Palais des Nations, Geneva
Statement delivered by Arlene Flaherty, OP, on behalf of FI/OP addressing the Human Rights situation facing children in Iraq
I speak on behalf of Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with the Justice Promoters of the Dominican Order in the United States of America and 75 signatories of our written statement (E/CN.2/2000/NG0/59).
Children are most often the most vulnerable victims in situations of war and conflict. Additionally, many reports now indicate how children and women suffer greatly when sanctions are imposed upon a country following conflicts. Their health and well-being are greatly damaged and affected in violation of fundamental articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In this respect, we are gravely concerned that the UN-imposed sanctions and embargo on Iraq is adversely affecting the health and well being of Iraqi children. We are aware of the political issues which surround the situation in Iraq. However, our intention is to raise the humanitarian concerns - the human rights situation of children in Iraq, and not to address the political issues.
In a statement to the UN Security Council on March 24, 2000, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan declared "I am particularly concerned about the situation of Iraqi children, whose suffering and, in all too many cases, untimely death has been documented in the report prepared by UNICEF and the Iraqi Health Ministry last year. That report, which has been echoed by many other observers, showed that, in the centre and south of Iraq, infant mortality and morbidity have increased dramatically and reached unacceptable levels."
The UN Report on the Current Humanitarian Situation in Iraq, 30 March 1999, compares the state of Iraq prior and after the events of 1990-91.
The prevalence of malnutrition in Iraqi children under 5 years of age almost doubled and the World Food Program reports the monthly food basket- distributed in Iraq lasts only 20 days. Similarly, the World Food Program estimates that since 1991 access to potable drinking water has dropped to 50% with even lower levels available in the rural areas of the country. Water borne diseases and other communicable diseases are devastating Iraq's children. The shortage of drugs, supplies and medical equipment, exacerbated by the import restrictions by the United Nations, has crippled Iraq's healthcare system.
Many pediatric hospitals could be described as chambers of horror. The two US Dominican delegations which visited Iraq in 1999 and in March of this year have witnessed masses of children lying feverishly on uncovered hospital mattresses in unrelieved pain because there no bed sheets and there are no medicines available for their comfort. Anemic birth mothers wait anxiously while their. underweight newborns gasp for breath below oxygen tanks. Children are ravaged by rising cancers for lack of chemotherapy and a shortage of blood transfusion bags. One physician described with horror the death of a nine-year old leukemia patient and concluded "His only crime was that he was an Iraqi child." Another doctor surveying the sadness of a hospital ward turned to the visiting delegation and asked, "What have they done to deserve this?" It is estimated that as many as 5,000 children die every month as a direct result of privations under sanctions. The deaths and serious injuries among children as well as the trauma inflicted upon children by allied bombing sorties over northern and southern Iraq will have long-term consequences on the life of the individual, family, culture and society of Iraq. It will also have long-term consequences on the international community for we are all diminished and affected by this tragedy.
In a significant way, the lasting effects of the Gulf War and UN. policies such as Resolution 661 and 986, (Oil for Food), have had calamitous effects on Iraqi children. It is time that this problem be addressed through an intervention. The international community has made a commitment to ensure that every child "be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brother/sisterhood." How can we ensure this right for Iraqi children unless we address those policies and practices that are severely compromising their happiness and health?
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said "A United Nations that will not stand up for human rights is a United Nations that cannot stand up for itself." In the name of the United Nations, in the name of the Iraqi children and in the words of one Iraqi child, "Please do something..."
Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace together with the Justice and Peace Promoters of the Dominican Order in the United States recommend that the UN Commission on Human Rights strongly urge the international community to lift the sanctions and embargo on Iraq and advocate for immediate measures to stop and reverse the downward pattern of life experienced by Iraqi children.