Following is the transcript of Denis Halliday's first public speech after his resignation from his posts as UN Assistant Secretary General and Chief UN Relief Coordinator for Iraq in protest of the sanctions. It was presented on November 5, 1998 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event was organized by the Harvard Divinity School World Conference on Religion and Peace and the Campaign for the Iraqi People. Transcript recorded by Chris Nicholson of the Campaign for the Iraqi People.
Why I Resigned My UN Post in Protest of Sanctions
by Denis Halliday
"I can find no legitimate justification for sustaining economic sanctions under these circumstances. To do so in my view is to disregard the high principles of the United Nation's Charter, the Convention of Human Rights, the very moral leadership and the credibility of the United Nations itself."
I am honored to be here in this great university and pleased to be asked to share my thoughts on the impact of United Nations sanctions on the people and on the country of Iraq. I am very pleased to share these views based on my exposure to Iraq under sanctions over some thirteen months, September 1997 through October 1998.
My agenda here is to raise awareness of the appalling impact sanctions are having on all aspects Iraqi life in the hope that some of you present tonight will also speak out wherever you have the opportunity. I am assuming that you consider it appropriate, like I do, for the United Nations to have the power and capacity to attempt to bring into line certain leadership, certain governments, that are acting outside the bounds of behavior acceptable to the other member states. And let's acknowledge that it is very difficult to define exactly what that means. I believe that member states should, even must try to influence the behavior of erring states, but I also recognize that the difficulty of determining what is acceptable behavior is a real one-it cannot be a Western model, it must be North-South sensitive, and sensitive to culture, cultural norms, religious influence, colonial past, history, whatever, and yet it must be done without losing site of some global basic truths as embodied in the United Nations charter, which include human rights violations, humanitarian catastrophes, declarations of war, and this includes dealing with the sensitive issue of disregarding national sovereignty when human suffering demands an external response, that is, from outside the country itself such as humanitarian assistance in cases of natural disaster. But I see the present sanctions regime representing a certain bankruptcy of ideas, simplistic, unsuccessful, without the desired results. And I see United Nations sanctions representing unacceptable consequences for the innocent children and people of the country; individuals that certainly had nothing to do with the invasion of Kuwait. There can be no justification in my view for the death and malnutrition for which sanctions are responsible.
How are they responsible? By denying access to oil sales funds necessary to invest in adequate food intake, a balanced diet, in health care, particularly preventive health care, the provision of electric power, and in the availability of potable water, the absence of which kills Iraqi children in large numbers. Under these circumstances, nothing justifies the continuation of sanctions on Iraq by the member nations of the United Nations Security Council, and I underline Security Council, with its veto power controlled by five members as opposed to the General Assembly with full member state representation and equally weighted voting. This is particularly so when the member states concerned are aware of the appalling consequences for the Iraqi people of their decisions to continue to sustain economic sanctions. And that "nothing justifies" includes the behavior, attitude, actions, non-compliance, statements, plans, or whatever, of the system of governance in power, the leadership in power. We may not like the government in power, but that dislike cannot be allowed to empower the members of the Security Council to sustain a sanctions regime that kills, destroys, and brings to ruin the lives of some of the twenty-three and a half million people.
Modify sanctions? Yes, of course, there will be risks in lifting sanctions now. We may never be absolutely sure what the results might be of the United Nations freeing up Iraqi oil revenues next month, but the risk is likely to be true in another five or even ten years. We may never be sure, and we cannot wait, and the people of Iraq cannot wait, and history shows that we can never be sure how sovereign states will behave. History is full of disappointments and dreadful surprises, but we can be sure that sanctions will continue to destroy the people of Iraq if we do not find a compromise, take some risks, separate economic sanctions from disarmament monitoring and control of international arms sales.
The issue is, which is better? Which is more acceptable? To work with Iraq and seek a better way forward with its people and its government as an integral part of the world community? Or to keep Iraq outside the fold without any positive external influence and sustain the damage being done in the name of the United States and other countries of the United Nations Security Council, in fact, in the name of the entire United Nations family of nations? Before going further, let me briefly examine for you the kind of damage to which I refer.
