Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 137 - 159)




  137. Good morning. May I welcome you and thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us on this important subject of sanctions, how they apply and what they do. I understand that you have agreed amongst yourselves that one of you would like to make an opening statement. We have received your written evidence, for which we thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Bowden) To introduce this group from ActionAid and the Save the Children Fund, Dr Sarah Collinson on my left is the Senior Research and Policy Coordinator for ActionAid which has a lot of experience both in doing research into the impact of sanctions in specific countries and as an agency has been affected by the impact of sanctions on a humanitarian basis. ActionAid is not involved in Iraq but is involved in Burundi and some of the more general issues. My colleagues are Rita Bhatia, who is our Policy Analyst, and Chris Saunders, who deals specifically with the Iraq programme. I am Mark Bowden and I am responsible for Eastern and Central Africa in the Save the Children Fund and have an involvement both with the effect of sanctions in Burundi but have also been looking at the problems of sanctions and other embargoes on health and child care activities in a number of other countries including Zanzibar, where there has been an aid embargo, and the Sudan which has had problems tantamount to sanctions. We have given written evidence to you and we are happy to go through the questions.

  138. You said that Zanzibar was involved in sanctions against Sudan.
  (Mr Bowden) No, sorry. We are doing a study on Zanzibar because there has been a cessation of aidto Zanzibar because of the political problems in Zanzibar at the moment, and we are looking at that as another example where aid has been totally frozen to an area. This is not exactly a straightforward sanctions case but there has been a total cessation of all international bilateral aid to Zanzibar.

  139. That is interesting. I did not know that.
  (Mr Bowden) It is another example of the political conditionalities that are being introduced.

  140. Yes, the use of aid as a political weapon.
  (Mr Bowden) Yes.

  141. Thank you very much indeed. Were Save the Children or ActionAid consulted in the course of the Government's recent review on sanctions in which they conclude that they are a wonderful thing but they could be made better?
  (Ms Bhatia) Save the Children were not consulted about the Government review. We were aware that the review was taking place. The first thing we heard about the results of the review was on the 15 March when there was a press release on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

  142. This is announcement by website, is it, so it was the first that you got to know of it?
  (Ms Bhatia) Yes. There was also a written answer from the Foreign Office Minister to a question by Joan Ryan asking what were the results of the review. In answer to your question, no, we were not aware of it.

  143. This is a planted question, you think, in the House of Commons?
  (Ms Bhatia) Yes, a written answer in the House of Commons, on the 15 March.[16]

  144. Sounds like a coordinated exercise, and that is the first you knew?
  (Ms Bhatia) Yes, this is the first I knew of it.
  (Dr Collinson) Could I answer on behalf of ActionAid? I should like to reiterate the point that ActionAid also was aware of the review, and in fact it was one of the reasons that we were interested to update our information on the situation of sanctions in Burundi by commissioning a report from a consultant in the region on the Burundi case. We were somewhat disappointed that there was never an opportunity to input any of our conclusions that led out of that research into the Government's review.
  (Ms Bhatia) Can I add to that, that in December last year there was a conference on Smarter Sanctions organised by the Overseas Development Institute. I believe that DFID were one of the co-sponsors of that. Some of us thought that the report from that conference would feed into the review, but there has not yet been a report from that conference. There has been a delay in timing, so that was the other thing that we are aware of.

