IRAQ SANCTIONS CAUSE DEVASTATION, UN COMMENT
HALF A MILLION CHILDREN UNDER FIVE ARE DEAD IN IRAQ ' WHO IS
An Interview with Denis Halliday, Former Assistant Secretary-General
By: David Edwards
Published by Medialens.org 17 June 2002
According to Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, 4,000 more
under five are dying every month in Iraq than would have died before
sanctions were imposed. Over the eight years that these sanctions
in place, 500,000 extra children under five are estimated to have
These are extraordinary figures that lead directly to the question
responsibility. For citizens of Western democracies it seems almost
inconceivable that we could be to blame. We have grown up in the
knowledge that the West is a cradle of democracy and human rights, a
of civilisation and sanity. During the Kosovo crisis last year,
Clinton insisted, 'We are upholding our values and advancing the
peace. We cannot respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when
conflict turns into ethnic cleansing where we can make a difference,
try, and that is clearly the case in Kosovo.' Likewise, Prime
declared that Kosovo was a new kind of war in which we were fighting
values' - a logical step, given that Blair had previously announced,
will make the protection and promotion of human rights a central
part of our
In the case of Iraq, the salient facts are very clear: Iraq is ruled
ruthless and violent dictator, Saddam Hussein; he presides over a
subject to the most wide-ranging sanctions regime in modern history;
thousands of Iraqi children are dying every month.
The claims and counter-claims surrounding these facts are
rights groups, and even leading figures within the United Nations,
that the sanctions regime imposed by the West, with food and vital
blocked by the UN Sanctions Committee, is a primary cause of this
rate of child mortality. In response, Western governments argue that
Saddam who has been deliberately withholding food and medicines made
available by the UN's 'oil for food' programme, and therefore it is
is responsible for the mass death of children, not Western leaders.
With these claims in mind, I interviewed Denis Halliday, former
Secretary-General of the United Nations, who resigned after 34 years
the UN in September 1998. Halliday spoke to me over the phone from
Since his resignation as humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, his
Hans von Sponeck, also resigned on February 13 of this year, asking,
long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such
for something they have never done?'' Two days later, Jutta
of the World Food Programme in Iraq, also resigned, saying privately
what was being done to the people of Iraq was intolerable.
I suggested to Halliday that it must have been a huge wrench to
the United Nations after 34 years of work. I asked him what
was that made him take such drastic nation?'
'I worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I was
involved in development activity, working closely with governments
address their issues of poverty and education and economic well
being ' all
very positive; I'd do it all again tomorrow. Then I allowed myself
sucked into the management in New York: I was Director of Personnel
for four years and Boutros-Ghali promoted me to Assistant
and made me head of Human Resources for the UN itself.
I volunteered to go to Baghdad and I set about trying to make it
work, and of course found out very quickly that it does not work -
it wasn't designed to work; it's not funded to work; it's strangled
by the Sanctions Committee of the Security
Council - and in a matter of six weeks I was already trying to get
Security Council to assist me, but I got no support whatsoever from
United Nations in New York. So then I spoke to the French, Russian
Chinese ambassadors who are in Baghdad, with the help of the Unicef
we set about doubling the programme which we accomplished in fact in
or four months through the Security Council.'
Did these changes happen solely on your initiative?'
Absolutely, it would never have happened, believe me, if we hadn't
that process in Baghdad. But to come back to your question of
exactly why I
resigned? After that development work, to preside over a programme
a sense was designed to stop deterioration but in fact did no more
sustain an already unacceptable situation of high levels of child
adult mortality and malnutrition, I found this was incompatible with
past, incompatible with my feelings about the United Nations, and
incompatible with the very United Nations Charter itself and human
themselves. There was no way I was going to be associated with this
programme and manage this ghastly thing in Iraq, it was not a
for me. So I put in a year, I did my best, we doubled the programme,
The British and US Governments claim that there are plenty of
medicines being delivered to Iraq, the problem is that they are
cynically withheld by the Iraqi regime. In a letter to the New
recently, Peter Hain, Minister of State, wrote: 'The 'oil for food'
programme has been in place for three years and could have been
since 1991 if Saddam had not blocked it. The Iraqi people have never
the benefits they should have.' Is there any truth in that?'
'There's no basis for that assertion at all. The Secretary-General
reported repeatedly that there is no evidence that food is being
the government in Baghdad. We have 150 observers on the ground in
a wheat shipment comes in from god knows where, in Basra, they
grain to some of the mills, they follow the flour to the 49,000
the Iraqi government employs for this programme, then they follow
to the recipients and even interview some of the recipients ' there
evidence of diversion of foodstuffs whatever in the last two years.
Secretary-General would have reported that.
