Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence


  Save the Children was founded in 1919 as a response to international sanctions. It was set up following the shortages and devastation of the First World War and in particular the effects of the Allied blockade in Europe which left families starving. Save the Children currently works in a number of countries under some form of sanctions regime, including Burundi, Cuba, Northern Iraq, Myanmar, and Sudan.

  Sanctions have been used throughout history as an intermediary means, between diplomacy and war, of attempting to influence the behaviour of national governments. Sanctions can be imposed unilaterally, regionally or multilaterally under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Chapter VII permits the Security Council to use diplomacy, sanctions and force to safeguard peace and security. The UN Charter defines sanctions as the "complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio and other means of communications, and the severance of diplomatic relations" with a nation that threatens international peace and security or is guilty of aggression against another nation.

  The multilateral use of comprehensive economic sanctions has increased significantly in the post-cold war. During the 1990s, UNSC sanctions have been applied in varying form and duration, in relation to South Africa, Iraq/Kuwait, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Somalia, Libya, Haiti, Angola, Rwanda and the Sudan. Reasons range from deterring aggresion and terrorism, to defending democracy and human rights and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Because of the interests of the Development Committee we are focusing our submission in particular on the cases of Burundi and Iraq.


  Over the last decade the frequency and prolongation of sanctions regimes, particularly against Iraq, has sharpened awareness of some of the defects of this foreign policy instrument. Doubts about effectiveness are now overshadowed by concerns about the humanitarian costs. Economic sanctions have often been seen as a non-violent alternative to war. But sanctions are a "blunt instrument" imposing suffering on the poorest and most vulnerable. There is also an undercurrent perception that sanctions are mostly an imposition by the "First" world upon the "Third". In Supplement to An Agenda for Peace, Secretary-General, Boutros Ghali, recognised that sanctions "raise the ethical question of whether suffering inflicted on vulnerable groups in the target country is a legitimate means of exerting pressure on political leaders whose behaviour is unlikely to be affected by the plight of their subjects".[1]

  For all the pain they impose, it is debatable whether sanctions succeed. An influential study[2] published by the Institute for International Economics in Washington reviews 116 cases of sanctions imposed between 1914 and 1990. In only 34 per cent of cases were sanctions successful, based on the grounds that the desired change had been achieved and could be attributed to sanctions. The likelihood of "success", concluded the authors, decreases, as the goals of sanctions become more general and "ambitious". They concluded that sanctions work best with clear aims, defined exit strategies and when the target is economically weak and politically unstable.

  Critics argue that sanctions are imposed without clearly defined and transparent objectives. In Supplement to an Agenda for Peace, Secretary-General, Boutros Ghali pointed out that "the objectives for which specific sanctions regimes were imposed have not been clearly defined. Indeed they change over time . . . If general support for the use of sanctions as an effective instrument is to be maintained, care should be taken to avoid the impression that the purpose of imposing sanctions is punishment rather than the modification of political behaviour or that criteria are being changed in order to serve purposes other than those which motivated the original decision to impose sanctions".


  Save the Children's experience and analysis shows that it is children who are the innocent victims of sanctions. Save the Children believes that 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. We are deeply concerned about the following:

1.   Persistent violations of the Rights of the Child

  Sanctions are imposed to enforce compliance with international norms with regard to aggression between states and democratic governance within states. Yet comprehensive economic sanctions, when in place over a prolonged period of time, and certainly in the absence of humanitarian exemptions, clearly violates legal obligations towards the development and survival of children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the provisions of the UN Charter that relate to human rights (Articles 1, 55 and 56) provide an international yardstick to judge the impacts of sanctions on a civilian populaton. SCF would point out that the children of a given country do not forfeit their 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.

  Of the cluster of survival rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 27 on the right to adequate nutrition and freedom from hunger and Article 24 on access to the highest attainable standard of health is very relevant, and by no means exclusive to Iraq. Iraq ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994 under very difficult circumstances, following a decade of wars, the economic embargo and internal armed conflict that ended government control over the three northern Governorates. In its concluding observations of Iraq's Initial Report, the UN Committee monitoring the Rights of the Child noted that:

  "The embargo imposed by the Security Council has adversely affected the economy and many aspects of daily life. Thereby impeding the full enjoyment by the State party's population, particularly children, of their rights to survival, health and education . . . The Committee is also 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 in the past few years and that an increasing number of children are leaving school, sometimes at an early age, to work to support themselves and their families".[3]

  UNICEF Situational Analysis of Children and Women in Iraq 1998 also makes sombre reading. It reports widespread protein malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhoea diseases, high infant and under-fives mortality rates, high maternal mortality, inadequate water and environmental sanitation conditions, especially in rural areas and the breakdown in the socio-cultural fabric of society.[4]

2.   The limitations of humanitarian exemptions, including Iraq's Oil for Food programme

  The sanctions regimes established by the Security Council now include humanitarian exemptions designed to permit the flow of essential goods destined for humanitarian purposes. It is assumed that these exemptions always ensure respect for basic human rights within the targeted country and that they can alleviate the negative impacts of sanctions on the poorest and most vulnerable. One problem is that the definition of humanitarian assistance is country specific and can change over time. Lifesaving provisions for emergency food and medicine usually (but do not always) automatically qualify. Children however, have needs which go beyond narrowly defined emergency assistance, including the right to education, survival and development and an adequate standard of living.