  145. Were you involved in the ODI seminar?
  (Ms Bhatia) Yes, we were.

  146. We have got an executive summary of that conference but, as you say, it has not yet been published. That is most interesting. You know that the review concluded that sanctions will remain an important tool of our foreign policy. The review also concluded however that better targeting would be likely to enhance the effectiveness of international sanctions to minimise the risk of harm to ordinary people. Are Save the Children and ActionAid happy with the conclusions of the government review?
  (Mr Bowden) In general terms, no. From the Save the Children perspective we feel that sanctions generally are harmful to children and that targeting sanctions does not work. It is our experience that the most vulnerable are the major victims. Our concerns, certainly from Burundi but from other areas as well, are that sanctions tend to enhance the informal economy and weaken the structures of government on a general basis, which means that you end up with a far weaker government with less capacity for negotiation through formal structures as a result of sanctions and the development of cronyism within government and a considerable black market. We would far rather look at the better use of aid conditionalities as a way of bringing influence to bear or specific embargoes on arms or other issues rather than generalised sanctions. The history of sanctions, particularly in Africa, has been poor. Furthermore, we are in a situation where we only have sticks with which to berate governments and very little positive influence to get governments back into the political dialogue and the debate that will bring about the appropriate changes.

  147. I see in your submission to us that you say that in the case of Burundi economic sanctions had little effect on political developments, "instead creating opportunities for corruption and highly lucrative black market economic activities for the elite". Would you generalise that and say that that is true also of Iraq and of other areas on which sanctions have been imposed? Iraq of course has a comprehensive set of sanctions and Burundi was only regional sanctions and was rather ill defined, although it looked pretty comprehensive to me when I looked at the list.
  (Mr Bowden) I will speak briefly on Burundi and perhaps Chris Saunders, my colleague, can speak in a little more detail on Iraq. Certainly in Burundi a number of agencies would all agree that the sanctions have basically given greater power to a smaller political business elite that have ended up being the main supporters of the President and have very much weakened the structures of government. I would say also that the main sanctions busters have been the main proponents of sanctions and the Tanzanian businesses have been happily moving fuel into Burundi throughout the sanctions period and it has in a sense increased the informal economy and corruption within Tanzania as well. It has knock-on effects not just in the country that is having sanctions imposed on it, but also may well have knock-on effects in enhancing the informal black market economy of neighbouring countries that are imposing sanctions.
  (Mr Saunders) With Iraq being made more complex by the fact that we are talking about Iraq in the north, the Iraqi Kurdistan, than the south and centre, I would agree entirely with what Mark has just said in referring to the south and centre of Iraq. I think the situation in the north, which represents 15 per cent of the population of Iraq, is slightly more complicated because the sanctions busting, which is prolific and running through Turkey into the north, the trade, the smuggling, whatever term is applied to that, is actually taxed by the de facto government in the north of Iraq, the Kurds, the PUK and the KDP, particularly the KDP. Considerable income is derived from that taxation and that income is actually utilised in what we consider to be in many respects effective development and support of the Kurdish population. You cannot generalise in Iraq because of this major split and distinction.

  148. And that is important?
  (Mr Saunders) Yes.
  (Dr Collinson) Excuse me. In a moment I would like to answer the original question on behalf of ActionAid.

Ann Clwyd

  149. I should like to follow on from what you said, Mr Saunders. Given the situations you have described, the fact that there is considerable trade and the fact that the political parties in that part of the world do benefit from that trade, do you think it is in their interests (the political parties' interests) to keep sanctions in place?
  (Mr Saunders) Without a doubt.


  150. Now, Dr Collinson, would you like to answer for ActionAid?
  (Dr Collinson) Thank you. I am backtracking a bit, but the original question was whether we were happy with what we know of the Government's review. I stress what we know of it, because we do not know a great deal apart from the press release and the short statements in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. My opinion is that certainly in view of our concerns about the sanctions situation in Burundi and also in Sierra Leone, there are a number of quite important issues that the review glosses over or does not tackle at all. It does not reflect the responsibilities that the United Kingdom Government has as a permanent member of the Security Council and the relationship of the Security Council and the responsibilities of the Security Council when sanctions are imposed by regional organisations or groups of states, which is something that we may see more and more of in the future. These are issues which I hope we can discuss more in the course of the morning's evidence. To give an example, the review talks about the need to have humanitarian exemptions written into any sanctions regimes from the very beginning. That begs the question of how those exemptions are going to be applied in practice and what arrangements there are, particularly, in the case of Sierra Leone, for example, between the UN and the regional organisation responsible. There were serious failures with the humanitarian exemptions in Sierra Leone with the result that no food and hardly any medicine entered the country throughout the time that the sanctions were in place. There are important questions—and this refers back to an issue which has already been mentioned by Save the Children—of the relationship between sanctions and development assistance. Certainly we are seeing in Burundi now a very direct linkage where sanctions have drifted into aid conditionality with the same impact on the country.