What about medical supplies? In January 1999, George Robertson, then
secretary, said, 'Saddam Hussein has in warehouses $275 million
medicines and medical supplies which he refuses to distribute.'
'We have had problems with medical drugs and supplies, there have
delays there. There are several good reasons for that. One is that
Iraqi government did some poor contracting; so they contracted huge
$5 million of aspirins or something ' to some small company that
couldn't do the job and had to re-tool and wasted three, four, five
maybe. So that was the first round of mistakes. But secondly, the
Committee weighed in and they would look at a package of contracts,
ten items, and they would deliberately approve nine but block the
knowing full well that without the tenth item the other nine were of
Those nine then go ahead ' they're ordered, they arrive - and are
warehouses; so naturally the warehouses have stores that cannot in
used because they're waiting for other components that are blocked
What was the motive behind blocking the one item out of ten?
'Because Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have
games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years
' it's a deliberate ploy. For the British Government to say that the
involved for vaccinating kids are going to produce weapons of mass
destruction, this is just nonsense. That's why I've been using the
'genocide', because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the
Iraq. I'm afraid I have no other view at this late stage.'
The British government claims that Saddam is using the money from
for food' programme for anything other than food. Peter Hain, for
recently stated, 'Over $8 billion a year should be available to Iraq
humanitarian programme - not only for foods and medicines, but also
water, electricity and educational material. No one should starve.'
'Of the $20 billion that has been provided through the 'oil for
programme, about a third, or $7 billion, has been spent on UN
reparations to Kuwait and assorted compensation claims. That leaves
billion available to the Iraqi government. If you divide that figure
population of Iraq, which is 22 million, it leave some $190 per head
population per year over 3 years ' that is pitifully inadequate.'
Does the West want to hold on to Saddam? If so, why?
'Bush or somebody in the United States made a decision not to
Saddam Hussein. What is the motive' Traditionally the motive was
needed him to provide stability in Iraq, to keep Iraq together, to
Kurds going their way and the Shia perhaps going their way in the
so on; and the Shia of course would threaten Saudi Arabia and
Shia as opposed to Suni ' so he's a good enemy this man, he's great!
Aburish in his new book has said that the CIA has worked with him
years. So there is a ploy to keep him in power, but of course to
at the same time, to enable him to survive without having any
threaten his neighbours. If you look at the sales of US military
Saddam is the best salesman in town. I think over $100 billion has
to the Saudis, Kuwaitis, the Gulf states, Turkey, Israel, and so on.
thanks to Saddam. Just last week they sold $6.2 billion of military
to the United Arab Emirates. What on earth does a little country
hardware like that for' Saddam provides that ' he should be getting
How many people share your views in the UN' Is it a widespread
'Well I'll tell you, when I walk into the UN today, it's so amusing;
come up to me from nowhere, delegates and staff, and sort of look
and whisper in my ear, 'You're doing a great job, keep it up!' and
run away. There's a sort of a fear, I think, that to be associated
Halliday now is dangerous if you want a career in the UN; that's a
perception. In fact I find a lot of people, particularly from the
Islamic world, and 'the South', are so pleased that somebody from
has had the - whatever it is ' to stand up and take on this issue.
from them it has no credibility; coming from me it has a certain
credibility. Of course Peter Hain is trying to destroy that as
quickly as he
can. But I think I've hung onto some credibility in most quarters
think the resignation of Hans von Sponeck has underlined it. So I
between the two of us, representing almost 65 years of experience,
two and a
half years of managing the damn thing in Iraq, we both have exactly
view, and I think that says something. A BBC producer recently said
'That's an indictment'.'
The Guardian today reported Iraq's rejection of UN Resolution 1284
grounds that it indicated no end to sanctions and arms inspections.
your view of 1284?
'Von Sponeck and I have exactly the same view: it's designed to
programme. First of all it took a year to assemble that resolution,
can believe that. Secondly, it gives the Iraqis no specifics: it
tell them exactly what is required, and when, in terms of disarming.
Thirdly, if you listen to Scott Ritter, they have no nuclear,
biological capacity left, but of course they have the mental
they have the scientists - some of them - and they're always going
there and there's nothing you can do about that. And Dr. Hans Blix,
Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, very
has said, 'Look, I can go in there 24 hours a day for ten years and
never be able to say that there isn't a half a pound of chemical
behind, or whatever; it's just impossible'. And that's why this
programme is futile. We've got to reopen a dialogue with Iraq, like
done with North Korea. We need to find out what the concerns of the
government are now, what can be done for the future.'
Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi foreign minister, says there won't be any
developments until after the US presidential elections. What do you
'I saw Tariq Aziz in October and that's what he said to me also. The
outgoing lame duck US President normally never changes basic policy
the election year, and I think that if Clinton tried he'd be shot
the Congress - which is controlled by the Republicans after all. He
couldn't get away with it. He hasn't got the stature of a Nixon
China, for example. And Gore and Bush, both, are repeating the same
nonsense: 'Blame Saddam Hussein, retain economic sanctions,'
think, understanding the humanitarian consequences.'
Is there a prospect of real change over, say, the next one or two
'Oh Christ I hope it doesn't take that long, but you may well be
I think John's film ['Paying the Price ' Killing the Children of
John Pilger] has made a huge difference, certainly in Britain and
but maybe in parts of Europe, hopefully later in Australia and
someday in this country. I think von Sponeck's resignation has
we've had some new statements in Congress and in Westminster about
humanitarian infanticide: something is changing here, but it's just
very very slowly. Hans von Sponeck and I will be in Washington on
the 3rd of
May to testify in Congress or to speak to a Congressional meeting.
6th of May, von Sponeck and I will be in London to do a briefing.
hoping to go to Brussels, to Paris, to Rome, Berlin. I think it's
upstream into the area of parliamentarians. In France, members of
have been very active against economic sanctions. I just saw the
foreign minister last week and he's also come out and is deeply
about economic sanctions. There is a movement, a recognition, that
sanctions, in the case of Iraq in particular, are a disastrous
are totally unacceptable as a UN tool. In the meantime, the
General, I'm afraid, is not saying this; he's talking about
children of Iraq, which is just outrageous: we're killing the
Iraq. I'm extremely disappointed with the Secretary-General; he just
have the courage to say what really has got to be said. I wonder
Hammarskjold [former UN Secretary-General] would have made of this
now? I think Hammarskjold would have spoken up a long time ago
programme like this - so it's very sad to see this happening.'
Who, in your view, is primarily responsible for the deaths of those
children under five?
'All the members of the Permanent Security Council, when they passed
reconfirmed that economic sanctions had to be sustained, knowing the
consequences. That constitutes 'intent to kill', because we know
sanctions are killing several thousand per month. Now, of the five
members, three abstained; but an abstention is no better than a vote
a sense. Britain and America of course voted for this continuation.
of them don't count because they're lackeys, or they're paid off.
country that stood up was Malaysia, and they also abstained. But you
by abstaining instead of using your veto, when you are a permanent
you're guilty because you're continuing something that has this
impact. However, I would normally point the finger at London and
because they are the most active in sustaining sanctions: they are
who will not compromise. All the other members would back down if
Washington would change their position. I think that's quite clear.
unfortunately Blair and Clinton have an almost personal investment
demonising Saddam Hussein. That's very hard to get out of, they have
sympathy, but they created their own problem. Once you've demonised
somebody, it's awfully difficult to turn around and say, 'Well
not such a bad guy, he likes kids'. Under the Baath Party regime,
they ran a
social welfare system in Iraq that was so intense it was almost
claustrophobic, and they made damn sure that the average Iraqi was
taken care of, and they did it deliberately to divert them from any
political activity and to maintain stability and allow them (Baath
run the country. [US Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright has also
into the demonisation hole: her whole career is linked to
policy, although she didn't start it.'
How do you feel about the performance of the media in covering this
Has it been adequate?
'I'm very disappointed with the BBC. The BBC has been very
favour of sanctions, I found, in the last couple of years. But
recently - as
recently as three weeks ago - that changed. After the von Sponeck
resignation they did an introductory piece to a programme I was on
brilliant. It described the catastrophe brilliantly. So even the BBC
to be coming around. Here in the United States the media has been
disastrous, because the media in this country is controlled by large
corporations like Westinghouse, like General Electric, which are
manufacturers, and they don't want to highlight the 'no fly zone'
which takes place almost every day, or all the other things:
Tomahawk missiles ' by the way, they're going into Derry in Ireland
they've just got the media under control. Having said that, I've
been on all
the networks here at one time or another, but they're not pushing
just dies here. The New York Times gives usually three or four lines
fly zone' bombing every couple of days.'
Have you been heavily in demand since Pilger's film was shown' How
interviews are you doing?
'I cannot handle the number of speaking engagements I get, I'm
down. I'm doing on average, I would say, two talks a week and
or four interviews, even in the slow times. When von Sponeck
think I had 25 interviews in four days. People are tired of Iraq;
it to go away. I sympathise with that. I want it to go away myself,
want it of course resolved first. The Americans just don't want to
about it; it's too uncomfortable. They don't want to be reminded
they've just spent $1.3 billion last year on bombing this country.'
It's awful even to think about it, but there is a real racist
going on here isn't there'
'I fear so. Iraqi kids don't count apparently. It is a racist
really is no question about that. It's ugly.'
David Edwards, May 2000
Interview with Denis Halliday, Former Assistant Secretary-General of