Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820
THURSDAY 25 NOVEMBER 1999
HAIN MP, MS
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.
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.
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
Chairman: I do not think you are obliged to
give him an alternative!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
(Mr Hain) I think probably we owe you and the Committee
a full letter on this.
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.
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
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,
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
3 See Evidence pp. 153-4. Back