Those who care in the international community for the children and people of Iraq, as I said some twenty-three and a half million, have rightly focused throughout the ongoing eight years of economic sanctions on the high levels of malnutrition and child mortality. Whereas the majority of member states undoubtedly did not intend it to be so, the civilian population, particularly infants and children, are being targeted, are being hit by United Nations sanctions with appalling consequences. The data on infant mortality is known. Whereas the World Health Organization may not be in the position to confirm specific numbers, it acknowledges that the monthly death rate of children under five attributable to sanctions ranges from six to seven thousand per month, and considers this to be an underestimate in that births in rural areas of Iraq are often not registered, or not registered immediately, and deaths that occur pending registration are in fact never recorded. There are many reasons for this tragic situation of unnecessary death, including the poor health of mothers, the breakdown in health services, generally poor nutritional intake for lack of access to a balanced diet despite the 986 oil-for-food program, and the high incidence of water borne disease due to the collapse of the water and sanitation system plus the electric power to drive it, both crippled by Gulf War missile and bombing damage. The health of mothers over many years of inadequate dietary intake and deprivation have undermined natural immunities that low levels of breast feeding do not counter nor is helped by the use of baby formula when mixed with water that is not potable. The revision of basic food stuffs prior to and now under 986, the oil-for-food program has not been sufficiently balanced and nutritious to make a significant difference.
Within the limited revenues allowed by the Security Council for imports under 986, funds are not adequate for the inclusion in the monthly food basket of animal proteins, meat, fish, chicken, and minerals and vitamins essential in a balanced diet for the well-being of adults and critically important for young children. The 986 food basket has focused on calorific intake, via grains, sugar, tea, and other basic supplies, which taken together with the breakdowns mentioned above has shattered the life expectancy of Iraqi infants and children. Malnutrition levels for children under five years have remained at approximately 30% despite the input of the government and 986. UNICEF data for the three northern governances, that is, where the Kurdish population reside, shows a reduction down to perhaps 25%, still an unacceptably high figure. But as yet similar improvements in the center and south of Iraq have yet to become evident. In addition, acute and chronic malnutrition is common-approximately 10% in terms of acute, and some 20% in terms of chronic malnutrition, which as you may know, leads to stunting, both in terms of physical growth and in terms of mental capacity. The longer term impact of such damage is frightening.
Let me turn to some of the social consequences of sanctions. By so doing I in no way wish to divert attention from the malnutrition and the mortality tragedy that I have mentioned, but it is important nevertheless to review other forms of damage imposed on the Iraqi people, often unborn prior to and certainly innocent of the events that led to the invasion of Kuwait and the introduction and the sustained continuation of sanctions by the Security Council.
Not generally reported by the government or the media are the consequences for the social structure and family of the people of Iraq. Continuing sanctions are biting into the fabric of Iraqi society and family behavior. The country has seen significant disruption to the traditional Iraqi family and extended family system. Today one finds many single-parent families, often the mother struggling alone, plus an increase in the levels of divorce brought about by the economic and other stresses that sanctions have imposed. Sales of homes, furniture, and other possessions, books for example, and homelessness and resort to prostitution have resulted.
Devaluation of the dinar has wiped out the savings and earnings of professionals and wage earners alike. In 1990, one dinar was worth approximately three U.S. dollars, and today it takes 1500 dinars to purchase one dollar. You can imagine what this has done to the buying power of normal Iraqi people, and what the impact on their families has been. The problem has been particularly felt in Baghdad where the populace was accustomed to buying imported foodstuffs and other goods. At the same time inflation has occurred, further exacerbating the difficulties faced by all concerned, leaving in particular those on fixed incomes, such as civil servants and the teaching profession in very serious difficulties. High costs have placed simple family needs like fresh fruit, meat, and fresh vegetables beyond their everyday means. The purchase of imported and luxury items are simply out of the question.
Thus despite the courage, patience, and durability of the Iraqi people, under these circumstances hopelessness and depression is common. The social impact of eight years of sanctions is varied and often devastating on the quality of life, standards of traditional behavior, collapse of Islamic family values. Sanctions have severely undermined the expectations of many innocent Iraqi people for the future, the future of their children, and the future of their once proud and prosperous country. Now many must live with hardship, but even worse for most Iraqis, they must live with the humiliation.
