Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800 - 819)



  800. There does seem to be a different viewpoint expressed by Mr Von Sponeck when he appeared before this Committee and the UN rapporteur on human rights, Mr Van der Stoel, whose annual report we have just received. Why should there be such a difference of opinion between them because Mr van der Stoel concludes that the Iraqi Government is using existing available resources to enrich itself; it has not taken full advantage of the food and health care resources; it has ignored UNICEF recommendations; it has been slow to distribute medicines and medical supplies; only 48 per cent of those supplies have actually been distributed, etcetera, etcetera. It is a very, very critical report on the regime but of course Mr van der Stoel has not been inside Iraq for seven years because they have refused to allow him back inside Iraq. So I suppose a critic would say the one is inside the country and the other is outside and it is not surprising that their views are not compatible. Perhaps we could have your views on the difference of opinion.
  (Mr Hain) I think it is very disappointing that there is not a compatibility of views especially when, for example, we find that one quarter of all medical goods which have been delivered to Iraq since the "oil for food" programme began have not been distributed. These and other instances some of which I have quoted of the money siphoned off for marble and gold taps by Saddam Hussein, thousands of dollars spent on cigarettes and whisky for his own entourage, should be pointed out. Mr Von Sponeck's undoubted concern about the humanitarian suffering in Iraq which we all share has coloured his judgment in terms of where the future success of the policy needs to arrive at.

  801. Mr van der Stoel says quite clearly that the reason for the suffering of the people of Iraq is Saddam Hussein whereas the UN representative inside Iraq seems to have a different point of view.
  (Mr Hain) I find it impossible to believe that anybody could say that the reason for the suffering of the people of Iraq is anything other than Saddam Hussein. He is responsible for it all.

Mr Rowe

  802. I wanted to ask a very straightforward factual question. Companies like Siemens are selling quite large quantities of health care equipment into Iraq, as far as I can see entirely for the use of the elite. I just wondered whether this is because health equipment and that kind of thing come under a general blanket form that they are alright but actually they are going entirely to the regime. If I may also ask a rather different question. In your earlier response about Burundi, you mentioned Tanzania and the case of South African sanctions, the view was taken that the suffering of a number of innocent people was worth it for a while because of the greater good that would come out in the end. Is there a danger that humanitarian assistance to Iraq is simply prolonging the time for which Saddam Hussein is able to stay in power?
  (Mr Hain) If that were to be a considered assessment we would have to look at the whole question again but, as I say, in terms of the success of the policy we found that his threat especially in the region has been contained in a way that it never has been before and that is the prime reason for the success of the policy. It is our view that under the Oil for Food which is carefully monitored by the UN, including medicines, although there is some leakage of the kind I have pointed out to you and you have referred to another example, the vast majority does go to the people of Iraq. To that extent the policy is successful in a very imperfect and messy world.

Mr Jones

  803. You are right when you say that the people are going to have to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but they have no way of doing that currently. There is no democracy there, no election procedures, and anybody inside the country who shows any sign of opposing the regime is locked up. I worked there for a while in 1987-88 when we did not have sanctions because we were on their side or they were on our side—I did not understand.
  (Mr Hain) It was a previous Government!

  804. Exactly. And I can remember the notice on the office notice board that said it is a law that if you criticise the Government it is an automatic life sentence. So there does not seem to me under the current situation that there is any chance at all of the regime being toppled because Saddam Hussein has got this entourage around him that protects him. He is not an ancient man—he is 60 I guess—and it could go on for 20 years. Have we got any other kind of alternative strategy than to maintain the current sanctions regime?
  (Mr Hain) I do not believe that the human spirit can be suppressed forever and there are countless examples in recent times, South Africa being one, brutal rulers in Eastern Europe being another, who almost matters of months before they were toppled, nobody could conceive of the change occurring. I think change will occur in Iraq and when those conditions arise there will be lots of very able democrats, as there are in Iraq, ready and able to provide the kind of leadership which the people of Iraq have been desperately seeking for these past two decades.

  805. Most of those currently are outside the country and you think there is a chance that an alternative regime could be formed fairly rapidly if Saddam Hussein were suddenly to drop of the perch for some reason?
  (Mr Hain) There is huge talent in Iraq politically. I have met some of the opposition leaders and although there is some view that perhaps they are not a powerful force, it is very difficult for the reasons you explained to be a powerful force visible at the present time. I think we should do all we can to give them political support and prepare for a situation when there is, as there will be, a change of regime, in my view sooner rather than later.

