supplement his income by working as a taxi driver after work. At present, there are 21,000 vacancies for primary school teachers."[36]

32. The UN panel concluded that "the gravity of the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is indisputable and cannot be overstated."[37] Despite concerns about accurate information, there can be no doubt that conditions inside Iraq have declined appreciably since 1990. Evidence suggests that Iraqis are lacking essential goods and services such as potable water, nutrition and healthcare as well as longer term requirements such as education and social stability.

33. Whilst few, including the Government, would disagree that the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since sanctions were imposed in 1990, the Committee has heard differences of opinion as to the underlying cause(s). Whilst some witnesses argued that sanctions were responsible for the plight of the Iraqi people — "[sanctions on Iraq] are, in their present form, ethically untenable because they are hitting the weakest and most vulnerable within society"[38] — others disagreed. Jeremy Carver, Partner and Head of International Law at Clifford Chance, argued that "It is not the imposition or maintenance of international sanctions, but the policies of the Iraqi government which are the primary cause of this suffering. The Iraqi regime has cynically exploited sanctions: both to justify its neglect of its own population and as a tool to solicit external support for its reconstructed ambitions. A government which delights in showing foreign parliamentarians suffering infants, when its warehouses are overflowing with food and medicines undistributed for years, surely reveals itself, save to the gullible."[39] Representatives from Iraqi opposition groups agreed, questioning the extent to which the humanitarian impact of sanctions was the responsibility of the sanctions themselves or that of the Iraqi Government, "The sanctions have had an effect but they are the result of the behaviour of the regime. After 60 or 90 days at most the regime had the opportunity to remove sanctions if the international community's will had been accepted by Iraq and was implemented. Iraq has dragged its feet by denying the Iraqi population a better life in economic, political and even social terms. At the same time, it has challenged the international community and the UN resolutions." Whilst they acknowledged that "sanctions as a whole are hurting people", they argued that "they are absolutely necessary to keep pressure on the regime."[40] The solution lay in maintaining sanctions, albeit with improved exemption mechanisms, "We should bring education, transportation and the environment into the resolution. That is the solution, not the total removal of sanctions."[41]

34. The Government agreed, "when sanctions were originally imposed on Iraq, the general consensus in the Council was that these need last only a matter of months...the reason they have gone on so long has been Iraqi reluctance to comply."[42] Similarly, despite the appalling humanitarian situation in Iraq, the Committee has heard evidence that scarce resources continue to be plundered by the Iraqi leadership. The US National Security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, recently noted that "since the end of the Gulf War, Saddam has built 48 grand palaces, complete with gold-plated faucets and man-made lakes and waterfalls. Five months ago, Iraqi officials inaugurated Saddamiat all Tharthar, a lakeside resort for high government officials that contains stadiums, an amusement park, hospitals, parks, and new homes at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Top military officials are provided with extra monthly food rations, a Mercedes and stipends in the thousands of dollars, while most Iraqis are forced to live on less than $3.50 a month."[43]

35. In particular, the Committee has heard evidence that Baghdad has failed to distribute food and medicine. Edward Chaplin, Head, Middle East Department, FCO, said, "There are... rather startling anomalies in the way that, for example, Iraq exports food to Syria in significant quantities, while claiming that its people do not have enough to eat...they have reduced the amount of the calorific value of the food basket but put in large sums of money for the import of bank-note counting machines and telecommunications equipment, tens of millions of dollars for those items, but less than before going on the food basket... And then there is the problem of distribution, even if the stuff does get into the country... over half the medical supplies which have been supplied under this programme, worth $275 million, are still sitting in warehouses.... no-one is debating the overall picture, but one can, I think, certainly point to the Iraqi regime as being ultimately responsible for that."[44] Similarly, other witnesses have pointed to the stark comparison between Northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), where the UN and other humanitarian agencies have assumed responsibility for the provision of food and medicine and Central/Southern Iraq where Saddam Hussein remains in control.

