Eleven years after the approval of the
sanctions on Iraq by the United Nations Security Council, Jutta
Burghardt, the former Director of the WFP in the country, reviews
the violations of the International Law resulting from the application
of the embargo
The humanitarian situation
in Iraq, the humanitarian program 'Oil for Food', and Human
Oficial of the German
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and former Representative
and Country Director of the World Food Program in Iraq, 1999-2000
Jutta Burghardt was the Representative and Country Director
of the World Food Program in Iraq from January 1999 to March
2000, when she resigned in protest for the prolongation of sanctions
against this country and especially after the aproval of the
Resolution 1284 by the Security Council in December 1999. This
Resolution, which passed with the affirmative votes of USA ang
Great Britain and the abstentions of French, Rusia and Chine,
brought the question on the embargo against Iraq to a dead end
after ten years of continued application of sanctions since Agust
1990. Burghardt´s resignation followed those of the two
former Coordinators of the Humanitarian Program of UN for Iraq,
Mr. Dennis J. Halliday and Mr. Hans von Sponeck. Both resigned
for similar reasons in 1999 and 2000 respectively, protesting
against the obstructionist and manipulating policy of USA and
Great Britain regarding the 'Oil for Food' Program (SC Resolution
986). In this unpublished paper, Ms. Burghardt reviews the violations
of the International Law generated by the application of sanctions
against Iraq, and recounts her own experience during her stay
in the country. The text, addressed to the Arab Cause Solidarity
Committee by her author in July 2001, was previously presented
at the International Conference 'Embargo and Human Rights in
Iraq' organized in Baghdad on May 8-9th, 2001 by 'Baytol Hikma'
institution. Currently, Jutta Burghardt has rejoined the German
Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation in Bonn. [CSCAweb]
Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly said that "(...)
the humanitarian situation in Iraq had posed a 'serious moral
dilemma' for the Organization. The United Nations had always
been on the side of the vulnerable and the weak, and had always
sought to relieve suffering, yet here it was accused of 'causing'
suffering to an entire population."
Here, the Secretary General points out an important feature
of the relationship between the UN and Iraq. I appreciate his
awareness, since the Humanitarian Program for Iraq is under his
Indeed, there is a gap between the actions of the Security
Council on Iraq under the provisions of Chapter VII of the United
Nations Charter and the Human Rights Instruments of the organization.
While Article 24 of the UN-Charter binds the Security Council
to act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the
United Nations, the Sanctions Regime for Iraq issued by that
body leads to gross violations of human rights and established
The sanctions on Iraq are the most severe and the most prolonged
that had ever been imposed on a country in human history. In
addition, the trade embargo established under SCR 661 is accompanied
by unilaterally imposed and permanent military aggression of
a lower and sometimes greater intensity, thereby constituting,
together with the trade sanctions, a classical blockade as we
know it since historical times. All of us are aware that this
embargo almost exclusively hits the common person.
The humanitarian program in Iraq (issued under Chapter VII
and thus being part of the Sanctions Regime) does not provide
for the protection of human rights in Iraq. It would not even
do so if it were carried out fully, in good faith and without
its present politicization. It is a short -breathed care and
maintenance- operation of a similar kind as we find in regular
emergency operations around the world, treating the Iraqi population
as if they lived in a refugee camp. This program cannot compensate
for the full-fledged activities of the State, and is no substitute
for the economic activities of a whole nation.
Human Rights are valid universally, and they are indivisible.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states expressly, that
the rights enshrined in it are to be applied also under circumstances
of impeded or reduced sovereignty (Article 2, Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, 10. December 1948). Thus, they apply in Iraq.