One aspect of this humiliation is the begging that is now so prevalent in the streets of Baghdad and other towns, abhorrent to the Iraqi sense of pride and dignity. Another is the growth of corruption, which was largely unknown in Iraq in better times. These phenomena are concerns of the government today, and already are concerns for Iraqi sociologists in terms of the future. How will Iraq return to its high moral standards before disruptions due to the sanctions impact?
Perhaps the most conspicuously hit by sanctions, many children have been forced into becoming bread-earners, with the dropout rate from schools at some 20%-30%, in a country where educational standards through tertiary levels have been very high for many years. Not only are many children now expected to work by their parents and contribute to the well-being of the family, but also they have been forced into street crime unknown in Baghdad and in other cities. The long-term damage of this will become apparent in the years to come as street children plus many rural children grow up with low expectations and without the benefit of basic education. Unchecked illiteracy rates and other educational deficiencies will increase, thereby having a negative effect on the population and the country's future productivity. These various changes in respect to children within the family have threatened the social order throughout much of Iraq and weakened the importance normally accorded to the well being of children within the family and extended family system.
Under the economic collapse throughout Iraq today, young adults freshly trained and graduated find it extremely difficult to locate employment with new found skills. Thousands of young people have become idle whereas they should be actively employed. Unemployment among men in particular has become nothing short of a critical problem. Young women have many fewer options than they have enjoyed in many years. Increased levels of frustration, impatience, anger, and boredom are apparent, as is the widespread sense of despair at the situation and in terms of the future in general. The economic hardships place concomitant strains on maintaining social relationships, inability to marry, and within existing marriages. Where the basic cost of living has increased many fold, and a modest standard of life has become impossible to attain or sustain, in lieu of unemployment, thousands more professionals find themselves doing menial jobs that pay more than teaching, civil service, or other appropriate intellectual endeavors. Civil servants and university professors take second jobs driving taxis, for example. Greatly overqualified doctors and engineers end up guarding the United Nations premises in Baghdad.
Let me turn to the problem of brain drain. This phenomenon has many consequences, one of which may be the permanent and significant loss of professionals overseas. Whereas the numbers are not fully know, given that many have exited illegally, it is estimated that some two million Iraqi professionals may be working outside the country. These men and women were the driving force for intellectual endeavor, technological growth and change, and for an educational system that has been of an extraordinarily high caliber for many years. They were also relatively high-income breadwinners in a middle class now much diminished. Again the negative implications may most acutely felt in the long-term when Iraq's inability or ability to successfully compete in regional and world markets and in scientific pursuits and advancement as a result of this situation may be severely felt. Not only will the departure of much of the country's expertise impede upon Iraq's ability to recover economically and technologically, but their departure has ripped families apart leaving single parent inadequacies and has contributed further to the social damage that sanctions have created.
Another negative but lesser known impact of sanctions has been the severe reduction in the increasingly prominent role women were beginning to play in the country. Whereas women making inroads into the workforce was significantly boosted during the Iran-Iraq war, when professional services, including civil service functions, plus women police persons and bus driving, for example, became new opportunities for trained women, due to the economic collapse brought about by sanctions many women have now been obliged to give up their suddenly low paying civil service jobs in order to work at home at menial, but better paid occupations. Their capacity to continue to satisfy middle and senior level civil service functions has been undermined by a monthly income level equal to perhaps one tenth of the price of a pair of shoes. In other words, it has become too expensive to go out and work. Some have continued to serve in the civil service only because their families were able to subsidize their transportation and work-related expenditures. Some have done this to stay in touch with the relative sophistication of civil service functions and the possibility of access to ideas and reading material. Those who stay home, like many Iraqis today, are shutoff from the news and information about the world outside the boarders of the country itself. Other professional women have been obliged to work in sweatshops as part of a family effort to put food on the table. They have been obliged to abandon hopes of marriage for themselves and having a family of their own, obliged as they are to support existing family members. Thus many advances that women in Iraq have made in recent decades have been set back and opportunities have been lost in many individual cases forever.
