Examination of witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 25 MAY 1999
SAUNDERS and DR
180. We will have to find out.
(Mr Saunders) In terms of the way that 986 is managed,
the Baghdad Government is actually the body which regulates and
determines humanitarian aid needs and how it is distributed, and
one of the contradictions that we have been faced with is the
fact that in many respects the north faced what was called double
sanction. Not only were sanctions being imposed upon Iraq by the
international community, but the north had its own sanctions being
imposed upon it by Baghdad and the relief to that double sanction
effect was that in relation to the smuggling and trade that was
going on, to the benefit of certain groups of people in the south
and centre admittedly, the north was benefiting from cross-border
smuggling, so it is full of complexities.
181. We can safely say that sanctions have distorted
the economic situation?
(Mr Saunders) Yes.
182. It is in fact a bit of a mess altogether.
(Mr Saunders) Absolutely.
183. There is some argument which some people
put that the sanctions should be lifted against the north completely
because the north are not considered to be the baddies in this
(Mr Saunders) Indeed.
184. Have you got any idea at all what is illegally
reaching the regime as a result of sanctions busting?
(Mr Saunders) No, I think it would only be guesswork.
I think one can assume that all new products that are seen for
sale in the markets in Baghdad which are expensive, luxury products
have come through that particular route. I think it is safe to
assume that. As an organisation and personally we neither have
the capacity nor the ability to view, check, monitor or even just
casually observe what is going on there.
185. We have skated over a lot of questions
here. You have said a lot about the effect of sanctions on children
and the difficulties that can cause. Also in the evidence from
the Save the Children Fund you have pointed out that it affects
other groups, girls in particular and people who do not have any
agricultural land, so there are very wide ramifications here.
I wanted to ask two groups of questions really, the first about
humanitarian law. Should the requirement for sanctions regimes
be specifically included within humanitarian law? Secondly, where
does the responsibility for sticking to international humanitarian
law lie? Does it lie with the people who are imposing the sanctions
or does it lie with the sanctionees, the people who are having
sanctions imposed upon them?
(Ms Bhatia) When we are looking at sanctions and the
humanitarian effects of sanctions we are not looking at humanitarian
law although I think there is an argument made that a lot of principles
of humanitarian law can apply with good reason to civilians and
sanctions. However, I think we are really talking about the body
of human rights lawthe UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights. I think the points we make in our evidence are based both
on our field experience, particularly from Burundi and some of
the other countries where we work, but also the analysis of many
other organisations who have an overview of the situation. I might
refer the Committee to a note written in 1997 by the UN Committee
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the title of the note
is "The relationship between sanctions in respect of economic,
social and cultural rights". This note is quite strong in
arguing that just because you have sanctions in place it does
not absolve either the targeted state or the international community
who is responsible for imposing the sanctions and our evidence
was trying to suggest that the international community and the
targeted state are equally responsible for the rights of children.
186. And they are breaking international law
on the rights of the child?
(Ms Bhatia) Yes, that is correct.
187. How do we impose it? Dr Collinson?
(Dr Collinson) Given that sanctions, whether by the
UN or approved by the UN, in a regional situation count as enforcement
action under Chapter VII then humanitarian law does apply and
thereforethis is the advice that we have had on the legal
sideProtocol 1 to the Geneva Convention applies which prohibits
unnecessary suffering by the civilian population and prohibits
action which prevents the civilian population from obtaining objects
that are indispensable to survival and that includes foodstuffs,
water, medicine and so on.
188. So we know that both sides are breaking
international law actually by imposing sanctions in some cases.
What is being done then to protect vulnerable groups? I am now
not talking about children but girls and landless people. Is anything
being done to protect them at the moment before sanctions are
(Ms Bhatia) While you have exemptions designed into
sanctions frameworksit is quite standard now that they
exempt basic food and medicinesit is still very much at
the discretion of individual Sanctions Committees as to how you
make exemptions for the particular groups. Our concern is that
as yet there is no systematic way of either looking at, firstly,
who those vulnerable groups are and, secondly, trying to assess
what their needs would be. I think we would stress that their
needs are not just quantitative in terms of the amount of food
or medicine, it is also the qualitative aspect. I think that is
crucial particularly for children's overall well-being.
189. So nothing much is done?
(Ms Bhatia) No.
(Dr Collinson) I would like to add that in the two
countries where ActionAid has experience of sanctions those countries
are also suffering conflict and that also creates enormous complications.