36. These claims, in turn, have been rebutted by NGOs who have pointed to UN reports that have variously attributed the discrepancies between the North and South/Centre to: the large amount of international aid pumped into northern Iraq at the end of the war; a higher per capita contribution being directed towards Northern Iraq than towards the South/Centre from the humanitarian programme; the enhanced economic activity stemming from trade — legal and illegal — between Northern Iraq and Turkey; and the absence of a cash component in Southern/Central Iraq which had reduced flexibility in the implementation of the Oil for Food Programme.[45] Similarly, allegations that Iraq had been "stockpiling" food and medicines were ascribed to a UN recommendation that Iraq maintain a 5-10 per cent buffer stock for emergencies[46] and were exacerbated by a lack of transport, bulky equipment and a failure by some suppliers to indicate how to test supplies.

37. One point made by a number of witnesses was that, in light of the impact of sanctions on Iraqi society, it is extremely unlikely that comprehensive economic sanctions would ever be imposed again. Ambassador Robert Fowler, chair of the Sanctions Committee on Angola, explained, "the enthusiasm for comprehensive sanctions has been waning for some time. I think... that barring a set of circumstances which I cannot at the moment foresee, it is unlikely that the Security Council will enact pervasive sanctions against anybody soon."[47] Claude Bruderlein suggested that "the confidence of states and public opinion in UN at a record low...Recognition of the shortfalls of the UN sanctions regime against Iraq...forced most of the protagonists to focus their attention on the general issue of targeting sanctions in other fora such as the UN General Assembly and the sanctions committees."[48]


38. There is a clear consensus that the humanitarian and developmental situation in Iraq has deteriorated seriously since the imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions. Whilst details are often difficult to come by or to verify, even those who wish to maintain these sanctions accept that children, the ill, the vulnerable in Iraqi society are suffering. It is as obvious that Saddam Hussein and his ruling elite continue to enjoy a privileged existence. Sanctions have clearly failed to hurt those responsible for past violations of international law. The deterioration of infrastructure, the limited supply of food, the absence of drugs all affect the poor to a disproportionate degree.

39. Not all this humanitarian distress is the direct result of the sanctions regime. There is a tendency to blame all such distress on sanctions in the absence of clear evidence. Moreover, it appears that Saddam Hussein is quite prepared to manipulate the sanctions regime and the exemptions scheme to his own ends, even if that involves hurting ordinary Iraqi people. The responsibility for the plight of the Iraqi people must ultimately lie with the Iraqi leadership.

40. This does not, however, entirely excuse the international community from a part in the suffering of Iraqis. The reasons sanctions were imposed in the first place were precisely the untrustworthiness of Saddam Hussein, his well documented willingness to oppress his own people and neighbours, his contempt for humanitarian law. The international community cannot condemn Saddam Hussein for such behaviour and then complain that he is not allowing humanitarian exemptions to relieve suffering. What else could be expected? A sanctions regime which relies on the good faith of Saddam Hussein is fundamentally flawed.

41. We do not intend to set out a foreign policy agenda for our relations with Iraq. It is clear from the resolution recently presented to the UN by the United Kingdom Government that there is a desire to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. Whatever the wisdom of the original imposition of sanctions, careful thought must now be given as to how to move from the current impasse without giving succour to Saddam Hussein and his friends. Any move away from comprehensive sanctions should go hand in hand with measures designed to target the real culprits, not the poor of Iraq but their leadership. Possibilities include a concerted attempt to target and either freeze or sequester the assets of Saddam Hussein and those connected to him, and the indictment of Saddam Hussein and his close associates as war criminals. To bring to justice Saddam Hussein is also a humanitarian imperative and this should be done without delay.

42. We find it difficult, however, to believe that there will be a case in the future where the UN would be justified in imposing comprehensive economic sanctions on a country. In an increasingly interdependent world such sanctions cause significant suffering. However carefully exemptions are planned, the fact is that comprehensive economic sanctions only further concentrate power in the hands of the ruling elite. The UN will lose credibility if it advocates the rights of the poor whilst at the same time causing, if only indirectly, their further impoverishment.