Mr Khabra

  806. The Committee has heard in evidence that Sanctions Committees are responsible for authorising the import of humanitarian supplies. Whilst the FCO has stated that only four per cent of items requested are blocked, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, recently expressed concern at the number of items placed on hold by the Sanctions Committee on Iraq and the serious implications this had for the implementation of the humanitarian programme. Furthermore, it has been estimated that in 1998 it took 60 days for the Sanctions Committee to approve a food contact. According to a UN report on 22 October, 23.7 per cent of applications for the import of goods under Phase V of the Oil for Food programme had been placed on hold, including 100 per cent of applications for telecommunications, 65.5 per cent for electricity, 53.4 per cent for water and sanitation, and 43 per cent for oil spare parts and equipment. The question is what is causing this delay in the processing of applications by the Sanctions Committee? What steps should be taken to speed up the processing of these applications?
  (Mr Hain) My information is that certainly in respect of Britain, if I could respond in terms of our own responsibility, that some 96 per cent of all contracts submitted to the Committee have been approved and holds are put on less than one per cent of "oil for food" contracts submitted to the Sanctions Committee by the United Kingdom as you describe. This is usually, in fact always, because either there is insufficient information or because we have got concerns about dual use and that the particular equipment or provisions could be used for some nefarious or threatening purpose or because the particular contracts are for goods which do not have a humanitarian purpose. We have 77 holds on "oil for food" contracts which are worth about $131 million out of a total value of all contracts of about $800 million and it is for those reasons we hope the new resolution which we are sponsoring with others in the United Nations Security Council will actually speed up the question of contracts within the Sanctions Committee procedures.

  807. Is there an element in war where the local situation, maybe there are people who are locally involved and there is a democracy in war to end the corruption in war and this could be one of the causes as to why these applications are not being dealt with?
  (Mr Hain) I do not know, but I am open to advice, of any corruption involved. I think it is more a concern that particular contracts could be diverted for the use by the regime and Saddam Hussein or have a dual-use purpose or not be humanitarian in their objective. That is the main concern.

  808. A panel set up by the UN Security Council to report on the humanitarian situation in Iraq recommended that a list of foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, and medical, agricultural and educational equipment and supplies should be drawn up and that all such items should not require Sanctions Committee approval. It further recommended that decisions should be made on dual-use items within two days. It also reported that Russia is seeking to guarantee UN approval for certain food and medical imports. Should a standing list of goods which should be exempted on humanitarian grounds be drawn up in order to reduce delays in the current system?
  (Mr Hain) As I say, Mr Khabra, we are, through the Security Council resolution, speeding up procedures to address some of these concerns. The difficulty is that if you suddenly have a blanket list, it is always possible that there could be leakages afterwards, and indeed there have been leakages afterwards, to support Saddam Hussein's regime which is where the problem lies.[1]

Ms King

  809. First of all, I think without being too presumptuous, many Members of the Committee would agree with the memorandum submitted by the FCO which does state that if diplomacy fails, there needs to be a third choice between doing nothing and military intervention, and I am always glad there is a third way! However, having said that, there are very serious concerns that sanctions obviously are not intelligent enough. We have mentioned Burundi a couple of times this morning and certainly I was very concerned when I was in Burundi at the British Government's tacit acceptance of sanctions whereby, for example, medicines were exempt, but the refrigerators which made the medicines viable were not, which resulted in something of a conundrum, and children and indeed adults were certainly dying as a result of that. May I thank incidentally the Minister for agreeing to come along to the All-Party Group on Rwanda and Burundi to discuss this matter later today, if that is still in the diary.
  (Mr Hain) Yes.

  810. Anyway, moving swiftly on to the issue of "smart" sanctions, you will be aware that the second Interlaken Seminar on Targeting UN Financial Sanctions concluded that consistency in national policy is an urgent priority if financial sanctions are to be effective. My first question is what does the Minister see as the obstacles to financial sanctions being applied consistently by all UN member states?
  (Mr Hain) The obvious obstacles are people, I dare say even governments and their institutions, not wishing to have their profits affected. However, we have been participating in what is called the "Interlaken process" where the Swiss Government has organised conferences over the past couple of years at Interlaken to try and address these matters to target and enforce financial sanctions and to recommend model legislation to other countries, including developing countries, to implement them. I think it is a question of getting them, as we have done with the Bank of England in respect of UNITA in Angola, to try and target assets held by dictators and others who are the target of sanctions, to try and target them more effectively and that is what we are working on.

  811. Following on from that point, do you have any specific ideas on the ways in which donors can help developing countries actually build their capacity to monitor targeted sanctions?
  (Mr Hain) I will take some advice from my colleague, Tony, from DFID here, but I think it is very difficult if you have an anti-poverty programme, which Clare Short has rightly given DFID's priority to in terms of development aid, very difficult then to mix that in with sanctions policing, if I can put it that way. On the other hand, what we will want to be very clear about is that no development aid leaked out and that is why to a number of countries DFID only gives development aid through NGOs, through non-governmental organisations, rather than through the regimes which frequently syphon it off or put it to some nefarious use. Do you want to add anything?
  (Mr Faint) Not a lot, but only to say really that under the general flag of anti-corruption measures, we do support a number of activities around the world in the general area of improving policing and improving customs regimes. On the latter, we have a particularly noteworthy project in Mozambique, but I do not think that these activities are really targeted at enforcement of sanctions regimes, but they are really targeted at the development of the country concerned and the reduction of poverty. I am not sure that I can really call to mind a case where we have a programme of this kind which is particularly relevant to active sanctions regimes because they do not really come up in that way, so I would agree with what the Minister says.
  (Mr Hain) That is good!

