Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840 - 859)



Mr Jones

  840. Could I ask you about the "oil for food" programme which we understand operates on a six-month rolling programme. The current phase was due to expire last weekend and a successor regime was widely expected to be agreed. In the event, we understand that Iraq was offered a shorter-term extension of two weeks while the UN Security Council debated a resolution to implement a longer-term solution. As a result, Iraq rejected the offer of an extension and announced that it is ceasing all oil exports in some mistaken view that they could pressure the Security Council to lift sanctions unconditionally. What is the current state of affairs in relation to the renegotiation of the "oil for food" programme and will humanitarian relief continue to be provided now that Iraq has ceased oil exports and how will they be paid for?
  (Mr Hain) The situation is broadly as you describe it. It was a predictably cynical response by Saddam Hussein to the situation at the UN and of course he is in the process of denying his own people a lot of humanitarian relief, and we estimate perhaps $0.5 billion is involved. What is happening is that the "oil for food" resolution has expired, as you said, and it has been granted a limited extension. What was proposed was that some of the elements of the wider Security Council resolution, which I explained to the Committee earlier, including humanitarian relief provision, one proposal was that that be pulled out and added to the "oil for food" resolution, but, from our point of view and indeed the majority of the Security Council, that is unacceptable because what you need is to tie extra humanitarian relief by lifting the ceiling on the "oil for food" programme to a vigorous arms inspection and monitoring regime in Iraq coupled with the option and the possibility of suspending sanctions, if those two will fit together, and to pull out would actually compromise the wider objective. That is why there has been that response from Iraq, but we will see fairly soon the new Security Council Resolution come before the Security Council which will then take us on beyond the "oil for food" resolution which could be extended for a short period if there was any time needed to fulfil the negotiations to get the full Security Council decision and implementation. I hope that is clear.

  841. Coming back to the third choice which was in the Government's memorandum to us where it was stated that sanctions represent the third choice between doing nothing and military intervention, the Catholic Bishops' Conference told us that "military action can be targeted at least to some extent, whereas the present sanctions [on Iraq] are not so targeted", and they go on to say that, "it is arguable that sanctions have caused incomparably more deaths and more human suffering than even the Gulf War itself". Do you agree that sanctions can be more damaging than war, although they are cheaper?
  (Mr Hain) I think that what you need to look at is what would have happened had sanctions not been implemented. If sanctions had not been implemented, then the consequences could have been horrifying. On the one hand, Saddam Hussein would have been able to accelerate his capability of weapons of mass destruction, whereas, on the other hand, he would have had the capacity to rebuild even more so and threaten his neighbours and indeed terrorise his own population much more than he has been able to, especially in the south and the north where the no-fly zones are operating, so I do not deny that sanctions have not been perfect in the way that they have necessarily had to be implemented, but I think that they have been the only alternative and certainly nobody else has suggested a better one.


  842. Minister, with all the exemptions on humanitarian grounds that have been conceded to Saddam Hussein over the ten years in which these sanctions have been in place, we really have got into the position, have we not, that we do not actually have a sanctions regime against Saddam Hussein, certainly not one that is effective, and Saddam Hussein is using the excuse of sanctions to ration and limit the amount of food, medical supplies and other resources to his own people, thus making them dependent upon him. Is it not true to say that in fact you could say that sanctions have actually helped keep Saddam Hussein in power?
  (Mr Hain) I realise that this is an argument which, if I am not mistaken, I think I heard you put in the House of Commons in the debate on Monday.

  843. Yes.
  (Mr Hain) I would say that sanctions are the only effective strategy which we are capable as an international community of implementing in a situation in which military activity needs to be justified under international law and in other contexts and supported, and I think that it is the best approach that could reasonably have been adopted in these circumstances, imperfect though it is, and, as I say, I have yet to be told of a better alternative. If there were a better alternative, I would be delighted to hear about it and, as a Government Minister, take part in implementing it.

  844. One of the alternative policies is clearly to lift the sanctions. Why not?
  (Mr Hain) Well, that would play right into his hands. That would strengthen his position even more and that would mean that business could go on as usual.

  845. But is it not going on as usual?
  (Mr Hain) No, indeed it is not. His position is much more beleaguered as compared with what it would have been without sanctions. If it was suggested that we just open the floodgates to virtually everything going into Iraq, he would simply be able to re-arm, re-equip, rebuild his infrastructure and wait to threaten another country or wage war on his own people.

  846. Does it not occur to the Foreign Office and you, Minister, that Iraq lies across one of the ancient trading routes of the world and that sanctions have not prevented Saddam Hussein benefiting from those trade routes and he constantly and continuously does, and that sanctions are totally ineffective?
  (Mr Hain) In that case, why does he put such a lot of effort into trying to get them lifted and why are his allies around the world, both parliamentarians and those in power, so obsessed with getting them lifted if they are doing him a lot of good? He wants them lifted and that is one very good reason why we do not intend to lift them.

  Mr Grant: But what about the effect on the people of Iraq?


  847. I am not proposing to enter into a debate with you, Minister, on this question if you make a good point, but I do not think it is conclusive because if sanctions were lifted, for example, he would have no excuse, as I think Mr Grant was suggesting, for treating his own people as he does by starving them to death and refusing them medical assistance. In that case, I think we have then a very clear humanitarian case against him.
  (Mr Hain) But he was starving a lot of his people, he was imprisoning them, he had introduced rationing inside Iraq before sanctions. This is the point I made earlier. The suggestion is that we had somehow a situation which was toddling along in quite a rosy fashion until suddenly sanctions came along and spoiled everything for everybody, but that is not the case at all. We had a brutal regime, with people starving, food rationing, human rights unknown in Iraq, and now we have got a situation where he is under siege, where he wants the sanctions lifted desperately and people are saying, "Well, why not go ahead and lift them?" That would play right into his hands.

