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Iraq - Appeal to the UN Security Council to lift sanctions with direct and indiscriminate effect on the civilian population

18 February 2000

Letter to H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the UN, 18 February 2000.


Mr Secretary General:

The resignations of Mr Hans von Sponeck, United Nations Aid Coordinator and of Ms Jutta Burghardt, World Food Program Chief in Iraq have again drawn attention to the disastrous effects of the Security Council's sanctions on the people of this nation. Explaining his decision, Mr von Sponick said that the "Oil for Food" régime failed to meet even the "minimum requirements" of the civilian population, and that "as a UN Official I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognize as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended".

The World Council of Churches has issued statements along similar lines and shared them with you. It is therefore heartening to see that persons of the quality of these two senior UN staff have acted according to their conscience at potential personal sacrifice. They bring credit to the United Nations and to the role of the international civil servant.

These international civil servants have now rightly suggested that such sanctions are tantamount to violation by the United Nations itself of the fundamental rights inscribed in international law through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenants established to implement its provisions. We believe they are right.

We sincerely hope that the international community and especially the Security Council will pay heed to the gruesome situation they have again described. For over a decade the people of Iraq have suffered under a sanctions regime that is unrelentingly punitive of the people of Iraq who are hardly to blame for the actions of their government. The comprehensive application of an economic embargo in a manner that ignores the fundamental humanitarian needs and rights of 22 million people to basic health care, food and shelter is unacceptable. This is not new information. It has been amply documented by competent UN Agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international non-governmental organizations that the majority of the Iraqi people are denied the bare level of sustenance necessary to live a life of human dignity. The WCC has consistently received reports over the past decade on the deteriorating conditions of the population, especially of children, from its member churches and the Middle East Council of Churches Ecumenical Relief Service in Iraq. We also sent an expert delegation to Iraq in early 1998 to review the position.

The World Council of Churches holds that sanctions can be a legitimate and valuable tool available to the international community to enforce compliance with international law when applied prudently by a responsible international authority. Precisely in order to address situations like that prevailing in the case of Iraq, the WCC Central Committee adopted in 1995 a set of criteria for the just and effective application of sanctions. These were shared with you and the relevant Security Council committee at that time. In the preambular section of the resolution containing these criteria, the Central Committee cautioned that:

Even when appropriately applied under the authority of the UN Charter, sanctions have not always been consistent, impartial or effective. … The absence of a clear, consistent, and effective system of enforcement by the UN further complicates the picture. This, and the ambiguity of international law, has allowed individual governments to use the term sanctions to provide a cloak of moral and legal justification for some of their own foreign policy initiatives. Especially since 1990, powerful states have sought UN endorsement of their intention to apply what they have termed sanctions. This practice requires careful scrutiny by the churches and by the international community.

The WCC "Criteria for Determining the Applicability and Effectiveness of Sanctions" include, inter alia:

Clear and limited purpose. Sanctions should have a clearly defined purpose and explicit criteria should be given for determining the conditions under which that purpose will be seen to be achieved, and the sanctions lifted.

Sanctions may not have a punitive purpose beyond compliance, nor may they be used for self-aggrandizement, or applied to further the economic, ideological political, military or other narrow national self-interest of a state or a group of states.

Having received the report of the WCC delegation which visited Iraq, the WCC Central Committee in 1998 appealed through you to the UN Security Council to undertake a thorough review of the sanctions regime on Iraq, taking into account its impact on the civilian population, and with a view to defining clear and agreed goals with a specific timeframe and benchmarks for the full lifting of sanctions.

We believe that economic sanctions can provide a non-violent alternative to war when applied under strict conditions and carefully monitored. Though in its Res. 1284 (1999) the Security Council returned to the question of delivery of humanitarian goods, it has still not appropriately or clearly defined sanctions against Iraq, nor has increasing monitoring diminished the suffering of the Iraqi people. The World Council of Churches therefore believes that the time is overdue for the Security Council to lift with immediate effect all sanctions that have direct and indiscriminate effect on the civilian population of Iraq.

I would be grateful if you would bring this concern to the attention of the Security Council.

                                                                                                                                   Respectfully yours,

                                                                                                                                                                       Konrad Raiser
                                                                                                                                                                       General Secretary