(a)   Burundi

  For example, Burundi illustrates the devastating consequences of a regional economic embargo that initially did not exempt humanitarian goods. The economic embargo initially included food, medical supplies, agricultural imports and international flights. Regional economic sanctions were imposed against Burundi in response to the July 1996 military coup led by Major Pierre Buyoya. The sanctioning countries (Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Ethopia and Zaire) demanded the immediate restoration of constitutional order and unconditional negotiations between all parties to the conflict. The international community eventually negotiated humanitarian exemptions. However, these could not stem the catastrophic decline in social indicators by that time, given the civil war, the huge military budget, internal displacement, price inflation and shortages.

  The impacts on children have been devastating. A lack of co-ordination among the authorities enforcing the sanctions led to delays in food supplies, fuel, medicines, seeds and sanitary facilities. Clearance procedures were problematic. There was little effort made by the exemptions committee to ensure that clear guidelines were drawn up for officials in their own countries, laying the system open to personal profiteering and corruption. This had a negative impact on regular economic activity and caused the government to slash social spending on essential services.[5] Drugs were in short supply leading to increases in treatable diseases such as malaria, typhoid and dysentery. The education system was also badly affected, given a shortage in chalk, fuel, construction materials, textbooks and higher household expenses. The impact of the embargo on the faltering education system will have repercussions for children in the future.

  Economic sanctions in Burundi had little effect on policital developments, instead creating opportunities for corruption and highly lucrative black market economic activities for the elite. "Cross-border smuggling partially attentuated the effects of sanctions, while benefiting mainly the private sector and those receiving bribes. Enforcement by some of Burundi's neighbouring countries was lax. The military regime presumably benefited from smuggling activities, and appeared capable of generating foreign exchange through the unauthorised export of small quantities of tea and coffee".[6]

(b)   Iraq

  Similarly in Iraq, the Oil for Food Programme has its limitations, UNICEF argues that, "The government has shown the commitment to improve the situation of women and children in Iraq despite the economic constraints which affect social programmes. The oil for food programme has provided, temporary, partial support. Its thrust is for the rehabilitation of structures and provision of supplies/equipment in the major sectors of health, water, sanitation and education. What it lacks is the necessary resources to improve the quality and extent of services, including social mobilisation and enhanced community participation".[7]

  Most recently, one of three panels[8] set up by the Security Council to take forward policies on Iraq, presented a bleak picture of the effectiveness of the "oil for food" programme in an era of falling oil prices. The panel makes clear that Iraq is responsible for some of the problems in distributing supplies, particularly medicine. But it concludes "the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be achieved through remedial humanitarian efforts".

  The report makes a number of proposals to the Security Council.[9] These include permitting foreign investment in Iraq's oil economy and other domestic sectors; releasing some of Iran's frozen assets into a UN escrow account; temporarily reducing the 30 per cent Iraq has to pay from its oil revenues into a fund for war reparations. Most importantly, it suggests that the Sanctions Committee should allow food and medical supplies, agricultural equipment and basic educational items to be imported into Iraq without notification. Other items should be approved within two business days. The Security Council is currently debating the findings of the three reports. The Iraqi government has condemned the panel findings claiming that they will not accept any further arms inspections unless economic sanctions are lifted.

3.   The need for appropriate targeting of humanitarian exemptions

  Save the Children's programme experience in the three Northern Governorates of Iraqi Kurdistan, (Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya), demonstrates the need for humanitarian exemptions to be appropriately targeted to those most in need of assistance. Preliminary research was carried out in 1998 to ascertain the impacts of the free food ration on different population groups. The full report is attached with this submission[10]. SCF discovered that the universal food ration has been negative for certain enterprising groups, especially farmers. The ration has resulted in the dramatic collapse in prices of key agricultural products, which were the mainstay of the economy. The prices of all ration items (flour, rice oil, chickpeas, lentils, sugar, tea and soap) have dramatically fallen. By far the most critical repercussions concern the extremely low price of wheat which is now selling at well below the cost of production. As farmers' incomes have fallen, so has their position as consumers and their contribution to other sectors (eg transport and trade). The net beneficiaries of the food ration are the large group of government employees, as well as the very poor (eg labourers, women headed households, urban-based groups with no access to land).