  812. I would say though that there are evident examples where sanctions or the lack of a developing country's ability to monitor them effectively has had a profound impact on poverty reduction, and again Burundi is an example where I saw that with my own eyes.
  (Mr Hain) Sanctions of course were lifted, I think I am right in saying, in January this year.

  813. You are absolutely right.
  (Mr Hain) But it was a casualty of the conflict.

  814. That is right, and they were regionally-imposed sanctions, I recognise that, but it did lead on to a rather artificial distinction between development assistance and humanitarian assistance.
  (Mr Faint) We were providing in that area humanitarian assistance in the Burundi case of course and I think we were also quite active in trying to resolve the issues and eventually getting sanctions lifted.

  815. Exactly. Well, I shall not detain the Committee further with discussion on that point which did throw up some very disturbing issues regarding that artificial distinction. Moving on, the Government, as a leading member of a number of international organisations, the UN, the EU, the OSCE and the Commonwealth, in that capacity, what efforts has the Government made to pursue its objective of "smarter" sanctions internationally?
  (Mr Hain) Can I just first of all briefly say that if the Committee, and specifically in the case of the example of Burundi, has any suggestions, I would be very interested in them as to how sanctions in that context, what lessons we could draw. We are, as it were, pursuing our initiative on sanctions with a lot of other countries multilaterally. We have got the G8 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Berlin on Conflict Prevention next month where this will be discussed, including the illicit diamond trade and the trafficking of arms, and there are a whole number of other areas in the European context. We had Foreign Office and Customs & Excise officials participate in an expert seminar in Bonn last weekend where we looked at ways of improving the effectiveness of travel sanctions and arms embargoes, and then of course there is the Interlaken process I mentioned which is pursuing financial sanctions, so there is a great deal of work going on.


  816. Minister, could you send us the agenda for that G8 Meeting on Conflict Prevention? As you know, this Committee has issued a report on conflict prevention and resolution and we would be very interested to see what is on that agenda.
  (Mr Hain) I would be very happy to do that.[2]

Ms King

  817. Returning to some evidence submitted by the Treasury, the Treasury stated that, "you need to be able to identify assets. If somebody has concealed the identity of those assets, you will not be able to freeze them". Similarly, in his memorandum, Mr Carver states that the sharing of intelligence between governments appears still to be rudimentary and that there is not enough co-operation, and this is an assertion that has been reflected by the National Criminal Intelligence Service which stated that they "did not have a significant role in sanctions at all". How do you feel that the intelligence services and their role could be enhanced in the application of financial sanctions?
  (Mr Hain) I think there is quite a lot of scope for that, especially working through the banking institutions and financial institutions both domestically and internationally. It is obviously extremely difficult. The National Criminal Intelligence Service can also draw on a network of international contacts, such as through Interpol, to pursue that. I think a lot of it comes down to political determination, although not exclusively. If you take Angola, for example, I think that the bank assets that Jonas Savimbi holds in West African countries, for instance, those governments should be held to account for them, and I think that with concerted international work, I do not see why assets can be moved around without anybody being able to track them, so if the will is there, as we have even found with Nazi assets in recent times, over such a long period, then the means can be delivered.

  818. I certainly hope that we will be able to generate political will in that area. The final question regards evidence we heard that one strategy could be to postpone the implementation of sanctions until an assessment had been made regarding the vulnerability and, in particular, what those vulnerabilities might be of the target state and any potential side-effects. If I can quote from a memorandum from Claude Bruderlein, he said, "In instances where urgent action is required, the Security Council should...withhold its decision on the modalities of the sanctions regimes, such as the list of exempted goods and services, and the mechanism of exemptions and entrust the Sanctions Committee with the task of elaborating these modalities". He goes on to say that, "The Council in the case of Sudan took the decision in August 1996 to impose a UN flight ban against Sudan but postponed the enforcement or the implementation...[to] let the experts to look into the best ways to exert pressure... As it stands, there is absolutely no uncertainty on the target", this is his argument, and, "they have all the time to find the best way to escape from the sanctions and the Council is unable to renegotiate any aspect of the sanctions resolution. So it is up to the Council to give itself the flexibility and the technical mechanisms to use it and to exert pressure on the target to maintain uncertainty". Then Claude Bruderlein maintains that "Uncertainty is the best tool of the sanctions because they do not know what is going to happen next". Would this suggestion, that the implementation of a sanctions regime be suspended pending an evaluation of the vulnerabilities of the target state, be a viable strategy?
  (Mr Hain) There is an important point there, I think we would all agree. However, I do not want considerations of "smart" sanctions to be so meticulously smart that nothing is ever done and it is that balance really that has to be struck. Whilst there is a legitimate point undoubtedly there, I think, nevertheless, the purpose of sanctions is to change situations fundamentally and get rid of brutality, oppression, dictatorship and warmongering.


  819. Is it not true that in fact a sanctions regime to be put in place does in fact take some considerable time?
  (Mr Hain) Of course.

1   Further information supplied by witness. See Evidence p. 154. Back

2   See Evidence p. 153. Back

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