Regional Sanctions Regimes

43. A second area of concern in the use of sanctions is the humanitarian impact of regionally-imposed sanctions. In the absence of targeted sanctions and, in light of many countries' lack of capacity and political will to implement and monitor humanitarian exemptions adequately, a number of NGOs have expressed disquiet about the use of regional sanctions. This is of particular concern given that ActionAid and other humanitarian agencies have predicted an increase in the number of regionally-imposed sanctions regimes, as states become increasingly frustrated by delays in the UN system. For example, in the case of Burundi, ActionAid noted that "regional governments took their own action, perhaps partly in the knowledge that any potential imposition of UN (or even OAU) sanctions would be seriously hampered by delay and/or lack of political will."[49]

44. Much of the evidence received by the Committee on the impact of regional sanctions regimes related to the cases of Burundi and Sierra Leone. Whilst the debate in the UN and in developed countries is focussing on the better targeting of sanctions regimes, developing countries frequently lack the logistical capacity to impose so-called "smarter sanctions", meaning that, in the majority of cases, sanctions imposed by regional governments or organisations are likely to continue to take the form of blunter comprehensive economic sanctions. ActionAid explained that "smart sanctions" such as visa restrictions and financial sanctions — an issue that has come to dominate much of the sanctions debate in the North — were simply not an option for those countries imposing sanctions against Burundi and Sierra Leone.[50] Save the Children made clear that events in Burundi illustrated the devastating consequences of a regional economic embargo that initially did not exempt humanitarian goods.


45. Sanctions were imposed on Burundi by regional heads of government[51] shortly after the Arusha Regional Summit in July 1996 in response to the military coup led by Major Pierre Buyoya. They have since been lifted (in January 1999) as part of the Arusha peace process. As Joseph Mullen, from the Institute for Development Policy and Management at the University of Manchester, noted, Burundi was particularly susceptible to the impact of sanctions given that it is a small landlocked economy. Furthermore, sanctions were imposed in the first instance without any exemptions for humanitarian supplies and sanctions-busting states were threatened with secondary sanctions. He noted that these sanctions stood out in modern 'sanctions' history as being both singularly effective and draconian.[52] Although food and medicines were eventually exempted from the scope of the sanctions regime, a number of witnesses have pointed out shortcomings in the implementation of the sanctions. Save the Children argued that the humanitarian exemptions eventually negotiated by the international community "could not stem the catastrophic decline in social indicators by that time, given the civil war, the huge military budget, internal displacement, price enforcement and shortages." Moreover, "a lack of coordination among authorities enforcing the sanctions led to delays in food supplies, fuel, medicines, seeds and sanitary facilities. Clearance facilities were problematic... laying the system open to personal profiteering and corruption."[53] A major problem in the sanctions regime seems to have been problems in clearing dual-use goods such as disposable syringes, fuel for sterilisation and kerosene for fridges. As a result, it is estimated that only half of a targeted 190,000 children received vaccinations.[54]

46. Save the Children argued that the international community should have been constructively critical when humanitarian exemptions were clearly not being respected. Gregory Salter, who was commissioned to write a research paper on behalf of ActionAid, argued that the international community kept relatively quiet about the sanctions against Burundi until mid-1998, despite discontent about the sanctions among Western states and humanitarian agencies, partly for fear of undermining the assertion by the region of 'African solutions to African problems.'[55] Save the Children went on to argue that the international community should have helped regional states define and implement targeted sanctions, such as financial sanctions, travel restrictions and an arms embargo. Furthermore, the UN and the OAU should have agreed on a list of humanitarian exemptions with the sanctioning states prior to the sanctions being implemented. We criticise the United Nations for not protesting immediately on the imposition of draconian sanctions against Burundi. The UN has a duty to monitor regional sanctions regimes and intervene when human rights are ignored or humanitarian needs neglected. We recommend that such a mechanism be implemented as soon as possible.

