• 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.

    The
    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)

    As
    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)

    In
    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)

    Owing
    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)

    Normally,
    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.

    Click
    here for a copy of the full report
    .

    September
    6, 2002

    Dr.
    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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