Article II of the Genocide Convention (1949) defines,
inter alia, as genocide the "deliberate imposition
of conditions of life that are conducive to partially or totally
destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
a) There can be no doubt whatsoever that the imposition of
the sanctions on Iraq by the Security Council is leading to partially
or totally destroying a nation, and that this concept was and
continues to be deliberately and intentionally applied. The Security
Council had been very well aware of the situation in Iraq right
from the start. Immediately after the Gulf War and as early as
1991, Marti Athissari and Saddruddin Aga Khan made two reports
for the Secretary General. Especially the latter devolved
the mechanism employed by the Oil for Food Program, saying
the situation of the people of Iraq and the destruction of
the material infrastructure were so grave, that assistance of
international donors would not suffice to save the country from
its near apocalyptic situation. Instead, proceeds from Iraqi
oil should be used.
b) In addition, Madeleine Albright in an interview with CBS
said -while still being Permanent Representative to the UN and
in that function the decisive member of the Security Council-
hen she was asked whether the death of 500.000 Iraqi children
was worth the price: "It was a difficult choice, but -yes-
it was worth the price". This statement should be shocking
to anybody, but it is especially so for a German before the background
of German national history. Ms. Albright indeed underlines that
the destruction of a nation - genocide- was and continues to
c) The Belgian international law expert Marc Bossuyt is unambiguously
clear on this. In his report to the Commission on Human Rights
(Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
-E/CN.4/SUB.2/2000/33) of 21 June 2000 he says (Paragraph 72):
"The sanctions regime against Iraq has as its clear purpose
the deliberate infliction on the Iraqi people of conditions of
life (lack of adequate food, medicines etc.) calculated to bring
about its physical destruction in whole or in part. It does not
matter that this deliberate physical destruction has as its ostensible
objective the security of the region. Once clear evidence was
available that thousands of civilians were dying and that hundreds
of thousands would die in future as the Security Council continued
the sanctions, the deaths were no longer an unintended side effect
the Security Council was responsible for all known consequences
of its actions. The sanctioning bodies cannot be absolved from
having the 'intent to destroy' the Iraqi people. The United
States Ambassador to the United Nations in fact admitted this;
when questioned whether the half million deaths were 'worth it',
she replied: 'we think the price is worth it'. The states imposing
the sanctions could raise questions under the genocide Convention."
In addition, and what is most important, in his recommendations
Marc Bossuyt states that sanctions which violate international
law, and especially human rights, need not be respected.
And he raises the question of compensation.
d) The Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which were endorsed
by the General assembly of the United Nations, emphasise that
there exists an individual responsibility vis-à-vis instructions.
"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his
Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility
under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact
possible to him."
e) In this context, it is important to know -and I wish my
former colleagues in the Iraq Programme of the United Nations
were aware of it- that the Genocide Convention as well as the
Nuremberg Principles establish that complicity to a crime against
humanity is a crime under international law. I personally believe
that assisting to veil the effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi
people amounts to complicity, and I decided that a moral choice
had been available to me.
I will now highlight some fundamental human rights provisions
and relate them to the situation of the Iraqi people. Naturally,
features are overlapping. Often reality covers more than one
provision. In addition, what I have to say is certainly not new
to this assembly.
Violation of The Right to Life,
Liberty and the Security of Person
(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3)
a) SCR 687 stipulates that a cease-fire is in force upon official
acceptance of that resolution by Iraq, which had been done. Nevertheless,
regular bombardments occur in the unilaterally imposed so-called
no fly-zones that have killed and wounded citizens of Basra and
elsewhere, including young shepherds. Are those people in the
South aware that according to the official version of those who
have established these zones the attacks are carried out "for
b) Since UNICEF published its carefully elaborated study in
1999 it has become common knowledge and an internationally accepted
fact that 500.000 Iraqi children have lost their lives because
of the sanctions. Altogether more than 1,4 million Iraqi citizens
have become victims of the embargo until today.
Violation of The Right to Adequate Standard of Living
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
"1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise
the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself
and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing,
and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States
Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation
of this right, recognising to this effect the essential importance
of international co-operation based on free consent.
