April 3, 2000

Fifty-sixth session
Agenda item 10



International Educational Development once again brings to the attention of the Commission the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, a direct result of the sweeping sanctions against that country and of the grave health consequences related to weaponry containing depleted uranium (DU) used by US and UK forces in Iraq. The majority of those affected are civilians and in particular children. Much of this sanctions regime violates economic, social and cultural rights as well as basic rules of humanitarian law.

We maintain that the instigators of the economic sanctions are well aware that they primarily affect people who may not legally be targeted. When she was still US representative to the UN, Madeleine Albright was asked if the results of the sanctions regime were worth the cost of 500,000 Iraqi children who had already died at that time as a direct result. Mrs Albright answered "yes." We point out that by then the legitimate aspects of the sanctions regime had already clearly failed. We consider that the US intransigence in the face of long-standing international outcry may be part of a cover up of the effects of DU weaponry -- weaponry that clearly is incompatible with existing humanitarian law.

When we first brought this issue to the Commission's attention in 1996, Margarita Papandreou, an eyewitness to the Iraqi catastrophe, joined us along with 15 other UN NGOs and 20 international groups in an urgent appeal. Five long years later, the situation is now so grave that two UN representatives for humanitarian affairs as well as the World Food Programme's representative in Iraq have quit in protest. The W.H.O., UNICEF, FAO and UNHCR continue to express concern about the dire situation, joined now by the Secretary-General. The so-called "modifications" to the sanctions regime have not ameliorated the situation, and the "approval" process, almost completely controlled by the US, continues to block essential goods.

Under humanitarian law, nothing may interfere with the right to relief from the hardship of war and to life-sustaining food and medical relief, not even sanctions that purport to address other issues. Basic principles of humanitarian law, including the legal import of the "dictates of the public conscience," are jus cogens and may not be abrogated in any way. Any part of a sanctions regime that directly violates these principles need not be obeyed by other countries or aid providers nor may humanitarian gestures be themselves penalized. This principle is also the law of the UN Charter, Article 1, sec. 3, mandating international action for pressing humanitarian concerns.

We urge the Secretary-General's Special Representative Mr. Olara Otunnu to investigate the situation of the Iraqi children affected by war and sanctions and the medical effects of the use of depleted uranium. That review could also include the fact that both American and Iraqi children born after the war have the same elevated incidence of disabilities and deformities, which we think points to the exposure of their fathers and mothers to depleted uranium during the war. In investigating the effects on children of the use of depleted uranium, Mr. Olara Otunnu could carry out a joint mission with the Commission's rapporteur on toxics Madame Fatma Ksentini.


We are pleased that the regionally-imposed sanctions against Burundi were lifted on January 23 1999. These sanctions had such a serious effect on the civilian population of Burundi that the World Food Programme carried out an emergency airlift of food in spite of the sanctions. The sanctions were also identified as contributing to a "dangerous destabilization of the situation in Burundi." In a debate in the House of Commons (UK)(Select Committee on International Development, 25 May 1999), there was testimony that no one knows how to protect the civilian population from the adverse consequences of sanctions. Now, more than a year after the lifting of the sanctions, the civilian population is still suffering -- compounded now by natural disaster and war-related displacement. We most warmly welcome the assumption of Mr. Nelson Mandela as peace negotiator under the Arusha process. We urge that all involved consider how to remedy those aspects of sanctions in Burundi that were incompatible with humanitarian law, taking account of General Comment 8 (1997) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We also request the Commission to encourage emergency humanitarian aid to Burundi from all possible providers.


The full effects of the two periods of sanctions against the Republic of Yugoslavia have not been fully investigated, but some studies show as much as 80% of the population now living in poverty. The situation has been dramatically compounded because of the use of DU by the NATO forces in 1999. IED urges full disclosure, in conformity with the Int'l Court of Justice opinion in the Corfu Channel Case (1949), of all areas where DU was used in the territory. We also urge complete study of the negative effects of sanctions on the civilian population.