EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT News Report : 27-02-2001

Iraq - sanctions questioned

In introducing the meeting on 'Iraq and the International Community' the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Elmar BROK (EPP-ED, D) underlined that the world community would have to determine whether the policy of sanctions should continue and how it could promote a democratic evolution in Iraq and bring it back into the 'community of civilised nations'. MEPs heard first from Dr Wilfried KREISEL, Executive Director of the World Health Organisation, who painted a grim picture of the health situation in Iraq, which had deteriorated dramatically in the ten years since the Gulf war. Infant mortality rates had more than doubled, diseases such as malaria and typhoid were re-emerging, and many essential public health services could not function.

Sheik Mohammed ALI of the Iraqi National Congress then stressed his organisation's aims of 'removing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship while also ensuring the territorial integrity and independence of the nation under a democratic, constitutional, parliamentary and pluralistic system'. He argued that unconditionally lifting sanctions on Saddam would not end the sufferings of the Iraqi people. Under the UN Oil for Food programme, Saddam had sufficient resources to provide food and medicine to the population but he chose not to. He pointed in particular to the $5bn held in an Iraqi government account at a Paris bank which Saddam 'refused to spend on the Iraqi people'. Finally, he argued, that Saddam would have a nuclear weapon within five years if sanctions were lifted.

A similar theme was taken up by Amin BAKHTIAR, Director of the Human Rights Alliance. He quoted from a UN rapporteur on Iraq who had called the regime 'the most ruthless dictatorship and totalitarian system ever seen by the world since World War II'. Mr Amin called on the international community to create an international court for Iraq to prosecute crimes against humanity. There should also be support for the democratic opposition as it was 'criminal to re-habilitate this regime under any pretext'. Driss EL YAZAMI of the League of Human Rights noted that sanctions had probably prevented Saddam from re-arming and attacking his neighbours but they had not reduced the internal repression. They had also enabled Saddam to 'take the Iraqi people as hostages' and to gain standing in the international arena.

The continuation of sanctions against Iraq was sharply criticised by three experts. Hans C. Graf von SPONECK (former head of the UN Oil for Food Programme), Marc BOSSUYT (lecturer in international law at the University of Antwerp) and Denis VIENOT (head of Caritas Europa) argued that the sanctions could not be justified. Mr von SPONECK said that developments in Iraq had proved that political change could not be brought about through economic sanctions. A generation of Iraqis was being produced which could never regard Europe or the United States as its friends. He believed that continuing with the sanctions was too high a price to pay for asserting the will of the Security Council, that the sanctions could no longer be seen as 'an inevitable collateral cost' and that they should be lifted immediately.

Marc BOSSUYT agreed entirely, arguing that sanctions were not an appropriate method for achieving the desired goals. He also wondered whether the sanctions were still legal, given that three permanent members of the Security Council no longer supported them. According to Mr VIENOT the sanctions contravened the UN Charter, could not be justified and should be suspended until they could be abolished once and for all.

The debate was then thrown open, with MEPs dividing into two camps - those for and those against the sanctions. Alexandros BALTAS (PES, GR) wondered what the impact of lifting the sanctions would be on the Iraqi opposition. Moreover, since the economic sanctions were also intended to prevent Iraq rearming, how could one ensure that the revenue generated by the abolition of the embargo was not used to rearm the country? Jas GAWRONSKI (EPP-ED, I) asked whether it was wise to halt the sanctions, since such a move would be charged with political significance: it would be tantamount to saying Saddam Hussein had won and would strengthen his dictatorship. He was therefore in favour of suspending economic sanctions but keeping the arms embargo. Niall ANDREWS (UEN, IRL) maintained that the price being paid, particularly by children, was too high. He noted the recent statements by the Iraqi deputy prime minister to the effect that Iraq would allow arms inspectors into the country if sanctions were lifted. He then called on the Iraqi opposition to say whether it condemned the recent bombings.

Rend RAHIM FRANCKE, the Executive Director of the Iraq Foundation, condemned the Baghdad regime for 'waging war on its own people' and urged the EU to take a stand based on moral principle. It could afford to do this as Iraq needed the EU but the EU did not need Iraq. There should be no unilateral end of sanctions as such a step would strengthen Saddam and weaken the internal opposition to his government. However she did consider that the recent US-British air strikes had been counter-productive as they had not harmed Saddam's military machine and had provided him with a propaganda victory. Jacques BELTRAN, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations argued for 'smart sanctions' that targeted Iraq's military capacity while not harming the civilian population.

The final word fell to Emma NICHOLSON (ELDR, UK), vice-chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and rapporteur on Iraq, who thanked all the speakers, and congratulated them on the quality of the debate, which she said would certainly help ensure that her report contained a balanced assessment of the issues.

26.02.01 Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy In the chair: Elmar BROK (EPP-ED, D)

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