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2001 | 57th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (19 March - 27 April 2001)

The harmful impact of international sanctions on children’s human rights

March 19 – April 27, 2001
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Caritas Internationalis the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Pax Christi International, the Canadian Council of Churches, the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic and the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, in conjunction with Dominicans for Justice and Peace and the Mennonite Central Committee, wish to bring to the attention of the Commission the impact of international sanctions as a follow-up to war and their harmful and destructive consequences on children.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
According to article 38 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states commit themselves to respect and to ensure respect for rules of humanitarian law applicable to children. It also declares that State Parties “shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict”. Article 3 of the Convention declares that in all actions concerning children, … the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration. These articles are being systematically violated on a daily basis as a result of more than ten years of economic sanctions against the people of Iraq. The violations of the rights of Iraqi children have been described in a number of UN reports and have also led to the resignation of three senior UN personnel who were responsible for the humanitarian program in Iraq.

Caritas delegation to Iraq
In January 2001, a Delegation from Caritas Europa, which was accompanied by the President of Caritas Middle East and North Africa and hosted by its Iraqi partner organization, Confrérie de la Charité, visited Iraq and published a report on the devastating effects of sanctions on the people of Iraq.

The Caritas Europa report demonstrates how the sanctions against Iraq have resulted in untold suffering for millions of people – physical, mental and cultural. The report argues that the effects of the sanctions – even if they were lifted today – will certainly be felt for many years to come. It is indelibly imprinted on the Iraqi psyche. A once prosperous nation is systematically de-developed, de-skilled and reduced to penury. The very social fabric of Iraqi society is being rent asunder.

The overwhelming conclusion of the report, which is supported by Caritas Internationalis, was that the current comprehensive sanctions regime imposed on Iraq by the UN Security Council should be immediately suspended and a new relationship initiated and developed by the international community and Iraq. Such a new relationship should lead to a situation where the current chapter of immeasurable suffering is brought to a close.

US Dominican Delegations to Iraq
Dominican Sisters and Friars of the US visited Iraq three years in a row starting in 1999 to see for themselves the ravages of the sanctions on the people. At the end of their visit to Iraq last month, the delegation declared in a statement:

During our ten days in Iraq we have witnessed the destruction of a land, people, and culture, an action more insidious and far-reaching than any in the history of the United Nations. Every aspect of Iraqi society and culture has been adversely affected by the sanctions. In the 1980s, Iraq possessed an effective universal health care system and universal free education, modern telecommunications technology, and adequate power resources. The country had sophisticated water treatment systems that met the needs of most of the population.

Now, after ten years, the Iraqi infrastructure can no longer bear the weight of human need. Women of childbearing age and especially children continue to suffer from high levels of malnutrition resulting in arrested development and diminished capacity to reach their full potential. The air and water are toxic. ..Those who suffer most are children, an entire generation who have known nothing but war. Nearly 10 million Iraqis are under the age of fifteen…What hope is there as a nation when sanctions deprive them of clean water, adequate nutrition, medical treatment and education?

UNICEF reports
In spite of numerous reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Development Program and many NGOs, nothing has been done to put an end to the violations of the most fundamental rights of the children of Iraq. The humanitarian disaster is such that UNICEF reports that more than 500,000 children under five years old have died as a result of the embargo, between 1991 and 1995. There are still 5000 children dying every month in Iraq.

The 1999 UNICEF report and mortality surveys show that in marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-91, the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world, from 47 deaths/1000 live births in the 80s to 107 deaths/1000 live births in the past decade. Low infant birth weight affects at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affects 25% of children under five years of age, only 41% of the population have regular access to clean water, and 83% of all schools need substantial repairs. The International Committee of the Red Cross states that the Iraqi health-care system is today in a decrepit state. UNDP calculates that it would take 7 billion dollars to rehabilitate the power sector country-wide to its 1990 capacity.

Bossuyt Working paper
In its decision of August 1999, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights requested Mr. Marc Bossuyt to prepare a working paper on “The adverse consequences of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights” (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33) which he presented to the August 2000 Sub-Commission meeting. In his paper, Mr. Bossuyt highlighted the serious violations of other international human rights instruments which are also applicable to the children in Iraq. In his paper, Mr. Bossuyt declared that the sanctions regime against Iraq is illegal under existing international humanitarian law and human rights law…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, medicine, 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 the 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. (p18-19)

The 2000 Sub-Commission, subsequently adopted two resolutions on human Rights and the humanitarian consequences of sanctions, including embargoes (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/25 and E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000112).

Impact on children
A whole generation of children born after the war have been deprived over a period of ten years of the right to adequate food which would allow them to develop normally. According to the statements of some of Dominican members on site, many families are forced to sell their houses, their furniture and sometimes their own clothes to feed themselves. Further, the length of the crisis has shaken the foundations of the traditional practice of families helping each other. An increasing number of women find themselves alone to raise and to meet the needs of their children. The economic sanctions have a devastating effect not only on the survival of children, but also on their moral, social and psychological development, in violation of article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In addition to the effects of sanctions, there is the effect of environmental pollution in Iraq, in particular, of depleted uranium, which is chemically and radiologically toxic. Epidemiological studies show that the increased incidence of congenital abnormalities and defects, cancers in all age groups are directly related to exposure to depleted uranium, either by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.

Further, over ten years a whole generation of children have been deprived of normal access to education. The regime of sanctions has hampered the usual supply of school materials as well as access to culture, to sciences and the new technologies, which had been previously widespread.

The embargo which weighs heavily on Iraq has had a devastating effect on civil society, destabilizing elementary social relations, both educationally and commercially. This has been corroborated in reports by the specialized UN agencies.

Most of the child victims were not even born at the time of the Gulf War. These children did not die as a result of combat. These innocent children died as a result of measures decreed by an organization whose mission was to protect their peace and security. Because of the length of time that the sanctions have been in place, they are no longer economic but constitute a humanitarian problem. In harming and killing children over a period of ten consecutive years, the sanctions have placed the future of a whole people in peril. As recognized by the UN Secretary General, it is more than ever time to reverse the process.

Mr. Kofi Annan on sanctions against Iraq
In his presentation to the Security Council on March 24, 2000, the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan stated that the humanitarian situation in Iraq posed a serious moral dilemma for the UN. He said: “The UN has always been on the side of the vulnerable and the weak, and has always sought to relieve suffering, and yet here we are accused of causing suffering to an entire population.” Mr. Annan also expressed his particular concern about the situation of the children of Iraq who are the main victims of the sanctions regime.

Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Caritas Internationalis the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Pax Christi International, the Canadian Council of Churches, the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic and the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, in conjunction with Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and in harmony with the message of the UN Secretary General, the call of Pope John Paul II and of the 1998 Synod of Bishops of Asia, therefore ask the international community to take all means possible to bring an end to the sanctions which are killing the children of Iraq and to guarantee the respect of the rules of international humanitarian law in their regard.

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