Sept. 30, 1999

Former UN official says sanctions against Iraq amount to 'genocide'

Denis Halliday
Robert Barker/University Photography
Denis Halliday criticizes sanctions against Iraq in an afternoon talk Sept. 24 in 153 Uris Hall. He also gave a public lecture the same day in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium of Goldwin Smith Hall.

Nine years of United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq have created genocidal conditions and should be eliminated, Denis Halliday, a former UN official, told a Cornell audience last week.

"We are now in there responsible for killing people, destroying their families, their children, allowing their older parents to die for lack of basic medicines," Halliday said during a lecture titled "Sanctions Against Iraq: Consequences and Alternatives," Sept. 24, in Goldwin Smith Hall's Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium. "We're in there allowing children to die who were not born yet when Saddam Hussein made the mistake of invading Kuwait."

Halliday, now visiting Lang Professor at Swarthmore College, is a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and, from September 1997 to September 1998, was the U.N. humanitarian coordinator of the Oil-for-Food program, which allows Iraq to sell several billion dollars of oil each year in exchange for essential humanitarian supplies. But after 34 years with U.N. development and humanitarian-assistance programs, Halliday resigned so that he could speak out against the Iraqi economic sanctions.

Between 1 million and 1.5 million Iraqis have died from malnutrition or inadequate health care resulting from economic sanctions, said Halliday. The U.N. Security Council imposed economic and military sanctions against Iraq during the Gulf War to prevent that country from rebuilding "weapons of mass destruction," including nuclear and biological warfare.

"For me what is tragic, in addition to the tragedy of Iraq itself, is the fact that the United Nations Security Council member states ... are maintaining a program of economic sanctions deliberately, knowingly killing thousands of Iraqis each month. And that definition fits genocide," Halliday said.

Most of Iraq's obvious problems result from years of bombing, during the Gulf War and since, which has destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, involving sewage, electrical power, health care and agriculture. Sanctions have largely prevented this infrastructure from being rebuilt, according to Halliday.

Less obvious, but no less real, is the social damage, he said. "Because of unemployment, the sense of hopelessness and depression, we have a deadbeat dad phenomenon in Iraq which was never there before," Halliday said. "Families have been abandoned. Single families are now very common. Children are being taken out of school to go out into the streets to beg, to get into petty crime."

Crime in general has gone up, Halliday said, including violent crimes and prostitution, and he called for the immediate lifting of economic sanctions.

"We've got to allow this country, with all of its technical skills and excellent people, many of whom are now overseas, to go back and have the opportunity to rebuild their community -- to get people back to work, get the children back to school, to rebuild the houses, to restore the dignity and the rights of the Iraqi people," he said.

Halliday does recommend maintaining military sanctions, however, to prevent the manufacture and sale of weapons to Iraq.

"There are more educated and technically competent people in the Middle East than you find in many other parts of the world," Halliday said. "They know, I'm sure, what is right and what is for them. We don't know. It's not our place and we don't have the expertise. Let the Arab world begin to address its own issues and concerns."

Halliday's lecture was sponsored by the Ithaca Coalition for Peace and the Cornell Peace Studies Program. He gave a similar talk earlier in the day in Uris Hall.