  Chairman: Well, we have had evidence that shows that he is exporting as much oil as he was before the sanctions were put on, so it does not seem to me that they are being very effective.

Mr Rowe

  848. Obviously different countries have different rules. The only time I have ever been to Cuba, it seemed to me absolutely apparent that if there were no sanctions being imposed by the United States of America, the influence and the effect of the United States' economy and so on on Cuba would leave Castro so out on a limb as to make it impossible for him to stay where he is. It seems to me, as a layman, that the imposition of American sanctions on Cuba has kept Castro there for ten or 15 years longer than he would otherwise have been, so clearly these are important issues.
  (Mr Hain) I do not agree with that.

  849. You do not?
  (Mr Hain) I do not agree with that, but on the general point, I just make a number of specific points about Iraq to add to the argument and then a more general one, if I may. First of all, if sanctions were lifted, it seems to me absolutely no guarantee that Saddam Hussein would give any more priority to his people in Iraq than he does now, no guarantee at all; on the contrary. On the specific issue which I think you raised, Chairman, that he was exporting as much oil pre the Gulf War and pre the sanctions as he is now, that may be the case, but it is under the "oil for food" programme and, therefore, the money that comes in should be directed at humanitarian relief and most of it actually is. That is a very, very different situation from enabling him to use his oil exports to re-arm and re-equip a war machine, as he would have done. On the general point, sanctions are often, if not always, difficult and messy. They were in South Africa's case, they were in Nigeria's case and they were in Libya's case. In South Africa's case, I remember exactly and if I had been in front of you, which is very difficult to envisage under those circumstances, but if I had been in front of you as a Minister for the Foreign Office, I dare say that exactly the same points would have been put to me, and perhaps because of the situation proportionately different, but exactly the same points. "This has not worked. We have had sanctions for 25 years and the apartheid regime is still there", but it would have fallen in a matter of years or months even after you had been putting those very same questions to me. I would say that the jury is still out on how effectively the sanctions have bitten Saddam Hussein and I think we may be quite surprised as events turn out in the future.

Mr Grant

  850. I am surprised that you used the analogy of South Africa because the difference in South Africa was that the ANC and the people in South Africa wanted the sanctions to be applied. I do not think that is the position in Iraq.
  (Mr Hain) Yes, it is. The Iraqi opposition fully supports us.

  851. The opposition are outside Iraq.
  (Mr Hain) Mr Grant, really now you are picking and choosing between who you think is legitimate opposition and who is not. Exactly that same argument was used over South Africa. The Iraqi opposition is fully behind our policy of sanctions, it is fully behind our efforts to get a new Security Council Resolution and I think we should take heed of that, as are the Kurds who have been the most brutal victims of Saddam Hussein's rule for decades.

  852. The majority of the people in Iraq, as far as I am aware, inside Iraq have not supported the sanctions and that is different from the case of South Africa, but a point I—
  (Mr Hain) I would just like to respond to that, if I may. You are a good friend and colleague, but exactly that argument was used by apologists for Pretoria to me personally. They said that they knew better what the South African black majority felt about sanctions than the ANC did, but they did not, and I do not think you should in the Iraqi case either.

  853. Maybe you are misunderstanding what I am saying. What I am saying is that the opposition inside South Africa as well as outside South Africa, the people of South Africa were supportive of sanctions and indeed asked for extra sanctions to be put on, including financial sanctions.
  (Mr Hain) Well, their organisations did, such as the ANC, the PAC and so on.

  854. That is right.
  (Mr Hain) But nobody actually knew what the people wanted. You are claiming that the people of Iraq do not want sanctions applied and I just look to the organised opposition and they are enthusiastically behind us, including the representative of the Kurds, and that seems to me to be game, set and match, if I may say so.

  855. The point I wanted to come on to is that in relation to the sanctions, before the sanctions, there was the Gulf War, and I went to Baghdad before the Gulf War and the people of Iraq were thriving, there were no problems, except for certain specific areas in Iraq and after the Gulf War, then the sanctions regime was put in place and then there were problems, the particular problems in terms of Saddam Hussein oppressing his people, so that is the historic truth.
  (Mr Hain) Well, I do not accept that version of history. I think in the case of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs and many others, they were suffering very, very badly, and I am sure you would agree with that as somebody who has taken a great interest in international humanitarian issues and human rights.

  856. Yes.
  (Mr Hain) As for the question of human rights, virtually everybody in Iraq was not only suffering, but if they got in his way, they got killed, so I do not see how that can be a situation in which you say everything was okay. I am sure you do not really mean that.

  857. I am not saying that everything was okay.
  (Mr Hain) It was pretty awful.

  Mr Grant: I am saying that for certain people there was the humanitarian issue, but that for other people in Iraq, which is what you are not conceding, and some would argue that they were the majority of people in Iraq, life went on as usual.


  858. Well, I do not think we need to continue the debate, Minister. We will, as a Committee, think about what you have said to us and try to make a judgment as to what we believe in Committee, but your evidence has been extremely valuable to us because we have had a great deal of evidence on both sides of this argument and we will try to come a balanced view on it and issue a report, we hope, which will be helpful and useful. We would be very grateful if you would give us that information you promised particularly as soon as possible because we would like to issue this report so that it can influence the future sanctions regimes, not just in Iraq, but throughout the world since they are being discussed when you are President of the Security Council, I believe, in December or January, is it?
  (Mr Hain) December, next month.

  859. So if we could get something out earlier or as quickly as possible, it might be helpful, so thank you very much indeed for coming and giving us your views so strongly and supported so well.
  (Mr Hain) Thank you very much and I will certainly get that to you as soon as I can.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 10 February 2000