Despite the considerable coverage of Gulf War missile and bomb damage, not many people outside of Iraq are aware of the density and comprehensiveness of the damage to the environment and urban and other civilian infrastructure. Sanctions have largely prevented the reconstruction and rehabilitation of this war damage and today the people of Iraq continue to suffer greatly from the lack of adequate electric power now running at less than 40% of what it was in 1990. There is a ruined national and international phone communication system that does not function adequately, a loss of postal services, collapse of banking, breakdown of train and air transportation, and destroyed private and public infrastructure, contributing to massive unemployment and the loss of purchasing capacity. Homes were destroyed; electric plants, domestic airports, buses and other vehicles, food storage, food testing laboratories, grain silos, water pumping and purification plants destroyed by missile and bomb attacks; health facilities, schools, public builds and stores, likewise destroyed. Hospitals and rural health clinics were extensively damaged. In summary the war damaged the entire civilian infrastructure, necessary to sustain life and society. The rebuilding continues, but it is severely hampered by lack of resources, lack of supplies, equipment and parts prohibited under the sanctions regime. Iraq is typical of an oil rich economy, heavily dependent on imports of all kinds, and under existing circumstances, this of course no longer functions.
The sanctions have also served to isolate the intelligentsia, the professionals, and others in Iraq from the world at large. The great majority of people today do not have access to international television or even overseas reading material. This is problematic in terms of separating the Iraqi people from the positive aspects of Western thinking, much of which remains positive towards Iraq and the plight of its people. Equally unfortunate is the lack of access by professional classes, including the medical profession, to the latest technological and other reading material related and necessary to their professional requirements. They are unable to travel abroad and mix in the academic and technological settings frequented in the past. They have lost touch professionally and personally with a global network of like-minded professionals. Young people grow up without the benefit of overseas exposure and exposure to educational innovation and technological change.
One of the offshoots of this isolation is alienation. That is the growth of a younger generation of men and women who have not traveled overseas, cannot study overseas and cannot communicate overseas. They are maturing without the benefits of being aware of positive thinking with regard to Iraq and the Arab world. The media material they tend to see often highlights the negative on the part of Western and other states' attitude to Iraq and its people. Without the benefits and the sophistication of overseas exposure the next generation may become dangerously introverted and defensive similar to the situation being experienced in the number of other countries in the region in which Iraq is situated. This phenomenon, together with a lot of other aspects of the damage of sanctions, will not be easy to correct and change positively. The consequences for the relations between Iraq and its neighboring countries and the rest of the world may, in fact, be dangerous.
Let's look at the future political orientation. An associated danger is that the unhealthy psychological environment that sanctions are currently sustaining will come to permeate political and decision making spheres. This raises the question of how the longer-term effects of sanctions will determine the future political orientation and what implications this will have on Iraq's relation with the outside world.
I understand that the impact of this alienation is already being felt within the Ba'ath Party where the middle and senior members are finding that the younger membership coming up behind them are both frustrated and angry at the "moderate" position being taken by the party leadership today. Apparently they find the compromise and continuing willingness to work with the United Nations despite eight years of sanctions to be both unfathomable and unacceptable. It is not clear how much longer their impatience can be held in check by the present more mature officials in control, just about all of whom have been educated at the post-graduate level overseas and certainly have traveled overseas. Perhaps the recent decision vis-a-vis UNSCOM reflects this bottom-up pressure in the realm of domestic politics in Iraq. The impression that the President of Iraq operates alone and runs the country as a one-man show I believe to be incorrect. There is a reality of domestic politics, which even the President and his close associates have got to take into consideration.
With a younger generation of Iraqis finding a situation that they deem to be impossible and discriminatory, one can only visualize the formation of a radical movement to reverse the conditions imposed by sanctions which utilizes the despair and discontent existing among the younger generation as a basis for support. The imposition through sanctions of harsh conditions effecting the populace in a country recovering from the effects of two wars may play a substantial part in shaping Iraq's future political characteristics. One can only fear therefore what history's most comprehensive and debilitating sanctions regime may have on the future of Iraq, the region and the world. As a result of isolation, the danger of breeding fanaticism, deep seated resentment and the chances that such characteristics will come to influence the future decision making processes in this country are very real. Such a happening would not be a new one, most especially within the Arab world, and the consequences may not be controlled easily within the country and might well have a negative impact outside. In final analysis, it is impossible to speculate exactly what the future will bring, but it is similarly impossible to discount alienation and its political consequences becoming a reality.