  Save the Children is concerned that 986 funds, unless used strategically could further undermine the fragile economy of the Kurdish autonomous region and perpetuate the dependency created by the Ba'ath regime. There are a number of important contradictions. If local purchase of agricultural produce were permitted under SC resolution 986 then the number of people gaining from the "oil for food" would increase. This would also facilitate the objectives of the international humanitarian community in directing the region away from aid dependency to sustainable economic and social development. UN agencies such as FAO have themselves pointed to "the need for economic rehabilitation and development throughout the whole country. Unless purchasing power is generated and greater investment is made in agriculture, additional and necessary high-quality proteins and bio-available micro-nutrients will be beyond the means of many, and nutritional problems will persist, despite the improved ration under SCR 986".[11] We also find it inconsistent that local purchase of processed products to support other development schemes (eg cement for the massive building programme) is permitted.

4.   The management and operations of sanctions regimes

  Various mechanisms have been implemented to improve the operating procedures of the Security Council Committee charged with monitoring the sanctions against Iraq. There have been cases where humanitarian goods have allegedly been banned for being dual purpose. For example, amylnitrate, which is used for the treatment of angina, has been banned on the grounds that one of the ingredients can be used to produce explosives. The Sanctions Committee on Iraq has been criticised for its inflexibility, its reluctance to clarify procedures and apparent bias in favour of certain key members of the Security Council. In response to these concerns, and the untenable humanitarian situation, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Ceslo Amorim, announced some practical steps towards enhancing the functioning of all UN Sanctions Committees. In particular, he recommends that: [12]

    —  Sanctions Committees should increase transparency through regular briefings by the Chairpersons.

    —  The Chairpersons should make visits to the regions concerned to obtain first-hand accounts of the impacts.

    —  They should monitor the humanitarian impacts of sanctions on vulnerable groups, such as children and make adjustments to the exemption mechanisms to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance.

    —  Consider how humanitarian organisations can apply for humanitarian exemptions directly to the Committees.

  Experience from Burundi suggests that standards covering the management and implementation of humanitarian exemptions need to be drawn up in the case of regional sanctions regimes. The wider international community supported Burundian sanctions to some degree as "an African solution for Africa's problems". However, they could have taken a number of steps to support regional governments. Firstly, they should have been constructively critical when humanitarian exemptions were clearly not being respected. Secondly, they should have helped regional states define targeted financial sanctions, such as freezing certain bank accounts, imposing travel restrictions and enforcing an arms embargo, which was broken openly on a daily basis. Thirdly, the UN and OAU, should have agreed on a list of humanitarian exemptions prior to implementing sanctions and played a role in managing the sanctions regime. More specifically, regional countries and the international community could have considered conducting a joint multi-disciplinary assessment mission to Burundi. This could have been similar to the post-war mission to Iraq led by Martti Ahtisaari, to assess civilian conditions and recommend a list of exemptions. [13]Fourthly, the international community could have established a mechanism for regular assessment of the humanitarian impacts. With hindsight, regular assessment would have enabled sanctioning countries to retarget sanctions towards those in power.

5.   Post-sanctions commitment

  Sanctions against Burundi were suspended early this year pending the outcome of the Arusha peace process. At a recent meeting in New York, the international donor community agreed on the need to restart limited co-operation. Donors agreed that co-operation assistance would be limited to supporting community-based development, and would specifically exclude the possibility of budget support. Any future structural support is conditional upon signing of an agreement at Arusha, Tanzania. The guiding principle behind continuing limited humanitarian assistance is a return to pre-crisis levels of service provisions, especially in the sectors of health and education. The EU, for example, is proposing a package of around 50 million Euros in support of this initiative, none of which will be channelled through the government. This will support programmes of a year's duration or less. The wider donor community, including the Scandinavians, the US, are contributing to the "Umbrella Project" which is a trust fund to be administered by UNDP. This is also conditional upon the outcome of peace talks.

  SCF is concerned about the effects of conditional assistance in the post-Sanctions period. Is it realistic to attempt to restore functional infrastructures in areas such as health and education if the Government of Burundi does not have the resources to make this work? Secondly, there are no positive inducements to encourage progress. This contrasts markedly with the positive inducements or "carrots" offered by the international community to Somalia. Thirdly, will the government be able to absorb significant amounts of structural aid after the conclusion of the peace talks without the risks of serious economic distortion. Fourthly, is it tenable for international NGOs to be the medium through which this assistance is channelled, without seriously compromising their position?


