Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

1 February 2001 Edition

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Lift the sanctions on Iraq

On Saturday 27 January, the Campaign to End the Iraq Sanctions staged a demonstration at the Central Bank in Dublin. Those gathered were marking the anniversary of the start of the Gulf War, or ``Desert Storm'', as the Americans termed it.

During that war, 100,000 Iraqi people were killed while television audiences around the world were fed images from cameras mounted on heat seeking missiles, like some surreal video game.

At the time we were led to believe that we were seeing everything that was going on in the war. We saw the smart bombs that could turn on a sixpence and avoid civilians. When the media in Baghdad showed images of civilian casualties, the US and British governments denounced it as Iraqi propaganda.

Today it is known that military bases were not the only targets, but that power stations were bombed and sewerage systems destroyed. The US and British planes were systematically taking on the infrastructure of Iraq.

Today, factories, water purifying plants and hospitals remain in decaying state. Without a basic infrastructure and with the sanctions in place, huge numbers of people are still dying in Iraq.

The bombing has not finished, though the media have decided to ignore the continuous attacks carried out by British and US planes. This results in a very distorted impression of what is happening in Iraq, and of the suffering of the population.

The media constantly reiterating the viciousness of the Iraqi government, but sanctions per se do not pose a threat to Saddam Hussein's power. Sanctions are an implement that always hurt the most vulnerable. The elite, the powerful, the rich have the resources to ensure that they and their families are protected. The poor and ordinary members of Iraqi society do not have such protection. When they get sick, most of the times there is insufficient medical assistance available and they die.

Independent authorities' state that at least 500,000 Iraqi children under five have died since 1990, mainly as a result of the sanctions and the effects of the Gulf War. In August 1999, Unicef reported that the under-five mortality rate in Iraq has more than doubled since the imposition of sanctions. ``Iraq's children are dying at the rate of 600,000 a month -one every eight minutes- in the name of we, the people of the United Nations'', said Denis Halliday, Ireland's former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, who resigned in 1998 to become one of the most fervent anti-sanctions campaigners.

On 13 February 2000, Hans von Sponeck, who succeeded him as humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, resigned. ``How long,'' he asked, ``should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?'' Two days later, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, also quit, saying privately she, too, could not tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people.

Cancer in Iraq has increased dramatically and the World Health Organisation has documented this. Invariably, where drugs are not unavailable or in short supply, they are out of date or do not arrive on time.

The Oil for Food programme has been a complete and utter disaster. Since the programme began at the end of 1996, Iraq has pumped and sold some $35 billion worth of oil. The UN has taken 35% of that amount.

On the intentionally bureaucratic 661 Committee - better known as the Sanctions Committee - named after the UN resolution that implemented the sanctions and made up of the members of the Security Council, every single member can veto any item that is going out to Iraq.

They have placed a hold on $3 billion worth of various items, from baking soda to toothpicks. As Michael Birmingham, from the Campaign to End the Iraq Sanctions explains, ``if they place a hold on only $200,000 worth of goods, this could stop $2 million of items being used, because they just need to take out a vital part of a machine and place a hold on it, like a drug that is need in combination with others in chemotherapy, and none of the drugs would have any effect during treatment.''

The new Bush administration has announced that they will be holding firm on the sanctions until they are satisfied that Iraq has fulfilled all its obligations. But there are knowledgeable voices from the United States proclaiming that the US position on Iraq could be considered a Crime against Humanity. Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark travelled to Baghdad on 13 January 2001. At a press conference he declared: ``The US must end the genocidal sanctions against Iraq. The whole world demands that the sanctions be lifted completely and immediately.''

Pinochet charged over `Carnival of Death'

On Monday 29 January, Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, who has been investigating General Augusto Pinochet's activities during his dictatorship, charged Pinochet with masterminding 57 murders and 18 kidnappings of political opponents carried out by a military hit squad called the ``Caravan of Death'' in 1973.

The ``Caravan of Death'' was a roving helicopter hit squad that toured Chile in 1973, stopping frequently to execute and mutilate civilian prisoners. Pinochet has been charged with ordering these executions.

Lawyers in Chile for the former military ruler will go to court to try to block an order for his house arrest and indictment on murder and kidnapping charges. General Pinochet's lawyers say they will also submit a separate appeal against the legality of Judge Guzman's arrest and indictment warrant.

They are expected to argue that the 85-year old general is too ill to be tried and that the case against him is politically motivated and should be thrown out.

The news that the general faced arrest was greeted with cheers from relatives of some of the victims who had gathered outside the Santiago court.

Judge Guzman first ordered the arrest and indictment of the former dictator two months ago, on 1 December 2000, but the Chilean Supreme Court overturned the ruling because he had failed to interrogate the general before ordering his arrest.

100,000 feared dead in India

Around 100,000 people are feared death after the huge earthquake that shook Western India on Friday, 26 January, the worst to hit India in 50 years. Days after the quake it is clear that time is running out for those trapped under collapsed concrete walls. Hundreds of people who survived the initial shock have died, entombed in the buildings they inhabited.

There have been complaints by NGOs that the badly organised rescue operation, combined with the lack of equipment, were hampering the search for survivors. Rescuers lacked cranes, bulldozers and generators for lights. Soldiers were beginning searches at first light and stopping at sunset.

Fears of another possible earthquake in the area have driven large numbers of people out of Western India. They are migrating to the safety offered by the homes of relatives in neighbouring states.

The Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, touring the devastation in Gujarat, announced a federal relief grant of £76m and an extra £2.11m from the prime minister's relief fund.

He added that he was creating a national disaster agency to ensure immediate response to emergencies. ``The country is not ready to face such disasters,'' he admitted.

This is the second powerful earthquake in a fortnight, after the tremor that hit El Salvador in Central America on 13 January. In both cases, earthquake engineers and specialised seismologist point out that the huge number of casualties is down to bad construction practices.

It is one thing for national governments to know about earthquake hazard and building safety codes, but another thing for local authorities to enforce them or developers to stick to them.

Concern for French hunger strikers


Public support is growing for a founder member of Action Directe, who has just entered his seventh week of hunger strike and is said to be close to death.

Jean-Marc Rouillan, together with four others also on hunger strike, was sentenced to several life terms in 1979. Action Directe engaged in armed struggle against French colonial policy in Africa and against its arms manufacturing industry.

All five have spent almost the entire period of their imprisonment in solitary confinement in high security jails with catastrophic physical and psychological consequences. Their protest is centred on three basic demands; proper medical care, transfer out of the high security jal to one more suitable for long term prisoners, and visiting rights.

Their plight has finally begun to attract the attention of a number of intellectuals, artists and MPs who have come together to form a campaign. Henri Malberg, a Communist MP, said: ``A man is putting his life in danger, and what he is asking for any normal state could sort out with three letters and four telephone calls. This may be deeply embarrassing for the Socialist government, but if someone dies it will be a lot worse.''

The film-maker Yves Boisset said that the prisoners ``are being treated with almost unimaginable inhumanity''.

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