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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

No Sign of UNMOVIC Beginning Work as Spotlight Remains on Impact of Sanctions in Iraq

Preparations continue in establishing the new United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) controversially mandated by Security Council resolution 1284 of December 17, 1999, to replace the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). As reported in the last issue, the Commission's Executive Chairman, former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Hans Blix of Sweden, has been appointed. On March 10, a 16-member 'College of Commissioners', to be chaired by Blix, was appointed by the Secretary-General. The Commissioners are: Abigun Ade Abiodun (Nigeria), Reinhard Bohm (Germany), Ronald Cleminson (Canada), Cong Guang (China), Thérèse Delpech (France), Robert Einhorn (United States), Yuriy V. Fedotov (Russia), Kostyantyn Gryshchenko (Ukraine), Gunterio G. Heineken (Argentina), Hannelore Hoppe (UN Department of Disarmament Affairs), Takanori Kazuhara (Japan), Roque Monteleone-Neto (Brazil), Annaswamy Narayana Prasad (India), Marjatta Rautio (Finland), Paul Sculte (United Kingdom), and Chiik Sylla (Senegal). A spokesperson for the Secretary-General explained: "The Commissioners will meet regularly to review the implementation of…resolution 1284…and other relevant resolutions, and provide professional advice and guidance to the Executive Chairman, including on significant policy decisions and on written reports to be submitted to the Council through the Secretary-General."

The Commissioners appear unlikely, however, to have any progress to review, as Iraq's commitment to complete non-cooperation with UNMOVIC shows no sign of wavering. On March 12, referring to diplomatic rumblings that Iraq might be prepared to move to a more conciliatory position, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told Radio Monte Carlo: "To say Iraq has not categorically rejected the resolution is a misleading statement… Any thought in that direction is a streak of imagination." In Ramadan's view, the proposed UNMOVIC regime would establish "a protectorate under…endless sanctions." Iraq insists that it has fulfilled all the disarmament obligations stipulating in UN resolutions, and is demanding an immediate lifting of all sanctions. On March 2, Ramadan described resolution 1284 as "dirty", concealing "in its contents the wickedness of old British colonialism and modern American hegemony." On March 1, formally assuming his post as Executive Chairman, Blix told reporters that cooperation was the only way for Iraq to achieve its own objective of a lifting of the embargo:

"The Security Council confirmed the right of UNMOVIC to unrestricted access to sites and to information and, indeed, I intend to exercise that. … I think such inspections are indispensable in order to get…credible evidence about Iraq… The Security Council has designed the resolution in such a way that it should have some positive elements for Iraq, notably the possibility of the suspension of sanctions but also in alleviating the condition under which they can buy products under the oil-for-food programme… I am determined we shall exercise the right to unrestricted access, but I am also determined that our role is not to humiliate the Iraqis… I am totally aware of the hardships of the Iraqi people are subjected to and the best way out…is that they cooperate."

Concerns over the scale of civilian suffering in Iraq prompted the resignation of two senior UN officials - Hans von Sponeck, co-ordinator of UN humanitarian programmes in Iraq, and Jutta Burghadt, head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq - in mid-February. Leaving Iraq on February 23, von Sponeck told reporters: "We have to think how to lift sanctions which are punishing the wrong target." On March 1, he added: "I have never argued that the difficulties under which the population exists is only due to external factors. It is much more complex. … [But] I'm a person with a mind and a heart…and I for myself didn't see that I could be useful to the United Nations and to myself given my interpretation of the local situation." Although the US has been strongly critical of von Sponeck, an unnamed official was quoted on February 25 as acknowledging the case for relaxing restrictions on the import of certain "grey area" items, such as chlorine, into Iraq. According to the official: "We want to go at it [applying the sanctions] with a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer." However, speaking in Dubai on February 29, America's Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, repeated the view of Washington that blame for the suffering lay solely with the Government of President Saddam Hussein: "They rejected Blix. They did not talk to Blix and did not talk to the United Nations on the details of UNMOVIC and its mission… We are ready for dialogue. Iraq is the side that rejected that, so Iraq, and alas the innocent people of Iraq, will suffer." Describing Hussein as "one of the most dangerous men in the world today," Holbrooke added: "It is not the time to give Saddam Hussein a chance by hinting to him that the sanctions…should be reconsidered. That would be a victory for Saddam Hussein. It is not conceivable that the United Nations or the United States would lift sanctions or reconsider the sanctions as a reward for Saddam Hussein's refusal to accept UNMOVIC entering Iraq…"

On March 15, Secretary-General Annan released a report on the impact of the sanctions arguing that the UN was doing all it could to minimise suffering while reiterating that "effective implementation" of resolution 1284 was the key to fundamental relief. Speaking in London on March 14, Annan said he did "accept…to some extent [that] the sanctions have hurt the Iraqi population," adding: "There's been a lot of discussion in the United nations generally that as we move into the future we should be looking at smarter sanctions that focus on the individuals whose behaviour we want to target rather than a blunt instrument that may affect the entire population… But I assure you we are doing everything to improve the lot of the Iraqi people." On March 3, the UN Office of the Iraq Programme announced that, as of the start of the month, the UN had "begun implementation of accelerated procedures for the approval of contracts for humanitarian supplies for Iraq," acting on the stipulation in resolution 1284 (paragraph 17) directing the "Security Council Committee…responsible for approving all applications for the export of humanitarian supplies to Iraq to approve lists for certain items, including foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and basic medical supplies, which would no longer require submission to the Committee for approval."

Reports: Outgoing UN official leaves Iraq, Associated Press (AP), February 23; US allowing more aid to Iraq, AP, February 25; US looks to ease Iraqi sanctions, AP, February 25; US says Iraqis suffer if UN arms body rejected, Reuters, February 29; Blix takes over UN weapons inspectors for Iraq, US State Department (Office of International Information Programs), March 1; Iraqis said living in poverty, AP, March 2; Iraq rejects cooperation with UN arms body, Reuters, March 2; Accelerated procedures for the approval of contracts for specified humanitarian supplies for Iraq, United nations Office of the Iraq Programme, March 3; Secretary-General appoints 16 commissioners for UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UN Press Release SG/A/724, March 10; Iraq leader rules out cooperation, AP, March 12; Annan says UN looking for 'smarter sanctions,' Reuters, March 14; Annan hopeful humanitarian situation in Iraq can be alleviated - report, UN News Service, March 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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