"2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognising
the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall
take, individually and through international co-operation, the
measures, including specific programmes, which are needed (...)."
a) Under the embargo almost all domestic industrial economic
activities are on hold. As a consequence, there are hardly any
jobs and hardly any income possibilities, and no tax revenues
for the state.
b) In March 1999, the Iraqi Minister for Labour and
Social Affairs told me, that only 40 percent of industries
were operational with a production volume of 10 percent. According
to his assessment, 90 to 95 percent of the Iraqis live below
the poverty line. This Ministry would usually provide those who
live in abject poverty with some small means of living. However,
in 1994 the registration of the destitute had been halted since
the Ministry was no longer able to cope with their increasing
c) Before sanctions, Iraq had been close to becoming a First
World Country, thanks to the efforts of the present government
after years of internal unrest and centuries of neglect. Iraq
had become indeed a regional Arab power. You still find the relicts
of those achievements today.
d) Social data had been excellent before sanctions. According
to UNESCO, the rate of literacy had been 95 percent, proving
that the Government implemented the Right to Education
including the provision on compulsory primary education
-which it is unable to enforce any longer- and for which
it had been awarded a UNESCO prize. In March 2000 literacy had
gone down to just 58 percent with a rate of further reduction
expected to be 5 percent per year.
e) The Iraqi society has been almost entirely cut off from
interchange with the rest of the world (violates the Right
to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application).
This gap will be extremely difficult to bridge for the people
and especially for the generation growing up today. Even if sanctions
were lifted tomorrow, rebuilding the society including the reconstitution
of the individual abilities would take many years if that were
possible at all. The deterioration of education, including professional
education, will have long-term effects on at least one generation.
Children who never went to school will never be able to make
good for that loss.
f) To be under the daily pressure -for more than ten years
now- to support one's family is tremendously exhausting. Illness
in one's family if you cannot do much to help as well as dis-investments
in lives and dreams lost create depression and hopelessness.
I found it extremely heartening to see the loss of opportunities
in life of a people of 25 million. Among the personnel of the
humanitarian programme we counted 60 percent as being fully qualified
professionals doing sub-standard work. Our drivers were mostly
engineers and agriculturists. I even had a pilot and a bank director
in my team.
g) The Iraqi middle class is not only impoverished because
of lack of work and income possibilities, but also because their
savings and former investments have shrunk to zero. The depreciation
of the Iraqi Dinar vis-à-vis the US-$ amounts to
6,000 percent, while the average income amounts to 5,000 to 6,000
Dinar. Theses are approximately 2,5 to 3 US-$. (Before sanctions
the Dinar was worth 3.3 US-$, today it is 0,004 US-$.)
h) It is the cumulative effect of sanctions, the continuing
deprivation for more than ten years in a continuing war situation
that causes the Iraqi society to disintegrate and the Iraqi people
to be destroyed. Many Iraqi people told me that each day
they survive is a miracle to them.
i) Since more than ten years, the Iraqi people
receive just staple food: wheat flour, rice, some beans or lentils,
some milk powder, vegetable oil, salt, sugar and tea -no fresh
food such as vegetables, fruit, fresh milk products and meat
(infringes upon The Right to Food). Many who have
no other sources of income have to barter food basket items for
other means of livelihood. In the years 1999/2000 our routine
observation showed that two thirds of the population in Center/South
of Iraq had their monthly food ration consumed
within 20 days. We have always asked ourselves, how this group
lived during the rest of the month. To make things worse, there
had been a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 1999 in Iraq that
killed more than a million animals. There also had been since
the end of 1998 a severe drought in the region, which had additional
harmful effects on the domestic harvest, on the animal owners
and on the supply of clean water to the people. On both issues
the Sanctions Committee had provided insufficient relief to Iraq.
Just contrast this to the panic that was seizing the European
Community on the issue of Foot and Mouth Disease!
j) That the condition of the society is not even worse than
it is today is admirable and must be in my view attributed to
the great discipline, industriousness, practical intelligence
and unbelievable stamina of the Iraqi people.
The Right to Health
International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
"1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise
the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health.
