Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Is the Continued Use of Sanctions as Implemented against Iraq a Violation of International Human Rights?

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Is the Continued Use of Sanctions as Implemented against Iraq a Violation of International Human Rights?

Article excerpt


Since 1990, the fate of the Iraqi population has constantly been threatened by the most extensive sanctions in the history of the United Nations (UN). These sanctions were imposed on Iraq to influence its government to change its nuclear warfare policies and comply with UN inspections of its chemical, nuclear and biological weapons. The impact of the sanctions, however, has not coerced the Iraqi government to alter its policies, but has instead led to a humanitarian crisis among the innocent civilian population.(1) Saddam Hussein still remains in power and the Iraqi government suffers a small portion of what the economy and people do.(2)

The international community employs sanctions, inter alia, as a method of policing human rights policies in other countries.(3) But when the enforcement of the sanctions worsens the humanitarian situation or violates human rights, the efficacy of the method employed must be examined. After ten long years of working toward its goal, it does not appear that these sanctions are means capable of resulting in the ends they are designed to achieve. Assuming arguendo that the UN is successfully achieving its objectives, the UN's use of force still should not violate the well-established principle of war "proportionality".(4) This doctrine represents the concern that attacks against military targets should not cause excessive civilian suffering.(5)

The employment of sanctions is often criticized as an ineffective method of bringing about the destabilization of political leaders.(6) The UN economic sanctions on Iraq meet standards asserted by several scholars as criteria for "successful" sanctions.(7) But after the imposition of more than twenty-five resolutions against Iraq, the UN still has not gained Iraq's compliance with several international norms.(8)

This paper examines whether the continued implementation of UN sanctions against Iraq are a violation of international human rights. The Security Council's accountability for its actions will be discussed in light of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Charter.(9) The Convention is addressed because the impact from the sanctions affects children the most detrimentally.

A. The Security Council Resolutions as the Basis for Sanctions

On August 6, 1990, following the Iraqi military invasion and illegal occupation of Kuwait, the Security Council imposed comprehensive sanctions on Iraq in Resolution 661.(10) This resolution took measures to secure Iraqi compliance with UN inspection of its chemical, biological and nuclear warfare.(11) Resolution 661 put a blanket ban on the importation of Iraqi products and the exportation of all products to Iraq, except those used strictly for medical or humanitarian purposes.(12) It prevented States from exchanging funds or other economic resources with Iraq, unless used for humanitarian purposes.(13)

The authoritative basis for economic sanctions is in Chapter VII of the Charter.(14) The Security Council has the authority to determine the existence of any threat to peace.(15) It "may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and ... call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures.(16) The UN may be attracted to the use of sanctions on Iraq since sanctions fall short of the use of military force, but still send a strong message of disapproval.(17)

Even though the Resolution exempted from the sanctions foodstuffs and supplies for essential civilian needs, the list of non-essential humanitarian articles is extensive.(18) Textbooks, spare parts for ambulances, nails, a variety of textiles, light bulbs and other commodities that were once readily available, are now unavailable to Iraqi persons.(19) "Dual use" materials that provide a risk to the development of warfare are also prohibited. Chlorine for drinking water is one such item that has greatly contributed to Iraq's humanitarian catastrophe. …

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