Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 18 MAY 1999
MR TONY BRENTON, MR EDWARD CHAPLIN, MS
ELIZABETH WILMSHURST AND MR TONY FAINT
60. Is it not rather paradoxical that, from observation,
it would seem that the sanctions, or the threat of it, work rather
better against democratic, advanced regimes than anywhere else;
our protests about the Americans and the bananas collapsed pretty
swiftly? And one does have this slight feeling that the more sophisticated
and advanced a nation is the faster it will run away from the
thought of effective sanctions being used against it?
(Mr Brenton) Looking
down the list of countries against which the EU and the UN have
directed sanctions, there are not many advanced, democratic nations
on that list.
(Mr Brenton) The
sad fact is that the international recalcitrants with whom we
have to deal tend to be thoroughly undemocratic and thoroughly
unwilling to fall in with internationally decent modes of behaviour.
Now, at that point, the international community faces a very difficult
choice; the political pressure to move to the extreme, which is
military action, is often completely unjustified by the case.
But the international community does need to find a way of trying
to influence the behaviour of difficult and threatening regimes,
and sanctions have emerged as the middle way between doing nothing,
which is obviously unacceptable in certain cases, and going the
whole hog of military action. Now it is imperfect, it leaks, people
ignore the sanctions, but it is better than nothing, and, provided
you can target it and focus it on achievable objectives, it does
sometimes produce the result we want, as the Libya example demonstrates.
That is a very interesting answer; but my question was different.
My question was, is it not observable that the threat of sanctions
operates more effectively against sophisticated countries with
democratic regimes than it does actually against repressive regimes
in third world countries?
(Mr Brenton) I cannot
think of a case where the international community has directed
a threat of sanctions against an advanced, democratic country.
The United States threatened us pretty severely with trading bans,
which I would have called sanctions under another name?
(Mr Brenton) Okay,
but I am using the word "sanctions" in the normal sense
in which we use it. Trade warfare is a very different area, and,
happily, outside of my parish.
64. So you would not call that a
(Mr Brenton) No,
I would not, no.
65. That is interesting.
(Mr Brenton) I need
to be very careful here, because I am heavily outside my area,
but to the extent that we have a body which regulates these disputes,
the World Trade Organisation, and which sanctions certain measures
in response to certain trade measures taken by countries, so it
all takes place within a legally recognised framework.
66. So how
do you define a sanction?
(Mr Brenton) A sanction,
in the EU and in the UN, is action taken by a group of nations,
or the international community, against a country which, in some
sense, constitutes a threat to international peace and security.
Mr Rowe: Thank you.
67. You have been scatter-gunning these various sanctions
around the international world in a fairly libertarian fashion
since 1990; is this a product of the fall of the Berlin wall,
now that the western world is no longer afraid of repercussions
from a powerful eastern neighbour?
(Mr Brenton) First
of all, looking at this list, an awful lot of these sanctionswhen
people talk about sanctions, they tend to think of comprehensive
trade measures; there is only one example of that, really, in
the world today, which is Iraqmost of these sanctions are
arms embargoes, of one sort or another, and follow the very sensible
thought that if you have got an area of military conflict the
worst thing to do is to allow arms to be poured into that area.
But, to answer your question directly, you are absolutely right,
it became much easier, following the end of the cold war, for
the UN Security Council to agree to act on particular regional
problems, and it stemmed from that, that it did act in the form
of sanctions, in quite a lot of regional cases, and it stemmed
from that that we are now thinking a little bit about whether
we should be being smarter about the way we take these actions.
Chairman: We have actually got about 20 questions
and we have now reached the end the second one, so I think perhaps
we had better be a little more self-disciplined, if my colleagues
will be, and we will go through so that we cover the ground. So,
Ann Clwyd, could you continue?
68. At the moment, UN sanctions remain in place until
a decision is taken to lift them, and that means that a single,
permanent member of the Security Council can veto the lifting
of a sanctions regime. Do you think that there is a case for sanctions
to have an expiry date?
(Mr Brenton) I think
there is a case, I do not think it is a compelling case. Obviously,
the point you make, that sanctions regimes can be maintained against
the general will of the international community, is a strong one,
but especially in the era, which we hope is coming, of smarter
sanctions, where the aim of a sanctions regime is to change the
behaviour of a government, part of the force of the regime is
precisely that the Government does not know how long it is going
to run for. So I think it will depend on the case. But, in general,
I believe that when you impose the sanctions regime it is more
effective if the Government whose behaviour you are trying to
influence does not know how long it is going to be subject to
(Mr Faint) And I think our approach
is the alternative one, of trying to set up a situation where
there are clear criteria, clear rules, that the regime, the government,
should know what it has to deliver, in order for the sanctions
to be raised; so that is a kind of exit, when you reach a certain
point the sanctions will be raised.