  151. We did have the Foreign Office in front of us last week on this outcome of the sanctions inquiry and you might like to get a transcript of what they said they had concluded.
  (Dr Collinson) There is one more thing that I would like to add on the Burundi case. With the research that we had commissioned the author certainly reported some opinion within Burundi that the sanctions, at least initially, did have some political impact, but it is not really possible to have a very objective view of whether the sanctions were politically effective or not at the very beginning; that is arguable. Certainly, and I think this is where there is very broad consensus, as the sanctions continued they became more remote from the original political objectives. There was much too much drift and the actual standards that were applied in the imposition of the sanctions, in the monitoring, not only of the humanitarian impact but of the political and security impacts as well, was inadequate. This is an area where we have particular concerns and this relates again back to the role of the UN in ensuring that those standards are maintained in the future at a higher level than was the case in Burundi.

  152. The Burundi sanctions were designed to express disapproval of the takeover in the military coup, were they not, and so by that standard they failed because the military coup leader remains the President of the country.
  (Dr Collinson) The sanctions were also imposed to bring the Government into the peace process, to see a restoration of the national assembly, and full negotiations with all parties to the conflict in Burundi. There was some progress towards some of those objectives early on and this is why there is a very strong argument for the fact that the sanctions, if they were or were not effective, they certainly should have been lifted much earlier on than they were.

  153. These are not of course UN sanctions. They are regional sanctions.
  (Dr Collinson) These were sanctions imposed by the region which were not exactly approved by the Security Council. The Security Council for a number of reasons did not fully approve the sanctions and therefore there was some argument about whether the sanctions were actually legal.

  154. On the basis of the UN Charter they are illegal, are they not?
  (Dr Collinson) Exactly.

  Chairman: But who cares about that now that we are in conflict in Kosovo?

Mr Worthington

  155. The question I was supposed to ask was how do you design sanctions regimes so as to take into account humanitarian development aspects, how do you lessen them? You seem to be saying do not waste your breath really. It is more trouble than it is worth, that the local movers and shakers will get round it and turn it to their purpose anyway.
  (Mr Bowden) In general terms in the African perspective I would agree with your last statement, that it is more trouble than it is worth. But it is at the end of the day a political statement and I have to say that there are many of the neighbouring states who feel that the Burundi sanctions have been a great success and it has been hailed, certainly by some of the governments in the region, as a political success in getting Buyoya to engage more with political parties. If they are then to be used mainly as a political statement, there are ways in which you could improve sanctions. Some of them would be to have a far clearer sense of items that would be normally exempt from any sanctions regime, so a clearer statement of health and education. I would say basically health education plus a certain amount of agricultural inputs that would normally to be considered to be exempt and having a clear list of those would certainly help. In the case of Burundi, having greater clarity as to the processes for granting exemptions would help. One of the major problems we all had in Burundi over regional sanctions was that the process for gaining exemption was very unclear. There was no clarity at all. The length of decision making by the regional sanctions group took an awfully long time. As a result, things like the immunisation campaigns and the immunisation system in Burundi collapsed just because of the length of decision making in the end. Vaccines were exempted but there had been such a long delay in getting these exemptions through that there had been a collapse in the system beforehand. A lot more clarity about what items are subject to sanctions, what items are exempt from sanctions and the processes by which exemption is granted and how goods are transported into the country would make a lot of difference, if you are to impose sanctions.
  (Ms Bhatia) A lot of what Mark has just said also applies to the use of multilateral sanctions because there has been a lot of criticism about the way that the UN Sanctions Committees operate. What happens is that each Security Council resolution creates a Sanctions Committee that is composed of representatives of the 15 members of the Security Council, under the Presidency of a non-permanent member of the council. One of the problems is that the analysis shows that these individuals are often diplomats, they are not technical people, and also there are difficulties in using experience from one Sanctions Committee and transplanting that to another one, so there is no institutional memory of sanctions policy and practice. If I might use an example here, one of the clear criticisms with the Sanctions Committee on Iraq is that a lot of the processes have become politicised. You have different phases and we are currently in phase five of the distribution plan for Iraq. Earlier on in the programme, that is in phase one, 46 per cent of all items were put on hold. That means that one member of the committee can put an item on hold and only that committee member can release that item. It has improved for the moment, but the problem that they are experiencing now with phase five is that the submission and approval of contracts for phase four is still continuing, with the arrival and distribution of humanitarian supplies for all phases still ongoing. These are some of the problems that we have experienced with the Sanctions Committee in Iraq. I should like to refer members here to the note submitted by the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Amorim, and this note suggests how the Sanctions Committees can improve their working methods. There has been a lot of reference to that. In part the note recommends that Sanctions Committees should as far as possible harmonise their guidelines and routines of work. That is in recognition of this very disparate process. However, we would argue that this note perhaps does not go far enough. It does not make humanitarian assessments mandatory. It says that the secretariat should be requested to provide whenever necessary its assessment of the humanitarian and economic impact of sanctions from the Sanctions Committees. The point is that humanitarian impact assessments are still not mandatory.

