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Reports 1995-1998 Edited by Dwain C. Epps

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Statement on the Situation in Iraq

Adopted by the Executive Committee, Geneva, 17-20 February 1998.

Seven years ago Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait resulted in the massive armed retaliation of the coalition forces led by the United States. The air strikes carried out during the Gulf War not only destroyed a major part of Iraq’s military capacity, but also severely damaged its social and economic infrastructure. To force compliance with UN Security Council resolutions demanding the elimination of its biological, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was subjected to severe economic sanctions. The sanctions, however unclearly outlined in time and scope, nevertheless explicitly exempted humanitarian “materials and supplies for essential civilian needs.”

The Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Canberra (February 1991), as the Gulf War broke out, expressed concern at the way this first major world crisis in the post cold war period was handled by the international community. It called for the strengthening of the United Nations as a guarantor of international peace and order and cautioned: “No one government or group of governments should either take or be allowed to take primary responsibility for the resolution of major conflicts beyond their own borders.”

In response to the Gulf crisis, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) established the Ecumenical Relief Service Programme (ERS) to provide relief and assistance to the victims of the war scattered throughout the region. This programme continues, now concentrating on Iraq, seeking to offset some of the effects of the sanctions. In coordination with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), government ministries – particularly those responsible for health and social welfare – and with UN agencies like UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF, ERS ministers to the needs of all Iraqi people irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity.

The seven year long application of economic sanctions has resulted in a further severe deterioration of the social and economic conditions of the civilian population of Iraq. Well over a million persons, 60% of them children under five years of age, have died. Recent reports issued by private humanitarian relief organizations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, have drawn attention to the plight of the Iraqi people. UN Security Council resolution 986, referred to as the “Oil for Food” agreement, was adopted in September 1995, but implemented only last year. Yet only half of the proceeds from the sale of oil (US$ 1 billion every 90 days) is designated to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. The balance is reserved for war reparations for UN administered relief work in the northern provinces, and to defray costs of UN monitors in Iraq. The fundamental needs of the civilian population of Iraq are not adequately met through this arrangement.

The WCC Central Committee, when it met in Geneva in September 1997, expressed concern about the situation in Iraq. Recalling that sanctions are by definition coercive and that they often inflict additional suffering on affected populations, particularly children, the Central Committee asked International Affairs staff to undertake a visit to Iraq to study the impact of sanctions in light of the sanctions criteria contained in the “Memorandum and Recommendations on the Application of Sanctions” adopted by the Central Committee in 1995. The WCC delegation visit to Iraq took place from 16 28 January 1998. Its report has been submitted to the Executive Committee.

Since the September 1997 action by the Central Committee, the confrontation between the UN Security Council and the Government of Iraq over the issue of granting unrestricted access by UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) to sites where it suspects chemical and biological weapons are stored has once again taken a serious turn. The US and the UK have again moved additional forces into the Gulf region and are threatening Iraq with renewed military action to force compliance with Security Council resolutions.

The present explosive situation in the Gulf region poses a renewed serious threat to peace, and undermines the authority given to the United Nations Security Council by the Charter.

In its statement of February 1980, issued at Liebfrauenberg, France, the WCC Executive Committee said: “The churches must speak out against the tendency to resume the perilous tactics of brinkmanship. Claims by nations to become the strongest at any cost should be deplored. The churches should make clear in no uncertain terms that perspectives of foreign policy can no longer be seen in terms of ‘liquidating the enemy’ (be it politically, militarily or through economic and cultural pressure).” The Canberra Assembly said: “For the Security Council or the Secretary General, in the exercise of his good offices, to be for some reason unable to act independently and in the true spirit of the UN Charter would be unacceptable. The community of nations cannot afford such a weakening of the UN system. For the sake of world peace, for the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of the authority of the United Nations, its position as guarantor of a comprehensive international peace order must be strengthened.”

The Executive Committee meeting in Geneva, 17 20 February 1998, therefore,

1. Receives with appreciation the report of the WCC delegation to Iraq;

2. With respect to the present threats of military action, the Executive Committee:

2.1 expresses its grave concern at the present massive military build up in the Gulf region by the armed forces of the United States of America, supported by the UK and some other nations which participated in “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991;

2.2 warns, yet again, that renewed military action will result in large-scale casualties and increased suffering by the Iraqi people;

2.3 calls on the churches to press their governments to oppose military action to force Iraq’s further compliance with the UN Security Council demands;

2.4 further calls on the churches to respond to the appeals of the churches in Iraq to join them in prayers for a non violent resolution of the present crisis and to work for justice and lasting peace in the region;

2.5 welcomes and supports the present diplomatic efforts to resolve the stand off between Iraq and the United States over the issue of unrestricted access for UNSCOM inspection teams.

2.6 urges that this matter be brought again to the Security Council, and that no further military steps be taken without its concurrence.

3. With respect to the application of sanctions against Iraq, the Executive Committee:

3.1 recalls and reaffirms the WCC’s criteria for determining the Applicability and Effectiveness of Sanctions;

3.2 considers that the application of sanctions in Iraq fails to meet these criteria which state, inter alia, that the good achieved by sanctions must not be exceeded by the harm that can reasonably be anticipated;

3.3 further considers that these sanctions have resulted in serious violations of the human rights of the Iraqi population by denying them the rights to adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, education, social services and employment;

3.4 deplores the lack of openness and transparency in the decision making procedures of the Sanctions Committee, particularly with respect to its role in approving contracts for the import of humanitarian goods into Iraq;

    1. is convinced that the present sanctions regime has a punitive character and reveals a tendency for political considerations to take precedence over objective evaluation of facts;

    2. appeals to the UN Security Council to undertake a thorough review of the sanctions regime on Iraq, taking into account their impact on the civilian population, and with a view to defining clear and agreed goals with a specific time frame and benchmarks for the full lifting of sanctions;

    3. calls upon the churches to continue their efforts to provide generous relief and humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq.
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