Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



20. And what examples did you bring to the attention of the Foreign Office?

 (Mr Faint) You mean country examples?

21. Yes?

 (Mr Faint) I think it is undoubtedly true that the experience of the Iraq sanctions regime did have a big part in the conduct of the review. This is a sanctions regime which has persisted for a very long time, an unusually long time, it has been unusually comprehensive.

22. Nine years now, is it not?

 (Mr Faint) Nine years, so far, yes.

 (Mr Chaplin) Eight.

 (Mr Faint) Eight, okay, and it is still going; and there is a good deal of material coming from UN sources, the academic community, about the impact that regime has had on ordinary people in Iraq. So that was certainly a key case.

Dr Tonge

23. I just wanted to be quite clear why the review cannot be seen or heard of again; is it because it would damage British interests, is it because it would damage the effect of sanctions we are planning, or have planned? I just hate things not to be out in the open and I want to know the real reason for it?

 (Mr Brenton) I, too, hate things not to be out in the open, but, in looking at the question of our foreign relations with a number of countries, there was material covered in the review which it would not be helpful to British interests to publish. I am sorry, but that is the position.

24. So we have to wait 50 years?

 (Mr Brenton) Is it 50 years now?

25. I do not know, I was just wondering how long we would have to wait?

 (Mr Brenton) This is an issue which you can, of course, take up with Ministers.

Chairman: Yes; so we have got the sanitised version that has been actually submitted to the Committee.

Dr Tonge

26. I do not want the sanitised version, Chairman.

 (Mr Faint) I think it is fair to say that the Committee really has in its possession all the salient features of the review.

 (Mr Brenton) You have all the conclusions.

Chairman: Great. Tony Worthington.

Mr Worthington

27. The conclusions are very surprising, really, that it would be better if we had smarter, cleverer, more targeted sanctions; but what we really need to know is whether those are attainable?

 (Mr Brenton) And the answer to that is, to some extent, it is a matter of work. If I can go a little bit more into the history, in a rather abstract way, there was a whole string of sanctions regimes which popped up over the mid nineties, and the feeling grew up in Whitehall that we needed to take a comprehensive look at what we were doing and whether there were things we should be doing better, whether there were considerations we should be bringing in at the beginning of imposing sanctions rather than thinking of them afterwards. That was the source of the review. And the conclusions, I agree, are not very surprising, they are rather obvious, but the fact that we have now got them and we have got them on paper, and the next time that someone says to us: "How about imposing sanctions on X?", we have got this checklist of things which we will bring into play and which, hopefully, will produce a better-tailored regime for whatever the problem is that we are dealing with.

28. Yes, but I am still not getting any closer to identifying what are the inhibitions on bringing in effective sanctions. The layman, looking at this, would say: "Yes, you should be targeting members of the regime, you should not be causing distress to the poor, you should be targeting foreign bank accounts, you should be making it very difficult for them to travel; they who are causing the misery should be the ones to suffer the misery themselves." That would seem to be what we are after. What looks fertile ground to pursue?

 (Mr Brenton) In terms of?

29. Of hitting these people?

 (Mr Brenton) Their private bank accounts, investments, flights, visas, things which the élite tend to enjoy, as opposed to the ordinary people.

30. And what are our obstacles to doing that?

 (Mr Brenton) The obstacles do not lie so much in the UK approach, but most sanctions regimes tend to be multilateral, they tend to be UN or EU, therefore, they are negotiated instruments. Going into those negotiations, there will be differences of perception amongst the countries involved in constructing the regime, differences of political pressure on their foreign ministries, and differences of intensity, if I can put it that way, about the feeling about whatever the problem is that you are dealing with. It is important that we, the UK, bring into those discussions this set of criteria, which we have shared but which other people will view with differing weights, as a way of making sure that what comes out is well modelled for the target we are trying to achieve.

 (Mr Faint) If I might just add, apart from the political difficulties, which can exist, to putting sanctions regimes in place and then enforcing them, there are some quite complex and serious technical problems with some forms of sanctions regimes, especially financial sanctions. And I think the Committee is aware of the series of meetings known as the Interlaken process, sponsored by the Swiss Government, which has been attempting to analyse these problems and try to arrive at technical and legal solutions. There are also legal problems, of course, it is possible to challenge the legality of some forms of sanction, unless they are properly put in place. So there is quite a lot of technical detail here, and, as far as the humanitarian effects of sanctions, DFID is proposing to do some work, research is perhaps a bit too grandiose a term, to try to determine what the difficulties and obstacles are and how to try to deal with them.

31. But it does sound like we are at a very early stage. I would not think that this was work that should be done by the British alone, that, as most of the sanctions are, or I think of them as, UN sanctions, one would have thought, by now, we would have had in place protocols or approaches or agreements on financial institutions that will be able to come into place when a particular offender nation requires sanctions?

