Adverse Consequences of UN Sanctions

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While researching the economics of the Union blockade
of the Confederacy, I came across a working paper from the United
Nations' Sub-Commission on the
Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, written by a Mr. Marc
Bosuyt. (I was doing a google search looking for modern equivalents
and came up with the Reign of Terror and the Sanctions against Iraq
and Cuba!) The working paper examines the legality and efficiency
of sanctions, as well as the history of sanctions. The report raises
serious questions regarding the legality and efficiency of many
UN Sanctions. Here are a couple of excerpts from this United Nations
report regarding the sanctions against Iraq.

sanctions against Iraq are the most comprehensive, total sanctions
that have ever been imposed on a country. The situation at present
is extremely grave. The transportation, power and communication
infrastructures were decimated during the Gulf war, and have not
been rebuilt owing to the sanctions. The industrial sector is
also in shambles and agricultural production has suffered greatly.
But most alarming is the health crisis that has erupted since
the imposition of the sanctions. (p. 15)

has been documented by United Nations agencies, NGOs, humanitarian
and human rights organizations, researchers and political leaders,
the sanctions upon Iraq have produced a humanitarian disaster
comparable to the worst catastrophes of the past decades. There
is broad controversy and little hard evidence concerning the exact
number of deaths directly attributable to the sanctions; estimates
range from half a million to a million and a half, with the majority
of the dead being children. It should be emphasized that much
of the controversy around the number of deaths is only serving
to obfuscate the fact that any deaths at all caused by the sanctions
regime indicate grave breaches of humanitarian law and are unacceptable.
(p. 16)

1999, after conducting the first surveys since 1991 of child and
maternal mortality in Iraq, UNICEF concluded that in the heavily-populated
southern and central parts of the country, children under five
are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago.
An expert on the effects of sanctions on civilians states that
"the underlying causes of these excess deaths include contaminated
water, lack of high quality foods, inadequate breastfeeding, poor
weaning practices, and inadequate supplies in the curative health-care
system". The lack of food due to sanctions translated into
a 32 per cent drop in per capita calorie intake compared
to before the Gulf war. According to the Government of Iraq, by
1997, only half of the water treatment capacity of the country
was operational. (p. 16)

to the lack of medical supplies, it was estimated that, by 1997,
30 per cent of hospital beds were out of use, 75 per cent
of all hospital equipment did not work and 25 per cent
of Iraq's 1,305 health centres were closed. A recent Security
Council-appointed panel summarized the health and sanitation situation
as follows:

In marked
contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-1991,
the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest
in the world, low infant birth weight affects at least 23 per cent
of all births, chronic malnutrition affects every fourth child
under five years of age, only 41 per cent of the population
have regular access to clean water, 83 per cent of all schools
need substantial repairs. The ICRC states that the Iraqi health-care
system is today in a decrepit state. UNDP calculates that it would
take 7 billion US dollars to rehabilitate the power sector
country-wide to its 1990 capacity. (page 17)

The outcry
against the sanctions on Iraq has come from all sides. From within
the United Nations, the Secretary-General himself has been
at the forefront of the criticism, levelling serious charges against
the sanctions regime in his report to the Security Council of
10 March 2000 (S/2000/208) and stating two weeks later
that "the Council should seek every opportunity to alleviate
the suffering of the population, who after all are not the intended
targets of sanctions". The sanctions have led to the resignation
of three United Nations officials, two this year alone. First,
Denis Halliday, former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General
and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, resigned in September 1998,
declaring: "We are in the process of destroying an entire
society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal
and immoral." Hans von Sponeck, Halliday's successor as Humanitarian
Coordinator in Iraq, resigned on 13 February 2000, explaining
that he could not any longer be associated with a programme that
prolonged the sufferings of the people and which had no chance
to meet even the basic needs of the civilian population. Two days
later, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq,
also resigned, stating "I fully support what Mr. von Sponeck
is saying". (p. 17-18)

The sanctions
regime against Iraq is unequivocally illegal under existing international
humanitarian law and human rights law. Some would go as far as
making a charge of genocide. (p. 18)

I am not a fan of the United Nations, and I do favor the use of
sanctions over outright military conflict, but as this report shows,
many sanctions including those against Iraq, Cuba and others, are
of dubious legality or effectiveness. In a study by Hufbauer and
Schott (soon to be updated to include the 1990s), only 1/4 to 1/3
of the 116 sanctions imposed between 1914 and 1990 resulted in some
policy change and that the more ambitious the sanctions were, the
more likely they were to fail. Also, the study found that in about
70% of the 116 cases, the United States was the primary initiator
of the sanctions.

here for a copy of the full report

6, 2002

Mark Thornton [send him mail],
author of The
Economics of Prohibition
is a senior fellow with the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
in Auburn, Alabama.

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