  1.  SCF believes that the international human rights instruments, including the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provide widely accepted principles of conduct in international affairs against which decisions to impose sanctions should be measured and justified. Human rights treaty-monitoring bodies, including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have argued that such considerations must be taken into account when designing a sanctions regime. [14]

  2.  In SCF's experience, comprehensive economic sanctions have resulted in a detrimental impact on the lives of children in countries where they are imposed. The imposition of sanctions should be avoided whenever possible. The decision to resort to sanctions should only be taken when other peaceful options, provided by the UN Charter, and the use of targeted financial sanctions, are inadequate.

  3.  The use of SMART sanctions should be considered before the decision to impose comprehensive economic sanctions is made. The concept of "SMART Sanctions" which includes targeted financial measures and arms embargoes, has been gaining support from UN member states and could provide a benign alternative to the indiscriminate impact of comprehensive economic sanctions. Recent measures applied against the military Junta in Sierra Leone and UNITA in Angola are examples. Switzerland has recently hosted two Expert Seminars on Targeting UN Financial Sanctions. Known as the "Interlaken" process, these seminars have brought together financial experts, governments and UN agencies to consider how to render sanctions a less blunt instrument.

  4.  Economic sanctions are imposed on the assumption that the long-term benefits of pressure on pariah regimes outweigh the immediate cost to children. Our evidence has shown this not to be the case, even with exemptions in place. However, given the political realities, the Security Council should ensure that obligatory and enforceable humanitarian exemptions and agreed mechanisms for monitoring the impact of sanctions on children are included in sanctions regimes. To have real impact, the Security Council should mandate its Sanctions Committees to conduct these reviews, based on support of relevant UN bodies and information from NGOs and other humanitarian organisations. Where possible, child impact assessments should be made at the point of imposition, with constant monitoring to gauge impacts. The Council should also consider reviewing the effectiveness of regional exemptions and monitor the regional humanitarian situation.

  5.  When operational in countries affected, by, or about to be affected by sanctions and in circumstances where international sanctions are unlikely to be lifted, Save the Children argues for the following:

    —  Free movement in life-saving supplies, including food, and medicines.

    —  Clear exemptions on humanitarian provisions and materials needed for education.

    —  Improved targeting of the political elite. Appropriate measures include freezing of bank accounts, the denial of visas and the imposition of an arms embargo.

    —  Regional organisations should develop more satisfactory policy frameworks and operational guidelines to ensure that humanitarian goals are pursued along with political objectives.

  6.  Sanctioning bodies should be urged towards greater equity and transparency in their composition and decision-making process. The Security Council should draw up standard lists of humanitarian exemptions, and exempt UN and other well-established agencies from sanctions restrictions when carrying out humanitarian operations. We would also support the suggestions made by President of the Security Council, Ambassador Ceslo Amorim, to help improve the functioning of UN Sanctions Committees.

  7.  Sanctions should have a clearly defined purpose, and explicit criteria for determining when they should be lifted. For sanctions to be justifiable there must be reasonable prospect that their aims can be achieved. There is also a case for laying down precisely defined objectives and termination criteria in future sanctions regimes. UN sanctions now continue until a decision is taken to lift them. In the Security Council this means that a single Permanent member can veto the lifting, against the will of the large majority of the Council. Alternatively, sanctions could instead require a "green light" for renewal beyond a specified point. Where possible, the lifting of sanctions should be linked to positive inducements as a way to resolve the crisis.

Save the Children Fund

April 1999

1   Supplement to an Agenda for Peace: Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. 3 January 1995, document A/50/60-S/1995/1. Back

2   Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott and Kimberly Elliott, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered. International Institute for International Economics, Washington, 1990. Back

3   Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Iraq. 26/10/98. CRC/C 15/Add.94 (see http: Back

4   UNICEF/Iraq. Situational Analysis of Children and Women in Iraq. April 1998. Back

5   Statement by Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, on the Situation in Burundi, 25 June 1998. Back

6   E Hoskins and S Nutt. The Humanitarian impact of economic sanctions on Burundi, 1997. Back

7   UNICEF. op cit. Back

8   The three inquiries were set up in January to seek compromises that would permit arms inspections to resume, improve the health and welfare of Iraqis and resolve the fate of more than 600 people who disappeared after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Back

9   Reported by Global Policy Forum, New York (see Back

10   Not printed. Back

11   FAO/WFP Food Supply and Nutrition Assessment Mission to Iraq-Special Report, 3.10.97. Back

12   Work of the Sanctions Committee: Notes by President of the Security Council, Amb. Celso Amorim, S/1999/92. January 29, 1999. Back

13   Hoskins & Nutt. op cit. Back

14   See General Comment no. 8 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Geneva, 1998 ( Back

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