 (Mr Brenton) No. As I said, the UK tends to be slightly ahead of the international community in addressing these problems; it has been the new intensity of sanctions-making activity which has prompted us to think about the question in the abstract. We have now reached our conclusions and are sharing them with others. As you say, they are very unsurprising, commonsensical conclusions, and we hope that others will share them. Would it be helpful if I gave an example of what seems to me, actually, to have been rather a successful sanctions regime, which fits in many ways the ideal, to the extent there is an ideal in this area. This is the sanctions regime which was deployed against Libya, following the Lockerbie explosion, and the aim of the sanctions regime was to get them to give up the two suspects, who are now on trial in The Netherlands. It was actually a rather precise regime, focused on travel, arms exports, political and diplomatic contacts of one sort or another. It was very, very tightly defined, it operated from the time that the international community united behind the wish to get the Libyan Government to release these two people, and, now they have released them it has been suspended. And it seems to me actually that though there were imperfections, there were problems, of course there are, this is international life, nothing works perfectly; but, to the extent that it is possible to identify sort of a textbook example of the way sanctions ought to operate to produce an internationally desirable result, the Libyan example is rather a good one.

Chairman: Now can I move on. Ann Clwyd wanted to ask a question.

Ann Clwyd

32. Would you agree that the most contentious sanctions regime in place at the moment, and probably the most comprehensive, is the sanctions regime against Iraq?

 (Mr Brenton) Yes.

33. It has now been in place for nine years, 1990, did it not start after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990; anyway, it has been in place for a considerable amount of time. What are we attempting to achieve, through that sanctions regime, and do you believe that we are achieving it?

 (Mr Chaplin) It has been a very long process. When sanctions were originally imposed on Iraq, the general consensus in the Security Council was that these need last only a matter of months. The objective was to persuade Iraq to comply with a long list of obligations, which they have themselves accepted, laid down in the ceasefire resolution, SCR 687, and the reason they have gone on so long has been Iraqi reluctance to comply. A lot has been achieved, and you will have read about the huge amounts of materials and weapons of mass destruction and WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) capability, which has been dismantled through a process of having an in-country inspection regime, the Special Commission and the IAEA, and they have achieved a lot. But, throughout, they have been hampered by Iraqi attempts to conceal particularly WMD and other military capability, so it has taken them a disproportionately long time to get at the facts and then discover the things that have to be destroyed and then arrange for their destruction. And they are not there yet, there are still areas where there are large areas of uncertainty, for example, in the chemical weapons and biological weapons area. In the case of the nuclear weapons, it was relatively straightforward, and the IAEA made relatively good progress. But in the other areas, particularly, as I say, in the biological area, and given the concerted Iraqi attempts to conceal what they were up to and what they had been up to in the past, UNSCOM found it very difficult to get to the bottom of what the Iraqis had been up to in the past, and therefore to account, as they were required to by the resolution, to the Security Council for the fact that everything that they wanted to find had been found and everything they wanted to destroy had been destroyed.

It is not the only area where Iraq has failed to comply, there are other areas, as I think you know, where, for example, they are required to account for the large number of Kuwaiti and other missing people who disappeared in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf war and have not been seen since, and there is a process, through the ICRC, to try to account for those, and they have failed to do so. They are also obliged to give certain assurances about the inviolability of the Kuwaiti frontier, and they have signally failed to do that. So there are a number of areas, but it is particularly the disarmament area, I think, which is of most concern to the international community, where they have not complied, and until they comply the sanctions cannot be lifted. What we have done, over the years, is try to persuade the Government of Iraq to co-operate in the various humanitarian exemptions, so that limited quantities of oil can be exported, and in exchange humanitarian goods of various sorts imported into Iraq and delivered to the people who need them. But there, too, we have run into, as I think is explained in the Foreign Secretary's memorandum, a number of problems, the lack of co-operation from the Iraqi Government, whose main aim is to get sanctions lifted as soon as possible without complying with the obligations which are laid down in the Security Council resolutions.

What would you say to people who say the regime itself has, in fact, been strengthened during this period, and it is the ordinary people of Iraq who are actually suffering and not the regime itself?

 (Mr Chaplin) It is very difficult to say the extent to which the regime has been strengthened, we do not have very good information about what is going on inside Iraq, nobody does, including Iraqis. There is an element of control, for example, in the way humanitarian aid is distributed, it is an argument one often hears, that because this operates through the rationing system, and the rationing system gives the regime very tight control over everybody's lives, and that is certainly true, but there is not any other sensible way, I think, of distributing the food to make sure it does get to those who need it.


35. It has made the international community look pretty much of a jackass, has it not, this attempt to implement sanctions in Iraq?

 (Mr Chaplin) It has been a very comprehensive set of sanctions, which, as I say, no-one assumed would have to last for as long as they have. I would not agree with your description of the position of the international community, no. I think there has been a very serious attempt, the longer it has gone on the more difficult it has been to maintain, to persuade Iraq to do the things which the Security Council insisted that Iraq should do, and for the international community to give up, I think, would leave large areas of uncertainty, which would be potentially a very serious threat to the region and would send a wider message to dictators, or to anyone else who wants to escape from sanctions imposed by the Security Council, that if you hang on long enough you will get away with it. I do not think that is a message which the Security Council will want to give.

36. That is the message, is it not?

(Mr Chaplin) Well, they are not getting away with it.

37. Are they not?

 (Mr Chaplin) But there is a lot of pressure for sanctions to be lifted without those obligations being met, from certain quarters.

38. Saddam Hussein's regime has lasted, as we have just discussed, between eight and nine years, in the face of full sanctions?

 (Mr Chaplin) Perhaps I could clarify something; the aim of sanctions was never to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein.

39. Okay.

 (Mr Brenton) I think it is also fair to say that not a lot of dictators will be tempted to follow Saddam's route.

Chairman: Let us hope not.

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