Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820 - 839)



  820. The United Nations Security Council is not known for its speed of action, so surely we would actually in that period with officials and those knowledgeable be able to craft a sanctions regime which would take into consideration all the things that Ms King has suggested?
  (Mr Hain) I agree with that and that is why we put forward this initiative of "smarter" sanctions which we have given you the details of in confidence. I very much agree with that. My point was simply that if it was a reason for prolonging discussion rather than taking action endlessly, then that would not be acceptable from my point of view.

  Chairman: No, I understand that.

Ann Clwyd

  821. Just looking at Mr van der Stoel's conclusions again, he says that in 1992, when he made his first report, the special rapporteur concluded that the gravity of the human rights situation in Iraq had few comparisons in the world since the end of the Second World War, and he says that he has had no cause to change his view. Given that the situation of human rights in Iraq seems to be worsening and the repression of civil and political rights continues unabated, are we actually doing enough?
  (Mr Hain) I suppose we are never doing enough, but I think that working to get the Security Council Resolution through, which we have played a leading and painstakingly active role in, shows that we are determined to make progress on this. It is very important also that the spotlight of world pressure is not simply turned on those of us, governments, who try to do an honest job in applying sanctions rigorously, but also it turns back continuously to Saddam Hussein and his regime. For instance, he has actually sold food to Syria and he has tried to sell food to Jordan. Now, this is a man who is manipulating world opinion to try and claim that it is the world that is responsible for the humanitarian suffering, poverty and starvation in his own country. He is responsible for it and he has the power through the "oil for food" programme to relieve that humanitarian suffering and yet he chooses deliberately not to do it and that is why he should be indicted in the way that so many people have been asking for.

  822. There seems to be a lack of statistical data on the precise situation as far as humanitarian needs are concerned. Perhaps that is almost inevitable given the situation inside the country, but we had a witness from ECHO who criticised that. Is there any way of improving the quality of information on the humanitarian impact of sanctions or do you think we have got enough information?
  (Mr Hain) I do not think we do have enough information and we would like better information, but perhaps one bit of information which I think reinforces your concerns is that after the United Nations indulged in considerable arm-twisting with the Iraqi authorities, Iraq finally agreed to allocate just $9 million to programmes aimed at targeting feeding of a specific part of the population of just under two million, so Saddam Hussein agreed to $9 million, virtually having it forced on him. That, by the way, equates to just $7 per person over a six-month period and we then find that he reduced that further from $9 million to $6 million which reduced it below $7 per person over a six-month period, so this is merciless and ruthless starvation and denial to his own people of humanitarian relief which is available to him.

  823. Is there any point in time at which the humanitarian costs of sanctions actually become disproportionate?
  (Mr Hain) If that situation was reached, obviously we would make an assessment, but we are monitoring the situation, albeit imperfectly, through regular reports from non-governmental organisations and also the United Nations regularly monitors the situation, so I do not think there is any argument that it is serious; it is desperate for millions of Iraqis, and the person responsible, Saddam Hussein, could change that almost overnight.

Mr Grant

  824. Surely it is not in the interests of the sanctions applied that you have information in relation to the effect of sanctions. Therefore, am I not correct in saying that you do not want to get information on the effect of sanctions because you then appear to be almost merciless in relation to the numbers of people, particularly children and women, who have died in Iraq as a result of the sanctions?
  (Mr Hain) No, I do not accept that assumption. I want all information to be put under the public spotlight, independent information, not information coming through Saddam Hussein and manipulated for propagandist reasons, and all information should be available to everybody concerned. That would show, as I have indicated with some of the facts I have provided, that it is him and his regime that is stopping the world, including Britain, providing the humanitarian relief that we want to. He is responsible and he could change the situation, first of all, by going and, secondly, by co-operating fully with the United Nations almost overnight. He chooses not to. He chooses to keep his people suppressed and suffering seriously because it allows him to maintain his position at least for the moment.