69. Can there ever be a justification
for secondary sanctions, that is, to impose sanctions on countries
which continue trade and other relations with the target states,
if I can put it that way?
(Mr Brenton) As
I have already said, there are various mechanisms around for reinforcing
the effect of sanctions, trying to ensure that they are implemented,
there are the UN Sanctions Committees, there are various procedures
within the EU. It is difficult enough for the international community
to decide to target the prime target. I think it would complicate
the operation of the regime to add in lots of supplementary targets.
But one rather clear area where that, in effect, has happened
is the arms embargoes scattered around Rwanda, precisely because
all of the countries there were involved in the conflicts in that
part of Africa.
Ann Clwyd: Thank you.
Chairman: Can I ask Jenny Tonge to continue on the
humanitarian impact of sanctions.
70. We have got a quote here from the Save the Children
Fund, which I will not do in depth, but it implies that comprehensive
economic sanctions, when in place over a prolonged period of time,
will violate the legal obligations towards the development and
survival of children; and we want to know, please, can sanctions
ever be at odds with international humanitarian law?
(Ms Wilmshurst) International
humanitarian law, as such, applies only to situations of armed
conflict, so I think the question is probably human rights law
generally. I suppose it is conceivable that they could, but in
a situation, as all of the ones that we have been speaking of,
where humanitarian exceptions are laid down, then the states concerned,
in fact, the international community, would not be in breach of
obligations under any human rights instrument.
71. We have received
quite a lot of evidence on the humanitarian impact of sanctions
on countries such as Burundi and Iraq, from various NGOs. Do the
Government, or the EU, or the UN, have any mechanism by which
they assess the humanitarian impact of a sanctions regime?
(Mr Brenton) Yes.
And how often do you do it?
(Mr Brenton) It
varies according to the regime, but the UN sanctions regimes,
to take an example, the sanctions are regularly reviewed and all
evidence relative to their working, including their humanitarian
impact, feeds into that review. And one document, which I do not
think we have let you have but which I think the Committee should
have at its disposal, is a set of guidelines for Sanctions Committees,
which were agreed at the UN at the beginning of this year, which
make it quite clear that Sanctions Committees should look at the
humanitarian impact of UN sanctions regimes. I think the Committee
might find it useful, and I will pass it on to you.
73. And when
you have imposed sanctions on a particular country, the humanitarian
effects are looked at on a regular basis?
(Mr Brenton) Yes.
(Mr Faint) I think
the other observation to make, Chairman, is that, Dr Tonge referred
to two cases, in the case of Iraq, that is a sanctions regime
put in place by the United Nations, but in the case of Burundi
it actually was not, it was a sanctions regime put in place by
regional countries. And these international mechanisms that are
in place, and are summarised by the President of the Security
Council in this Note, do not immediately and directly apply in
cases where a sanctions regime is imposed by regional countries,
and I think this is an issue with which the international community
is grappling. What actually happened in the Burundi case is that,
initially, there was general acceptance that the regional countries
had a right to take action to try to deal with a regional problem,
and then there was increasing concern, as this went on, about
the humanitarian effects of the action they were actually taking,
which eventually led first to some humanitarian exemptions and
eventually to the lifting of the regime altogether.
74. Can I just ask Elizabeth Wilmshurst, what are
the main instruments of international humanitarian law?
(Ms Wilmshurst) International
humanitarian law is the Geneva Conventions and the protocols to
them; that law applies in armed conflict. But I think what was
being asked by Dr Tonge was more widely human rights law, for
example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is often quoted
in this context.
75. The Convention on the Rights of the Child,
yes; and are there other Conventions we should be bearing in mind?
(Mr Faint) There
is the Universal Declaration.
(Ms Wilmshurst) Yes, they are the international
covenants on civil and political rights, and on economic and social
Chairman: It is a developing area, international
law, is it not; in fact, we seem to have been rewriting it rather
hurriedly in the last 50 days, have we not?
76. But it is a very difficult area, is it not, because
you say, in one of the memoranda, that sanctions should only be
introduced when there is not going to be a disproportionate humanitarian
cost; well, how do you assess disproportionate, have you got a
little tick column?