Mr Robathan

  156. I think this is a good time to try and discuss the design of sanctions and their impact. We are looking at the future of sanctions and therefore we need to look at the past and you talk about the experience in the past. My question is to Mr Bowman because you deal in Africa. What was the experience after sanctions, such as they were, in South Africa? I cannot really remember what happened with sanctions against South Africa. Eventually economic sanctions were imposed. What exactly was the experience from that and what are the conclusions you draw from that, looking to the future in the current state of affairs?
  (Mr Bowden) The Save the Children Fund was involved in South Africa during the period of limited sanctions, and also I have some experience, going way back, of the effect on Zimbabwe, the former Rhodesia, of sanctions that were undertaken in those days. One of the differences in southern Africa is that in some ways it strengthened the economy.

  157. Home grown?
  (Mr Bowden) The home grown economy. There was a lot more emphasis on local industries. Rhodesia, as it then was, in particular owes its manufacturing base and capacity to sanctions. It may have had a long term developmental effect in that way. I do not think it was intended at the time. South Africa also went down the route of a great deal more investment in its own industry and industrial capacity. The down side is that again the major group that were affected by sanctions were the poorer elements of the population, partly because of price increases. The price effect of sanctions is quite dramatic and I would say that in most African economies, despite the common understanding of the situation, the poor are more dependent on the market than the better off groups, so almost automatically anything that has a major effect on prices will affect the poorest element of the population, including the agricultural population, a great deal more. The other impact that I think should not be underestimated, and this is something that has come up in Burundi again, is the degree of scientific and technical isolation that occurs. South Africa was 20 years behind the times in terms of its health planning, its understanding of health issues, because it was basically excluded from international discussions and meetings. In Burundi the travel sanctions for example have had a similar effect upon isolating health services and health staff from debate, planning, over important health and other scientific issues. That left the social development of South Africa, and again we are going back to this isolation element that took place as a result of the travel embargoes, far more behind in terms of health planning and policy than it would have been if there had been more engagement with specific sectors that we feel should be outside the area of sanctions.

  158. So there are common lessons?
  (Mr Bowden) There are some common lessons.

Dr Tonge

  159. You say that South Africa lagged behind in health planning policy. It did not lag behind in research into heart surgery and all the fancy stuff.
  (Mr Saunders) For the majority of the population it lagged behind.
  (Mr Bowden) Basically where it lagged behind was in primary health care and public health policy.

16   H.C. Deb, 15 March 1999, cc 515-6. Back

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