The suffering that we see in those countries is not only caused
by the sanctions but also by the conflict and also in Burundi
more recently, by a drought. That fact that those countries are
suffering conflict means that the security situation often prevents
even any monitoring of the impacts or even any assessment of the
impact. That was the case in some areas of Burundi and in most
of Sierra Leone during the time that the sanctions were imposed.
There is not even the information there on how to protect vulnerable
groups in those situations.
(Mr Saunders) I think it is also important to remember
that vulnerability changes over time and due to particular circumstance.
I do not know whether the Committee is aware of the fact that
there has been an extreme drought in the Middle East region as
a whole. It seems to be particularly affecting Iraq. It must be
affecting neighbouring states as well but because of the weakened
state of the economy and resources in that country obviously the
populations in Iraq are particularly vulnerable now to the effects
of drought. So one could redefine vulnerable groups this year
as compared with last year and any sanction regime with exemptions
has to be flexible and able to take these important factors into
account. I do not think we see any degree of flexibility or sensitivity.
190. So in a case where a country has had sanctions
imposed upon it and vulnerable groups are suffering, emergency
relief is the only way we can actually get at those people?
(Mr Saunders) That appears to be the case.
191. There is no other way?
(Mr Saunders) If the sanctions, as in the case of
Iraq, are long term and have been effective in destroying the
local economies and increasing the vulnerability of the population
that is definitely the case.
(Ms Bhatia) If I might just add that in Iraq you have
the 986 "oil for food" deal but there is no mechanism
for regular impact monitoring. There are reviews built into 986
and some of the other resolutions like 687 which look at regular
reports on how well the sanctions are being implemented and enforced
but as yet there is no mechanism for regular impact assessment
monitoring. If I might again refer Committee members to the recent
report by the second panel. There were three panels set up to
review Security Council enforcement of sanctions against Iraq
and the humanitarian panel report was really the first comprehensive
assessment of what was happening to the humanitarian situation
(Dr Collinson) The experience in Burundi, I believe,
was that even when there was some capacity and some concern to
carry out some assessment of the impact, or at least of the humanitarian
situation on the groundI think isolating the impact of
the sanctions in Burundi has been very difficult because of the
complex crisis that the country has been in since 1993certainly
it was stated by the UN agencies that when they wanted to carry
out assessmentsand this was important for making further
demands for new exemptions and so on so that the relief could
be more effectively targetedthey did not actually have
the methodology in place to carry out these assessments. I think
the UN and other agencies have been doing some work on improving
the methodology and other agencies but I believe that there is
still quite a lot of work to be done in this area.
Chairman: To see whether it is effective. Piara
Khabra, I think you were going to ask a question for us.
192. A number of NGOs, including Save the Children,
have argued that current mechanisms for exempting humanitarian
goods and services from sanctions regimes are overly slow and
bureaucratic, leading to delays in the provision of vital food
supplies, fuel, medicines, seeds and sanitary facilities. What
is the process by which applications for exemptions to the sanctions
regime are considered? Secondly, how should such procedures be
streamlined? And I have got a third question then.
(Ms Bhatia) I can comment generally on some of the
problems and perhaps Mark could use Burundi as an example to illustrate
that. Under the 986 Oil for Food Deal, for example, both humanitarian
agencies and commercial entities have to go through the same channels,
ie all the goods have to be approved via the Sanctions Committee
although foods and basic medicines are exempted under the sanctions
regime for Iraq. Some of the problems that NGOs have experienced
are simply problems of capacity. The way you approach the Sanctions
Committee is through your own permanent mission and the whole
system is very time-consuming, it is quite bureaucratic and I
think we had experiences with certain items like water in Iraq
which Chris might want to mention.
(Mr Saunders) On the drought crisis in Iraq at the
moment there have been a series of planning meetings in the north
of Iraq to look at what and how the various agencies, UN agencies,
the Government and NGOs, can actually respond over the course
of the next nine months. There has been an attempt to map the
water supply in both urban and rural areas and one of the needs
that was paramount was water testing equipment because it is not
just mapping quantity, it is mapping quality of water and I suspect
that 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 that 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 dual-purpose humanitarian
(Ms Bhatia) So therefore one of the ways to streamline,
and there have been many suggestions, is certainly to have lists
already in place when a Security Council Resolution for sanctions
is in place or certainly have a list of pre-exempted items. Another
idea that is gaining ground is the idea of exempting particular
recognised humanitarian agencies altogether perhaps accredited
to the UN and any of the partners of those agencies. There are
some ideas certainly for streamlining the process.
