Memorandum by Mr H C von Sponeck, UN Humanitarian
Coordinator for Iraq (1998-2000).
PART I: SANCTIONS
Experience in Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Yugoslavia
and elsewhere has shown that humanitarian exemptions for countries
against which comprehensive multilateral economic sanctions are
levied invariably face a wide range of intricate and serious constraints.
After decades of sanctions of various degrees
of comprehensiveness and severity, a broad array of issues has
become known to be important in managing sanctions and implementing
humanitarian exemptions. Major ones are identified below:
At the time of imposing comprehensive sanctions,
the UN Security Council has the dual task of (i) passing a resolution
which contains measurable objectives for managing economic
sanctions and implementing a humanitarian exemption and (ii) carrying
out pre-sanctions assessments of the socio-economic conditions
of the countries involved in order to define the parameters of
the humanitarian exemption.
From the beginning of comprehensive sanctions,
an implementation strategy has to exist. Such a strategy
has to be based on a definition of purposes, targets and roles
as well as an action plan for all UN entities charged
with the implementation of comprehensive sanctions and humanitarian
exemptions. Part of this strategy has to be a sanctions time
frame with provisions of the terms for termination or renewal.
A key responsibility of the UN Security Council
is to safe-guard the welfare of the civilian population. This
implies oversight, ie, on-going monitoring and evaluation
of the impact of sanctions and of the effectiveness
of the humanitarian exemption.
As sanctions continue, the UN Security Council
has a particular responsibility to assess the impact of sanctions
on vulnerable groups (the young, the infirm and sick, the
old, pregnant women, etc) and to take special humanitarian exemption
measures to protect them. This includes the provision of dedicated
In accordance with the UN Charter, there should
be regular reviews between the UN Security Council and
the targeted party with the ultimate objective of conflict
resolution and the end of comprehensive sanctions.
Not only governments but also parliaments and
civil society have a right to be kept informed, by the UN Security
Council, of developments as they relate to sanctions and the state
of welfare of the civilian population living under sanctions.
This includes comprehensive, regular and public reporting
on sanctions measures, the humanitarian exemption and
the state of the human condition.
Once sanctions have come to an end in a country,
the UN Security Council must carry out final assessments of
sanctions and the humanitarian exemption programmes. Part of these
assessments has to be the identification of lessons learnt
in order to avoid in future the constraints which may have
hampered the political dialogue, sanctions management and the
protection of the civilian population.
PART II: IRAQ
Comprehensive economic and military sanctions
imposed on Iraq in August 1990 lasted for 13 years. The analysis
of the handling of this period by the UN Security Council therefore
provides an important insight into whether a humanitarian exemption,
as it was carried out in Iraq could limit the severity of the
human costs of comprehensive economic sanctions sufficiently to
make its use legitimate.
First of all it must be remembered that there
has not been a case of similar multilateral comprehensive economic
sanctions in recent decades.
Following UN resolution 661 of 6 August 1990
introducing sanctions, a humanitarian exemption was established,
initially financed by voluntary international contributions.
The UN humanitarian appeals resulted in less than half of the
$1.2 billion the UN wanted to have to finance "emergency
needs" for Iraq under sanctions during 1991-95.
Observation No 1
UN Security Council resolutions 661 (1990)
and 687 (1991) pronouncing and defining sanctions were vague and
did not define objectives in any detail.
Having introduced comprehensive economic
sanctions (including the freezing of Iraqi accounts, both official
and personal), the UN Security Council had an obligation to ensure
that (i) the socio-economic conditions of the population at the
time were assessed to allow a realistic definition of a humanitarian
exemption programme, (ii) sanctions and humanitarian exemption
would proceed on the basis of a strategy, (iii) the shortfall
between the voluntary funds collected and the funds needed for
a survival programme would be made up with the help of the UN
Security Council and (iv) a plan of action for the various UN
entities playing a role (disarmament, humanitarian assistance,
human rights reporting, compensation, etc) would be identified
In the case of Iraq none of this happened.
There was no pre-sanctions assessment, no additional funding,
no strategy, no action plan. As a result, living conditions of
the civilian population deteriorated quickly and significantly.
In 1995, the UN and the Government of Iraq signed
a memorandum of understanding which broadly defined the humanitarian
exemption that became known as the "oil-for-food programme".
The UN Security Council agreed to a net amount of $1.32 billion
per six months phase of oil sales to provide the means of survival
for some 22 million people living in Iraq in the mid-1990s.
Observation No 2
The UN Security Council had decided on this
amount using UN projections of the early 1990s to support an "emergency"
humanitarian exemption at that time. An allocation of $1.32 billion
was equal to 32 cents per day per person. This amount had to cover
seven sectors: food, health, water, sanitation, electricity, agriculture
The UN periodically reminded critics of this
severely inadequate amount that the humanitarian exemption was
meant to be "supplementary" only. The question to what
resources this amount was to be a supplement remained unanswered.
Serious deterioration of living conditions, increase in child
mortality and malnourishment forced the UN Security Council to
allow additional oil sales. These, however, did not fundamentally
improve the human condition.
The inadequacy of finance allowed by the UN
Security Council was compounded by a wide range of other factors.
