Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  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.

Ann Clwyd

  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 situation.
  (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.

Dr Tonge

  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 law—the 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 therefore—this is the advice that we have had on the legal side—Protocol 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.

Dr Tonge

  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 imposed?
  (Ms Bhatia) While you have exemptions designed into sanctions frameworks—it is quite standard now that they exempt basic food and medicines—it 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 in Iraq.
  (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 ground—I 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 1993—certainly it was stated by the UN agencies that when they wanted to carry out assessments—and this was important for making further demands for new exemptions and so on so that the relief could be more effectively targeted—they 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.

Mr Khabra

  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 product.
  (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.

Mr Robathan

  193. I was answering for them. I was trying to encourage them!
  (Mr Saunders) Could you repeat the question for me please!
  (Dr Collinson) I was not sure I got it either.

Mr Rowe

  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 north—not 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 time.

  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 ironic—the 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.

Mr Khabra

  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 countries—so 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.

Mr Robathan

  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.

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