"2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present
Covenant to achieve the full realisation of this right shall
include those necessary for:
(a) The provision for the reduction of still-birth and of infant
And for the healthy development of the child;
(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial
(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic,
occupational and other diseases;
(d) The creation of conditions, which would assure to all medical
service and medical attention in the event of sickness."
a) Before sanctions, the health system of Iraq had been the
envy of the region. We all know that today the health condition
of the Iraqis as well as the health care system is in a desolate
situation. Life expectancy is reduced. Many Iraqi children are
stunted from lack of adequate food. But a chronic food deficiency
does not only create physical insufficiencies, it has negative
effects on mental abilities as well. On the occasion of a program
that we carried out in Iraq, the Government told us they had
registered 700.000 malnourished children under the age of five.
b) Not only had Iraq been heavily destroyed during the Gulf
War; ammunition coated with depleted uranium had been used for
the first time. During my visits to the South I had been alerted
and shocked. My impression was: This area is no longer inhabitable
for human beings.
c) Most of you here will be aware of the facts, but I will
repeat here the information received from the WHO Representative
in Iraq, from Iraqi experts and from the German Professors Günther
and Schott. The issue at hand relates of course also to the Right
to Life and the Genocide Convention. When used the
DU-ammunition releases chemically toxic and radioactive particles
in form of an aerosol. DU emits mainly alpha particles and has
a half-life of 4,5 billion years. In the human body it is chiefly
deposited in the bones, and attacks the bone marrow as well as
the DNA. In Iraq the toxic materials have now entered the food
chain. Particularly in Basra Province much of it was absorbed
into the ground waters. All in all, more than 300 t of DU-materials
are still buried in Iraqi grounds.
d) The Iraqi administration has more than 1000 persons -soldiers
and their families- under observation. An increase in cancer
cases was observed only as late as 1996/97 -five years after
the events. Further increases are expected over the coming years.
The Iraqi experts assume, but were not able to prove -in spite
of having approached relevant organizations several times, including
WHO since 1995- that the increase in leukemia, the appearance
of rare types of cancer, of lymphoma, of cancer of kidneys, lung
and pancreas, are due to DU - ammunitions that were used by USA
(and to a lesser extent by UK). The Iraqi experts have also observed
sterility in men and women (especially in youth), and rare deformations,
such as children without or with deformed arms, without fingers,
with deformed heads, without or with deformed eyes, or without
ears. They also observed an especially high increase in breast
cancer, particularly in young women of 17 to 20 years. Also observed
was deformation in animals.
The Right to Self-determination
Part I Article 1, International Covenant of Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966:
"1. All peoples have the right of self-determination.
By virtue of that right they freely determine their political
status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural
"2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose
of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any
obligations arising out of international economic co-operation,
based upon the principal of mutual benefit, and international
law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of
"3. The States Parties to the present Covenant (...) shall
promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and
shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of
the Charter of the United Nations."
a) The key element of the sanctions, including the mechanisms
established under the Oil for Food-Program, is: the Government
of Iraq must not trade, and especially not receive any proceeds
from the oil sales, in other words not generate any foreign exchange.
The exemption to the sanctions regime -the Oil for Food-Program-
makes that very clear: the proceeds from the sale of oil go to
an Escrow Account, which is controlled by the United Nations.
We learned that Iraq couldn't even receive outdated equipment
purchased by its own money. We were instructed to destroy these
b) The Oil for Food-Program is supposed to guarantee the supply
of essential goods for the population of Iraq and to provide
for investments in key infrastructure. It operates in the areas
of food, medicine and medical equipment, electricity, agriculture,
irrigation, water supply and sanitation, primary and higher education,
transport and communication, building of houses, and the maintenance
and rehabilitation of the oil production, the latter being the
key income source for the financing of those humanitarian supplies.
c) All the goods that had been received by end-2000 represent
a per capita outlay or investment of approximately 100 US-$ per
person/year, of which about 75 US-$ are spent on the food basket
alone, which is usually the most expensive item in any emergency
program. Under the program, components are often lacking and
specifications are not met. Although the Memorandum of Understanding
provides for the application of normal commercial practices,
until today Iraq is not allowed to apply them in the contracting
of food items. This leads, of course, to suppliers potentially
and actually exploiting the Iraqi situation. Thus, in addition
to the low performance rate of the program because of so many
blocked contracts (value as of today 9 April 2001 3.4 billion
US-$), many of the items that are in the hands of the Iraqis
are useless (especially in the agriculture, food and medical
d) When I arrived in January 1999, the Iraqi Government needed
money for the internal transport, storage, handling and administration
of the food operation alone in the amount of 160 billion Dinars
per year. There are of course additional internal costs for all
the other sectors of the Program, but especially for the oil
sector. Clearly, this "humanitarian program" is harmful
to the Iraqi economy in two ways:
e) First, until today the Government cannot use its money
to cover their internal cost and is, therefore, forced to print
the respective amounts -thereby increasing inflation and contributing
to the depreciation of its currency. Secondly, all items of the
program must be imported even if they are available in the country
such as wheat, vegetable oil and salt. Its not only huge business
for the rest of the world. Its also detrimental to the already
suffering Iraqi economy.