Among these were micro-management of the humanitarian exemption
by the UN Iraq Sanctions Committee, large temporary or permanent
blocking of humanitarian supplies, complicated UN procurement
rules, absence of cash components,
diversion of funds to the UN Compensation Commission,
fragmented and inconsistent management of sanctions by individual
UN entities and management incapacity of the Iraqi administrative
system. The overall impact on the performance of the humanitarian
exemption was significant.
Observation No 3
During the 6½ years of the oil-for-food
programme, a total of $43.1 billion was available to finance the
humanitarian exemption. This resulted in the totally inadequate
amount of $284 per person/year. As a result of the factors identified
above, the utilization rate of the available funds came to only
to 65 per cent or $28.1 billion corresponding to $185 per person/year.
Even if the entire amount of "extra" income from smuggling
of oil, surcharges and over pricing estimated as between $1-2
billion per year had become available to the humanitarian exemption,
ie, a maximum of $13 billion in additional funding, the then total
amount of $56.1 billion ($43.1 billion plus $13 billion) would
have resulted in $374 per person/year only. According to the World
Bank definition of poverty, a person living on less then $2 per
day is a person living in poverty.
Observation No 4
The UN Security Council failed to carry out
its oversight mandate in a continuous and comprehensive manner.
The humanitarian exemption was reviewed by the UN Security Council,
often, however, without a debate and rarely with the political
will and sense of urgency to implement improvements to lessen
the human misery in Iraq. With one single exception,
there were no visits to Iraq by members of the UN Security
Council during the 13 year sanctions period. Briefings of the
UN Security Council by UN officials serving in Baghdad were rare,
often blocked and generally discouraged by the representatives
of the US and the UK in the Security Council. Reviews between
the UN Security Council and the Government of Iraq were exceedingly
rare and unconstructive. Standard UN reporting focused on sector
details of the humanitarian exemption and largely ignored an assessment
of the adequacy of this exemption for the survival of the civilian
PART III: CONCLUSIONS
The humanitarian exemption for Iraq constituted
an important yet severely inadequate intervention for the people
of Iraq. It clearly failed to reduce the severity of the human
cost of comprehensive sanctions and crossed the border between
bearable inconvenience of sanctions for an innocent population
and violation of international law including humanitarian and
human rights law.
The UN Security Council, it must be stressed,
had a wide range of options to stay within the boundary of legitimacy.
Instead it chose a hard-line and punitive approach preferred by
two of its permanent members. It was within the purview of the
UN Security Council to raise the level of finance, to de-bureaucratize
the procurement of humanitarian goods, to promote dialogue and
conflict resolution and to ensure integrated UN System management.
The fact that all of this did not happen is
an indication that the chances are slim that under conditions
of political conflict, the welfare of an innocent population remains
more than of secondary concern on the agenda of the UN Security
Council. Comprehensive economic sanctions should therefore no
longer be seen as an option consistent with article 41 of the
The danger that the United Nations becomes responsible for death,
destitution and injustice including an "undue future burden"
impact on youth is simply too compelling.
26 September 2006
185 There is a range of professional publications
providing information on the reasons for the five-year delay in
reaching agreement between the United Nations and the Government
of Iraq on the "oil-for-food" programme as a humanitarian
A review of socio-economic indicators, especially those for mortality,
morbidity, nutrition, health, education and employment bear this
The Memorandum of Understanding was based on UN Resolution 986
(1995) concerning the sale of petroleum and petroleum products. Back
The gross allocation was $2billion per phase, 34 per cent were
deducted for compensation payments to victims of Iraq's invasion
into Kuwait (30 per cent) and overheads for UN administrative
costs plus a contingency reserve (4 per cent). Back
There were no taxpayers in Iraq in the mid-1990s. The limited
amount of allowable oil production was practically the only source
of licit national income. Illicit income from smuggling of oil,
surcharges and overpricing was in large part consumed by the costs
of running the nation (civil service salaries, maintenance of
the infrastructure, health and education systems, foreign service,
UN sanctions rules did not permit the disbursement to Iraq of
any cash. Not infrequently the humanitarian exemption was hampered
by this as there were no funds for transport of goods, repair
and maintenance of public installations, training for new equipment,
etc. This only changed in early 2000 when the UN Security Council
agreed to small allocations for such purposes. Back
In the course of the oil-for-food programme period some $17 billion
of oil revenue were deducted from the humanitarian exemption to
make payments to claimants. This happened at a time when the human
conditions in Iraq were characterized by exceptionally high child
mortality and nutritional deficiency levels. Back
This calculation is based on a mean population size of 23 million
during the period 1996-2003. Back
Ambassador Antonio Monteiro, Permanent Representative of Portugal
to the United Nations and Chairman of the Iraq Sanction Committee
visited Iraq briefly in 1998. Back
The one significant exception is the special report on the humanitarian
condition presented by Ambassador Celso N Amorim, Permanent Representative
of Brazil to the United Nations. The recommendations of his courageous
review were either ignored or taken into account by the UN Security
Council with much delay. Back
What should remain are targeted (focused) sanctions applied in
conjunction with continuous political dialogue between the UN
and the targeted party. The UK House of Commons in its 27 January
2000 report on sanctions, the Interlaken process parties (1998-2003),
the UN High Level Panel on the Role of Sanctions (2005) as well
as the UN Sanctions Assessment Handbook (2004) come to the same