Among some member states there seems to be a perception that sanctions and their continuation will bring about positive political change, that is, move Iraq towards a more Western-style participatory democracy. What such states do not appear to appreciate is that those Iraqis still thinking about governance at all may well be overseas or fully occupied with family survival, including employment opportunities, the health conditions of their children, having a nutritious food on the table, and essentially meeting the most basic needs of family members. The problem is compounded by the fact that because of the Iran-Iraq war the demand on wage earners and heads of families is exacerbated by an extraordinary prevalence of war widows and single-parent families. It would seem that only upon the economic and social recovery of Iraq would individuals have time and possibly inclination to begin to focus upon a system of government that might be more participatory, less intrusive, and one which diminishes the role of government. To the contrary, a state of near total dependency on the part of the population on government services is the situation at present. At the present time it is calculated that needy families protected by the Social Care law has grown by a rate of 40% by 1995, underlining that the dependency of the Iraqi people has been strengthened by sanctions. Furthermore, there has been increased pressure on government-supported institutions for the disabled, orphans, and the aged due to the weakening of traditional extended family systems. If it is indeed the will of the international community ultimately to establish and develop mutually beneficial political, economic, and social interaction among states, and in this particular case with Iraq, and to promote the kind of democratic governance that the United Nations charter encourages, then the current policy of applying sanctions would appear to be totally counterproductive.
To wind up, let me refer briefly to educational and cultural consequences. The most damaging implications of sanctions on educational equipment such as computers, supplies, and the ineffectiveness of many educational institutions and facilities may be felt in the future are dropout rates, illiteracy rates rise and educational standards fall. The lack of basic child health needs and conditions, lack of school transportation, and the often pitiful state of classroom conditions and lack of sanitation, lack of books and other needs, now contribute to a very low attendance rate. The state of disrepair of some 8000 schools serves only to exacerbate this-notwithstanding the effect this is having on the teaching profession. It has been estimated the thousands of registered teachers have left the profession due to a variety of conditions that they face daily, combined with their need for income plus some sense of professional accomplishment and satisfaction. The destruction of antiquities during the Gulf War and the enforced neglect of sites throughout Mesopotamia, have now led to looting and sale of invaluable items overseas. Work at just about all archeological sites have just about ceased, bringing to a halt the significant work over recent decades of bringing to light the extraordinary influence that Mesopotamia has had over Western development, culture, and thinking. In the school system, many national projects aimed at assisting in the development of cultural maturity have been suspended or canceled due to the lack of funds, such as the major National Faith Campaign for the development of Islamic education. The freeze on cultural relations imposed by the sanctions regime means that study missions and cultural exchange programs have been either restricted or severely limited. This places great impediments on Iraq's ability to develop its appreciation for foreign cultures as well as its ability to nurture its own. Perhaps the only positive development is that the sanctions have boosted the attendance in this secular society of Iraqis at the local mosques. Prayer has become one way to survive the long years of sanctions imposed by the Security Council.
In summary, sanctions continue to kill children and sustain high levels of malnutrition. Sanctions are undermining cultural and educational recovery. Sanctions will not change governance to democracy. Sanctions encourage isolation, alienation, and possibly fanaticism. Sanctions may create a danger to peace in the region and in the world. Sanctions destroy Islamic and Iraqi family values. Sanctions have undermined the advancement of women and have encouraged a massive brain drain. Sanctions destroy the lives of children, their expectations and those of young adults. Sanctions breach the Charter of the United Nations, the Conventions of Human Rights, and the Rights of the Child. Sanctions are counterproductive, and have no positive impact on the leadership, and sanctions lead to unacceptable human suffering, often the young and the innocent. As I have said already, I can find no legitimate justification for sustaining economic sanctions under these circumstances. To do so in my view is to disregard the high principles of the United Nation's Charter, the Convention of Human Rights, the very moral leadership and the credibility of the United Nations itself. Continuation also undermines the global role of the United States.