Mr Rowe: Does the fact that the very countries
from which your agencies emerge are actually imposing sanctions
make it much more difficult for you to deal with?
Mr Robathan: Yes.
Mr Rowe: I was asking them.
193. I was answering for them. I was trying
to encourage them!
(Mr Saunders) Could you repeat the question for me
(Dr Collinson) I was not sure I got it either.
194. A very simple question really. The United
Kingdom is part of the sanctions imposing group, you come from
the United Kingdom; does this make your work in helping the humanitarian
assistance harder or easier?
(Mr Saunders) It makes it impossible in the south
and centre of Iraq. It makes it fairly simple in the northnot
simple, I retract that word. Certainly British agencies do work
in the north and the British Government does support that work.
You could not do that in the south and centre at this point in
195. Your memorandum suggested that there was
a north-south conception about sanctions. It was not only in those
two countries but other countries as well. Does the fact you come
from the north
(Mr Saunders) I see what you mean.
(Mr Bowden) I think really Burundi is more difficult
because the international community at large has had a rather
mixed view on how to deal with what are regionally imposed sanctions
and some governments have supported them fully and others have
seen them as vaguely advisory so there has not been a clarity.
I think that what it does tend to do to voluntary organisations
and NGOs is to put them in a very particular position within the
country where they are either colluding with sanctions busting
or seen as a means of leverage to change the view on sanctions.
We would be silly to say it does not have an effect on our work
and on the perception of other international agencies.
(Dr Collinson) This is something that was somewhat
ironicthe outcome of the need for humanitarian assistance
in Burundi even before the sanctions were imposed. I believe that
one of the reasons why there was some circumspection in the Security
Council about approving the sanctions was concern for the security
of UN and other humanitarian personnel on the ground. Shortly
before the sanctions were imposed there were three ICRC delegates
assassinated in Burundi. So it was almost the other way round.
The fact that there was a need for humanitarian assistance on
the ground affected the UN's response and approach to that sanctions
regime. And then the further outcome of that was because the UN
Security Council had not actually approved the sanctions, the
leverage of the UN system to influence and affect the sanctions
regime in Burundi was quite severely limited, and that is one
of the reasons why it took so long for the humanitarian exemptions
to be written into the regime in Burundi. The UN had got itself
stuck in a situation where its own leverage was somewhat restricted.
196. Can I ask you another question about exemptions.
Is there a case for a UN standing list of goods to be exempted
from sanctions regimes on humanitarian grounds or should exemptions
be tailor-made to suit individual cases?
(Ms Bhatia) I think there is a very strong case for
suggesting there should be a pre-exempted list and if not a pre-exempted
list outright then certainly some sort of tentative list which
can then be tightened up when sanctions are imposed or agencies
have had a chance to assess the situation on the ground. Having
said that though, having a pre-exempted list would have to work
in specific countries so I think we would argue very much for
both a pre-exempted list that was also specific to the country
concerned because certain items are particular to a particular
context and I think it is very difficult then to generalise between
countriesso a mixture of both.
(Mr Bowden) I think there also needs to be some thought
given to protocols for the transfer of goods into countries. Particularly
in Burundi where we got exemptions agreed, because of restrictions
on travel and carriage and flights into the country that made
it very difficult to actually deliver the goods into the country.
So better agreed protocols that could be used for delivery of
the goods would make a contribution.
(Dr Collinson) I think that certainly there were quite
serious capacity issues both in the Burundi case and the Sierra
Leone case which prevented the humanitarian exemptions actually
being applied on the ground.
197. You mean people able to do the work?
(Dr Collinson) Not the people able to do the work,
but the institutional capacity and the political capacity, if
you like, to see the exemptions work. So in the early stages of
the Burundi sanctions there was no system of humanitarian exemptions
at all, and that took quite some time and it was quite a difficult
process to have that put in place. I think in the Sierra Leone
case it was more political obstacles because, in most respects,
the embargo was being applied very rigorously at the borders.
But we already know some of the problems with that embargo, and
the outcome was that no food was getting in, but we now know that
some arms were getting in.
198. Yes, it does not seem a very rigorous enforcement.
It is a contradiction in terms.
(Dr Collinson) It was rigorously imposed in some areas.
Chairman: Andrew Robathan is going to ask about
the Iraqi oil for food programme.
199. I do not want to go over old ground but
I do want to clarify the position on various points, if I may.
The first point I would like to clarify is that Save the Children
and ActionAid have nobody in central and southern Iraq?
(Dr Collinson) That is correct.