47. Whilst the Government is obviously not responsible for the imposition of sanctions by regional groups of states of which it is not a member, the Committee nevertheless notes the claim of Joseph Mullen that the sanctions imposed on Burundi "received direct or indirect support from the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the UN Security Council and the European Union"[56] — all organisations of which the UK is a member. It is essential that no sanctions regime should be imposed without accompanying measures to ensure that humanitarian goods and services are exempted from its provisions.


48. Problems were also encountered in the case of Sierra Leone which was subject to both regionally imposed sanctions (by members of ECOWAS) and more limited UN sanctions. UN Sanctions were imposed by Security Council Resolution 1132 which imposed an embargo on the import of arms and fuel and placed restrictions on travel by members of the junta. The resolution also delegated authority to ECOMOG (the ECOWAS Monitoring Group) to enforce the sanctions. In the course of the Committee's inquiry into Conflict Prevention and Post Conflict Reconstruction, a number of witnesses expressed concern about ECOMOG's overly strict enforcement of the sanctions regime. ActionAid in its memorandum stated that "In Sierra Leone, military enforcement of a far stricter embargo than that justified by Resolution 1132... resulted in a high level of civilian deaths and destruction."[57] Phillipa Atkinson and Dr Sarah Collinson explained, in oral evidence, that "Because of the inability of those responsible to organise the exemptions mechanism, the exemption mechanism for humanitarian goods... food aid was held up at the borders of Sierra Leone."[58] The Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone in a situation report of December 1999 stated that "UN and humanitarian agencies are challenged to maintain even the most basic health and nutrition services... humanitarian operations inside Sierra Leone... are now experiencing difficulties in restocking. This is primarily due to the fact that the procedures for the sanctions exemptions mechanisms are not in place and thus relief goods exempted from the embargo... are not moving across the border as expected."[59]

49. The experience of Sierra Leone raises questions about the delegation of authority to police UN or other sanctions regimes to regional or sub-regional bodies. The UK, as a leading member of a number of sanctioning organisations, should ensure that whenever responsibility for the enforcement of sanctions is delegated to regional or sub-regional authorities, that those authorities should respect the provisions of the resolution and international human rights, including provisions for the exemption of humanitarian goods and services. If they fail to do so, then their authority to enforce sanctions should be rescinded. The Government should not support any sanctions regime — UN, EU or regional — that does not make adequate provision for the exemption of humanitarian goods and services.

50. Regional sanctions were not addressed by the Government in its review of sanctions policy, a point made by ActionAid, "There are quite a number of important issues that the review glosses over or does not address at all. It does not reflect... the responsibilities of the Security Council when sanctions are imposed by regional organisations or groups of states, which is something we may see more of in future."[60] We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government give an account of its policy towards regional sanctions regimes, including means by which the Government could provide assistance to developing countries to build their capacity to design, implement and monitor regional sanctions regimes in accordance with humanitarian principles.

Other Special Circumstances

51. In the course of its inquiry into the future of sanctions, the Committee has received a great deal of evidence on specific groups that are particularly vulnerable to the impact of sanctions.


52. Save the Children argued that children were disproportionately affected by the humanitarian effects of sanctions stating, "children's natural vulnerability is at odds with the disproportionate burden they bear when sanctions are imposed. Children have much less resistance than other population groups and are less likely to survive economic austerity, social deprivation, the persistent shortages of food and medicines incurred under sanctions."[61] They went so far as to argue that "comprehensive economic sanctions, when in place over a prolonged period of time, and certainly in the absence of humanitarian exemptions, clearly violate legal obligations towards the development and survival of children." In particular, they pointed to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and various provisions of the UN Charter which relate to human rights, arguing that "children of a given country do not forfeit basic rights just because their leaders have violated norms related to international peace and security. In our opinion, both the targeted state and sanctioning countries are responsible for upholding the rights of the child."[62]