  825. Yes, but you know that. You know that he will not change. You know that he is oppressing his people, so do you not think that you have some responsibility in relation to the effect of these sanctions on the people? The people are innocent, Saddam Hussein is guilty and we know that, so by pressing these sanctions, you are totally ignoring the fact that Saddam Hussein cannot change and at the same time you are not taking any action to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Therefore, I would say that you are not totally, but you are partly culpable for the situation of the people in Iraq.
  (Mr Hain) Well, if there is a better policy to change the situation in Iraq absolutely and fundamentally, then I would like to hear it. I have not heard it from anybody. We are pursuing what I readily concede is in an imperfect world an imperfect policy, but it is one that is both containing the threat that Saddam Hussein represents to his neighbours, to his own people, especially in the north of the country, and will, I am sure, eventually bring about the change in Iraq that we all want to see and I think that will be sooner rather than later, and I would not assume that he is going to be in power for the long time that people seem to think, but what is the alternative? If somebody will say what the alternative is, we will look at it, but nobody has ever done that.

  Chairman: I do not think you are obliged to give him an alternative!

Mr Grant

  826. The Chair will stop me from putting forward my alternative, but can I say that what galls me is the fact that the Government, with all the sanctions applied, say that they do not have any responsibility whatsoever. I accept that it is imperfect and so on, but why can you not say, "Well, yes, we accept that the sanctions that we are applying are having an effect on ordinary people in Iraq", but you refuse to concede that point, and that is what I think upsets and annoys quite a lot of people.
  (Mr Hain) We are pursuing the best available policy in an extraordinarily difficult situation. That is what we are doing and that policy, if Saddam Hussein and those who support him or speak for him would implement it fully rather than obstruct and divert millions of dollars away from the support which his own suffering people so desperately need, that policy would be extremely successful and the world needs to keep the pressure up and we all have a responsibility, if that is the term that we are using, to see that happen.

Mr Rowe

  827. Can I ask a question which perhaps demonstrates how little I know about the minutiae of how sanctions are applied.
  (Mr Hain) That sounds like a dangerous question, in my view!

  828. My understanding is that the family tree of the elite in Iraq is tiny, as indeed is probably the case in most of the countries where sanctions are either imposed or being considered. Presumably, therefore, that family tree is well known to the architects of sanctions policy. Because of all the positions that are handed out to people like that, does it mean that all the negotiations that go on with Iraq and so on take place with this elite which of course in a curious kind of way confirms them in their importance and also allows quite a lot of them to travel about? I just wondered whether there is any way of, as it were, forcing them to spread the positions of influence in the country wider because the moment they start doing that, it starts to dilute the grip that the elite has on the country?
  (Mr Hain) This clearly is the nub of the problem and it is not simply the family tree because Saddam Hussein has shown no compunction in murdering members of that family tree, including his own close relatives, if they dare to get in his way, but his elite undoubtedly is in very tight control, but, in my view, no elite, and history has shown this, can ever survive indefinitely and it will fall at some point and I think sooner rather than later.

Ann Clwyd

  829. According to a recent newspaper article, Saddam Hussein is said to have amassed up to £4 billion, making him the world's 47th richest man. How does he continue to amass that wealth?
  (Mr Hain) That is a very interesting question to which I would like to know the answer. Some of it, I suspect, may well have come from the "oil for food" programme and other elements are probably from illegal oil exports which we try to intercept and are successful in doing so in some respects, but that is undoubtedly a serious problem.

  830. We did take evidence from people whose job it is to try and track down Iraqi assets in various parts of the world and a new book has just been published which you may or may not have seen called Brighter than the Baghdad Sun by Shyam Bhatia who used to work on The Observer. They talk about sums of money in various parts of the world which have gone through people like Barzan al Tikhriti who have large sums of money in Geneva and I think there appear to be lots of clues in that book as to where the money might be, but do you think that the tracking down of assets has been vigorous enough? I got the impression that it was a fairly relaxed approach to finding out where that money was.
  (Mr Hain) I am grateful that you draw that to my attention because if there is a relaxed approach, frankly it is unforgivable and I would want to see every effort directed at discovering, locating and freezing the regime's assets in accordance with UN resolutions, and certainly if there is any information which is contained in that book, I will make sure that it is studied.

