Sanctioned Suffering: The UN's Bankrupt Policy in Iraq

By Halliday, Denis | Harvard International Review, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Sanctioned Suffering: The UN's Bankrupt Policy in Iraq


Halliday, Denis, Harvard International Review


Denis Halliday is the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq.

As UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq from September 1997 to September 1998, Denis Halliday helped to double the oil revenues allowed for the Oil for Food Program imposed by the UN Security Council sanctions on Iraq. Mr. Halliday resigned from the post in Iraq and from the United Nations effective October 31, 1998, after serving some 34 years in the organization.

Prior to his assignment in Iraq, Mr. Halliday served as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management of the United Nations. During this period, he introduced on behalf of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly a strategy for the better management of some 15,000 UN staff world-wide. Senior Editor Pedro Pimentel spoke with Mr. Halliday in November about his decision to resign from the United Nations.

HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:

Your mother and father were founding members of the Foreign Students Society in Dublin in the 1930s. and you have said: "I grew up with Indians and Chinese. Quakers travel a lot and like to stay with each other. I always had a sense that Ireland was small and I wanted to go out and see the world. It was on my mind from the beginning." How has your background influenced your chosen vocation, and how do you feel that it has influenced your decision to resign?

It's true, my parents were very active in the Irish/Dublin community for international students, Quakers have always had this global obsession, and you sort of pick it up if you grow up with it. So the first thing I did, actually, was to work overseas with Quakers in East Africa as a volunteer, in an organization which was the equivalent of the Peace Corps. This experience certainly led to my interest in the United Nations--I attended a United Nations summer school in 1958 and thereafter planned to somehow make a career or contribute to the work of the United Nations.

This happened much more quickly than I thought--in 1964, I set out to Iran via the United Nations. Winding up in Iraq 34 years later is, in a way, closure. But most of my career has been in Southeast Asia and not really the Middle East. In terms of the impact of this background on my career, I should mention that my father was the head of the Irish Pacifist Movement, and I think that he would be rather fascinated to see how his son has applied his views.

I believe passionately in disarmament, both for the government of Iraq and for the whole world. I have no reluctance, therefore, in imposing disarmament on Iraq and everybody else. But the only way to do that is to control arms and manufactured arms sales, which I know is a next-to-impossible task. But unless we deal with that, we will never solve the problem. Countries will continue to spend large sums of money on arms rather than on social needs, and continue to kill each other and their neighbors. Disarmament is a fundamental goal for the United Nations and for me personally, given my background as a Quaker.

But I think that the need to speak out now is also a part of my background. Therefore, the opportunity to retire or resign before my sixtieth birthday was viable for me after so many years, and I decided to do so to in order to make a political statement. I could then speak more clearly on the sanctions and their impact on the people and the children of Iraq. I was not able to do this as a senior international civil servant working for the Secretary General. There is a definite relation between my background and my decision.

What are the present social conditions in Iraq that made you decide to critique the current system of sanctions, and how do you think the sanctions have affected these social conditions?

I think that the sanctions have imposed on the people of Iraq desperate conditions. We are most familiar with is malnutrition, which has been sustained for many years now. Probably 30 percent of children under five suffer from malnutrition--20 percent from chronic malnutrition, and five or six percent from acute malnutrition. …

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