53. In the case of Iraq, the UN committee monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child noted that "The embargo imposed by the Security Council [on Iraq] has adversely affected the economy and many aspects of daily life... The Committee is concerned at the number of children leaving school prematurely to engage in labour, particularly girls...the Committee notes with concern that the economic exploitation of children has increased dramatically... and that an increasing number of children are leaving school, sometimes at an early age, to work to support themselves and their families."[63]

54. The Strategic Planning Unit in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations noted that, "a careful recent Columbia University epidemiological study, which did not rely on Iraqi data, shows that more than 200,000 under-five year-old children have died as a consequence of sanctions. This is far more than the total number of Iraqis killed in the Gulf War, when the overwhelming majority of casualties were combatants. It is also greater that the death toll from the atomic strike on Hiroshima. The primary responsibility for these deaths clearly lies with the regime. Iraq's deliberately obstructive tactics meant that humanitarian aid under the Oil-for-Food Programme did not start reaching those in need until March 1997... But once it had become clear just how little Saddam Hussein cared about the sanctions-induced starvation of Iraqi children, some scholars argued that Council members had to share at least part of the responsibility for the continued suffering."[64] The Committee recognises that sanctions, unless carefully targeted, have the capacity to kill more children than armed warfare.

55. Whilst children are often said to be amongst the most vulnerable groups to the imposition of sanctions, the ODI seminar on smarter sanctions has noted that "the evidence indicates that the mortality rate for infants (under one) can actually decrease under sanctions, because more attention and resources are devoted to their care. More at risk may be children between one and five years of age."[65]

56. A number of witnesses, including Save the Children, have contrasted the impact of sanctions with the obligations of the international community under human rights conventions including the Geneva Conventions, the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child . Claude Bruderlein argued that "since sanctions are imposed as a substitute for the use of armed force — i.e. as a less violent means to coerce targeted states — general principled humanitarian law should apply a fortiori to the imposition of sanctions. The Committee agrees with Save the Children that international human rights instruments provide widely accepted principles of conduct in international affairs against which decisions to impose sanctions should be measured and justified.


57. The Committee has also heard that often those with fixed incomes, such as government employees or those in receipt of state benefits such as pensions, will also be disproportionately affected by sanctions regimes. The imposition of sanctions, particularly comprehensive sanctions, can often result in the devaluation of local currencies. At the same time, the accompanying scarcity of goods and resources will often lead to prices rising. This was also an issue raised at the ODI conference on smarter sanctions, "Civil servants with small wages and limited opportunities may find it difficult to cope with rising prices and delays in payments of salaries."[66] In Iraq, for example, the UNDP has calculated that, whilst the official exchange rate continued to be ID1 for $3.33, the free market rate was ID1 for $0.0005. This, according to a situation analysis made by UNICEF, meant that the average public sector wage was $3-$5 a month whereas the minimum required income for a family of five was $100. By contrast, the rural population will often be at least partially shielded from the humanitarian consequences of sanctions by increased self-sufficiency.

58. The Committee is also aware that other groups of the population may well be disproportionately affected by the effects of sanctions. Such groups would include women, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly, and internally displaced persons and refugees.

59. The Committee is concerned at the disproportionate impact of sanctions on certain groups in society. These groups will vary according to the nature of the sanctions imposed and according to the country concerned. The fact that, in some instances, infant mortality rates appear to have actually improved underlines the need for accurate, impartial information gathering on the impact of sanctions not just on society as a whole but on different groups within society. The Committee recommends that all sanctions regimes should be accompanied by regular independent impact assessments. Sanctioning states and organisations should, as a matter of policy in the course of resolutions, affirm that vulnerable populations should be spared the adverse consequences of sanctions.