f) However, in spite of the tremendous restrictions that the
Government activities experience (reduced personnel, minimal
salaries, hardly any possibility to check on companies abroad
and deliveries, reduced transport facilities, tremendous restrictions
in communication), the Ministry of Trade carries out the
food supply operation -possibly the largest on the globe for
such a long time- in the most efficient and effective manner.
In Iraq, each and every of the almost 25 million citizens receives
regularly his/her monthly ration.
g) In SCR 1284 (12 December 1999, the so-called Comprehensive
Resolution introduced by the UK and relating to Kuwait compensation,
humanitarian and disarmament chapters, an effort is made to give
Iraq an incentive to co-operate in the disarmament area by introducing
simplifications of procedure and other measures in the humanitarian
area. However, instead of the lifting of sanctions (22, SCR 687)
the resolution introduces a new element: a suspension of sanctions.
And according to the Explanation of Vote by the US,
such a suspension would not imply that the Iraqi Government would
regain control over their oil proceeds.
h) In addition, the present deliberations of the US to introduce
smart sanctions aim at tightening the UN-control over the oil
proceeds, and promise more civilian goods to reach the country.
However, without the Iraqi Government having control over its
money, the logical conclusion would be that UN-activities are
being enlarged accordingly. I believe it is impossible to manage
the needs of a whole nation by an Office in New York, and through
the cumbersome procedures that include the wilful holding of
contracts . To me this would seem to be worse than the economic
processes we have seen working in the most inefficiently organized
centrally controlled economies of the past.
Prohibition of the State to Fulfil its Obligations under the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
"1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes
to take steps, individually and through international assistance
and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum
of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively
the full realization of the rights recognized in the present
Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the
adoption of legislative measures (Article 2)."
a) According to letter and spirit of the Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, a Government is responsible for the
welfare of its people and obliged to promote it. The Humanitarian
Program is supposed to provide only the bare minimum of basic
needs to the people in co-operation between the Government and
the UN. However, the obstacles created by two members of the
Sanctions Committee lead to a situation where the Government
cannot fulfil even this task appropriately. And since hardly
anybody is knowledgeable of the complicated set-up of the Program,
it is easy for those same members to take advantage of this circumstance
and reproach the Government for not fulfilling these basic tasks.
b) To conclude: Only a country that is able to exercise its
right of self-determination is in a position to implement the
International Covenant and fulfil the obligations it entered
into when acceding to it. Iraq is being denied this right, which
it had aptly fulfilled before sanctions by investing in education,
health, infrastructure, and to which it is still committed as
I was able to witness.
a) I am pessimistic that the sanctions will ever be lifted.
They are too good to be true! With sanctions in place, the Arabic
Oil Region is under control, huge amounts of arms can be sold
to the neighboring countries, and the potential regional power
Iraq is reduced to a weak, disintegrating society -which if continued
will pose another regional political problem.
b) However, in order for the Security Council to have no longer
any pretext to prolong or continue to re-arrange the sanctions
regime, Iraq should as soon as possible receive an endorsement
by UNMOVIC that it is clear of weapons of mass destruction. And
I am confident that the Iraqi Government will be ready to co-operate,
if -but only if- they can expect fair treatment and the actual
lifting of sanctions. A dialogue to this effect had been started
at the United Nations. Iraq must as soon as possible regain its
right to self-determination in order to be able to resume its
rightful place in the international community, including as a
full OPEC-member and as a constructive actor in the regional