(Mr Faint) You have
to both attempt to assess it beforehand, whether the measures
being contemplated are, in some sense, proportional to the offence
that triggered them, but then, I agree, you cannot do that perfectly
in advance, you have to monitor the effects of sanctions as you
go along; and this does, on the whole, happen with international
and UN sanctions, through the mechanisms that Tony Brenton mentioned.
77. Do you look at the effect of sanctions on particular
groups, like children, or women, or people who have not got agricultural
land, for instance, are going to be disproportionately affected?
(Mr Faint) Certainly,
in principle, the idea would be that, if there is reason to suppose
that sanctions are impacting disproportionately on vulnerable
groups, an attempt would be made to measure that effect and devise
steps to ameliorate or mitigate it. This is not all that of a
straightforward area, of course, you may be dealing with countries
where access is not all that easy, you may be dealing with regimes
which are not co-operating all that much with international monitors,
but, to the best of their ability, the United Nations machine,
and particularly the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, OCHA, attempts to carry out these assessments when asked
to do so by the Sanctions Committee or the Security Council.
78. May I come in there, just before we move on.
In the memoranda we have received, they have claimed that hundreds
of thousands of Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions,
that malnutrition and diseases have risen dramatically, there
is high infant and under-five mortality rates, high maternal mortality,
and so on. Is that a picture you recognise, and, if it is, would
you claim that it was as a result of sanctions, or for other reasons,
or a mixture of both?
(Mr Chaplin) I think,
first, one has to ask where those figures come from, and it is
very difficult to get at the basis for those sorts of claims.
Certainly, the latest UN report suggests that the "oil for
food" programme has had some beneficial impact, so that,
for example, malnutrition rates among young children have stabilised
in government-controlled Iraq and have fallen quite significantly
in northern Iraq; but that is not to say anyone is denying that
the humanitarian situation is bad. I would not accept that they
were as a result of sanctions. There are these very elaborate
arrangements approved by the Security Council for humanitarian
exemptions, but the fact is that the regime in Baghdad fails to
co-operate with them. And there are all sorts of anomalies, for
example, that Iraq, for a start, refused to accept the scheme
that was offered as long ago as 1991, and even when a scheme was
finally accepted by them they took another 18 months to put it
into operation; so we have actually only had an "oil for
food" scheme in operation in Iraq since December 1996.
There are other, 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. There is a very strange sense of priorities, if one looks
in detail at some of the distribution plans which they put forward
for approval by the Secretary-General, which happens for every
phase under the "oil for food" programme, where they,
in the last case, for example, actually 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 there are other examples
of extravagant expenditure on non-humanitarian goods. And then
there is the problem of distribution, even the stuff that does
get into the country, as you may have seen, and I think as is
mentioned in the Foreign Secretary's memorandum, that, for example,
over half the medicines and medical supplies which have been supplied
under this programme, worth $275million, are still sitting in
warehouses. So we would argue that all the mechanisms are in place
to ensure that the sort of horrific figures which are quoted about
the suffering of the Iraqi people are tackled, and one can disagree,
or one can debate the details, but no-one is debating the overall
picture. But one can, I think, certainly point to the Iraqi regime
as being ultimately responsible for that.
(Mr Faint) I was
just going to add to that; yes, it is extremely difficult to target
vulnerable groups in a country which has a very recalcitrant regime
which does not appear to be terribly interested in those problems.
But I think it is fair to say the UK hastaken quite a leading
role in trying to improve the way that the humanitarian exemptions
to the Iraq sanctions regime work, and I believe we are now proposing
some further improvements. One would be to increase the amount
of money that is involved in the "oil for food" programme;
another would be to simplify somewhat the way the UN bureaucracy
goes about its work in getting approval for particular allocations;
and a third is allowing a measure of local purchase to take place,
which should have the effect of mitigating the effect on the local
economy which can result from imports of particularly basic foods.
So those are ways in which I think the sanctions regime could,
in principle, be further improved; but it is never going to be
perfect, especially with a very unco-operative regime at the other
79. The FCO says, in its memorandum to us, that humanitarian
exemptions are to minimise humanitarian impact on innocent civilians
but they should have clear objectives and clear exit strategies,
is what I understand you are proposing to do. What account does
the Foreign Office take of the Department for International Development's
views, in drawing up humanitarian exemptions to sanctions regimes?
(Mr Brenton) Tony may
want to add a word; but I would say full account. Sanctions regimes
are designed by interested Whitehall Departments, we co-ordinate
the group but DFID sit on it and have very clear views on the
need to protect vulnerable groups, and their views are taken into
account in whatever our proposals finally are.
(Mr Faint) I think the Government machine
would look to DFID to advise on that whole class of issues, yes.