12   UN Sanctions: How Effective? How Necessary, A Mack and A Khan, Strategic Planning Unit, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations, April 1999; sanctions were also imposed on Afghanistan in November 1999. Back

13   Q.257 Back

14   Ev p.1 Back

15   Q.257 Back

16   Ev p.74 Back

17   Report of the second panel established pursuant to the note by the president of the Security Council of 30 January 1999 (S/1999/100), concerning the humanitarian situation in Iraq (S/1999/356); Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999, Preliminary Report, UNICEF/Iraqi Ministry of Health Back

18   UN Sanctions: How effective? How Necessary, Andrew Mack and Asif Khan, Strategic Planning Unit, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations, April 1999, p.12 Back

19   FAO, 1994, quoted in: Health Conditions of the Population in Iraq Since the Gulf Crisis, WHO Division of Emergency and Humanitarian Action, Back

20   Replaced by Andreas Mavommatis of Cyprus in December 1999 Back

21   Situation of human rights in Iraq, Report by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Max van der Stoel, E/CN.4/1999/37, 26 February 1999 Back

22   Notably UNSCR 706 and UNSCR 712 in August and September 1991 Back

23   UNSCR Resolution 987, 14 April 1995 Back

24   Set up under UN Security Council Resolution 687 to pay for "direct loss, damage, including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources, or injury to foreign Governments, nationals and corporations, as a result of Iraq's unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait" Back

25   United Nations Special Commission Back

26 Back

27   Hansard, Wednesday 2 February 2000, Col. 623W Back

28   International Atomic Energy Authority Back

29   Q.271  Back

30   Q.271 Back

31  Special Topics on Social Conditions in Iraq. An Overview Submitted by the UN system to the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Affairs, 24 March 1999 Back

32   Ev p.33 Back

33   Ev p.155 Back

34   Q.192 Back

35   Ev p.155 Back

36   Q.534 Back

37   Report of the second panel established pursuant to the note by the president of the Security Council of 30 January 1999 (S/1999/100), concerning the current humanitarian situation in Iraq, para. 49 Back

38   Ev p.181 Back

39   Ev p.129 Back

40   Q.531 Back

41   Q.543 Back

42   Q.33 Back

43   The Iraqis are Victims of Saddam, Not of the Outside World, Samuel R. Berger, US National Security Adviser, International Herald Tribune, October 19 1999 Back

44   Q.78 Back

45   UN Panel on Humanitarian Issues, Paragraph 44. See also: Back

46   Kofi Annan commented in June 1998: "The Current stock, consisting of a 5 to 10 per cent reserve has been designed to cope with emergencies and has assisted in ensuring the availability of needed items... WHO has indicated that a more substantial reserve is the only practical solution to the procurement cycle with a delay of some four to five months before the start of arrivals [of replacements for depleted items]." UN Report of the Secretary General Pursuant to Paragraph Four of Resolution 1143 (1997), S/1998/477, 5 June, paragraph 67, quoted in "Between Iraq and a Hard Place: A Critique of the British Government's Narrative on UN Economic Sanctions, Dr. Eric Herring, University of Bristol, September 1999 Back

47   Q.519 Back

48   Ev p.75 Back

49   Ev p.37 Back

50   Ev p.38 Back

51   Sanctions were imposed by: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zaire, Rwanda, Zambia and Cameroon Back

52   Ev p.157 Back

53   Ev p.34 Back

54   Ev p.161 Back

55   Ev p.37 Back

56   Ev p.156 Back

57   Sixth Report of the International Development Committee, Session 1998-99, Minutes of Evidence and Appendices, HC55-II, p.42 Back

58   Sixth Report of the International Development Committee, Session 1998-99, Minutes of Evidence and Appendices, HC55-II, Q.151 Back

59  Sierra Leone Humanitarian Situation Report 03-19 December 1997, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone, Conakry, Guinea Back

60   Q.150 Back

61   Ev p.33 Back

62   Ev p.33 Back

63   Ev p.33 Back

64   UN Sanctions: How Effective? How Necessary, Andrew Mack and Asif Khan, Strategic Planning Unit, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations, April 1999 Back

65   Can Sanctions be Smarter?: The Current Debate, Report of a Conference held in London, 16-17 December 1998, p.26 Back

66   Can Sanctions be Smarter?: The Current Debate, Report of a Conference held in London, 16-17 December 1998, p.26 Back

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