Mr Rowe

  831. The majority, if not all, of the principal sanctions regimes have been imposed after something awful has happened, but in the conflict prevention kind of scenario which we are all trying to develop, do you see a role and an opportunity for either the use or the threat of sanctions at a stage early enough to head off some of these horrors?
  (Mr Hain) Yes, I do. In the case of African conflicts, for example, without mentioning any specific ones for obvious reasons, it would be, I think, an added incentive to get rebel forces or others around a peace-making table if they knew that their assets might be targeted and frozen under UN policy. I do think so if you get in early enough, and that is something that we are working on at the present time as well. Perhaps I can just ask Ros Marsden to advise me on one particular point that Ann Clwyd raised earlier because the bit of advice I have just been given on bit of paper, I think, says that some of Saddam Hussein's assets are in the UK and have been frozen.
  (Ms Marsden) What we are saying is that the regime's assets which are in the UK, we do take action to freeze them.

Ann Clwyd

  832. Does that mean that we have taken action?
  (Ms Marsden) They are frozen, yes.
  (Mr Hain) Saddam Hussein's assets, such as we have detected, in the UK have already been frozen and we would happily provide you with information on that and write to you about it.

  833. But since the regime owed us £650 million in export credit guarantees, can we use those assets for that purpose?
  (Mr Hain) I think probably we owe you and the Committee a full letter on this.[3]


  834. I would be grateful actually because we have taken evidence to the effect that the assets frozen for Iraq and indeed personally for Saddam Hussein have been dispersed as a result of claims unmet by the Iraqis of British and others who have lost money or not been paid. I understand that is the case, but if you could give us a run-down of that, I would be very grateful.
  (Mr Hain) I would be pleased to do so in as comprehensive a way as possible.

Mr Grant

  835. I believe that Britain still has diplomatic relations with Iraq. Is that right?
  (Mr Hain) We do not have ambassadors, if that is what you mean.

  836. I am asking if Britain still has diplomatic relations with Iraq. I am not an expert in this field, but I know what diplomatic relations generally means.
  (Mr Hain) I think the answer is no.

  837. We do not?
  (Mr Hain) No.

  838. So there is no Iraqi presence in Britain?
  (Mr Hain) Not of a fully-fledged diplomatic kind, no.

Ann Clwyd

  839. We were told that Dr Richard Garfield of the Columbia School of Public Health has recently undertaken a survey of mortality and morbidity in Iraq. In his report, he argued that "the humanitarian disaster which has occurred in Iraq far exceeds what may be any reasonable level of acceptable damages according to the principles of discrimination and proportionality used in warfare", which is quite an interesting point if it can be proved. He goes on to say that, "The far greater number of deaths to civilians in the embargo, compared to civilians in the Gulf War, civilians during postwar bombings, or soldiers during the Gulf War, all would be unacceptable levels of collateral damage were sanctions guided by the rules of warfare", so should sanctions be guided by the same rules?
  (Mr Hain) That is a very interesting point. Before I answer it specifically, can I just make one other point which is that it is often assumed in some of the line of questioning, not necessarily from your Committee, but it is often assumed that when we look at the difficulties of implementing sanctions, there was some ideal situation before this happened, but of course there was not. Saddam Hussein was murdering the Kurds, he was murdering others in his country, he was killing his neighbours, especially in Iran, and a lot of people were suffering terribly with an internal denial of human rights of the most brutal kind the world has ever known, so we are not comparing an ideal situation with a difficult one now; we are comparing an awful situation with a difficult one, if I could put it that way. Of course in terms of the issue that Mrs Clwyd has raised, international humanitarian law applies only in armed conflicts, so what we would need to do is balance the impact of sanctions as against the humanitarian context outside an armed conflict situation. We have got both, in the case of Iraq, running together which is why it is so complex. I do not think I misled the Committee in response to Mr Grant's question, but, for the sake of accuracy, I understand that the Iraqis have their interests represented in a section of the Jordanian Embassy, or I am advised to that effect, but I do not regard that as the fully-fledged diplomatic status which I said was not the case in Britain.

3   See Evidence pp. 153-4. Back

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