Iraq: Paying The Price
Peter van Walsum Interview
In December 1999 John Pilger asked Peter van Walsum, Chairman of the UN Sanctions Committee to explain why Iraq is still being subjected to economic sanctions. The transcript of the interview appears below.
John Pilger: Why should the civilian population, innocent people, be punished for Saddam's crimes?
Peter van Walsum: It's a difficult problem. You should realise that sanctions are one of the curative measures that the Security Council has at its disposal? And obviously they hurt. They are like a military measure.
JP: But who do they hurt?
PW: Well, this, of course is the problem, but with military action, too, you have the eternal problem of collateral damage.
JP: So an entire nation is collateral damage? Is that correct?
PW: No, I am saying that sanctions have (similar) effects. You understand we have to study this further.
JP: Do you believe that people have human rights no matter where they live or under what system?
JP: Doesn't that mean that the sanctions you are imposing are violating the human rights of millions of people?
PW: It's also documented that the Iraqi regime has committed very serious human rights breaches.
JP: There is no doubt about that. But what is the difference in principle between human rights violations committed by the regime and those caused by your committee?
PW: It's a very complex issue Mr Pilger.
JP: What do you say to those who describe sanctions that have caused so many deaths as 'weapons of mass destruction' as lethal as chemical weapons?
PW: I don't think that's a fair comparison.
JP: Aren't the deaths of half a million children mass destruction?
PW: I don't think you can use that argument to convince me. It is about the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
JP: Let's say the Netherlands was taken over by a Dutch Saddam Hussein, and sanctions were imposed, and the children of Holland started to die like flies. How would you feel about that?
PW: I don't think that's a very fair question. We are talking about a situation which was caused by a government that overran its neighbour, and has weapons of mass destruction.
JP: Then why aren't there sanctions on Israel which occupies much of Palestine and attacks Lebanon almost every day of the week. Why aren't there sanctions on Turkey which has displaced 3 million Kurds and caused the deaths of 30,000 Kurds?
PW: Well, there are many countries that do things that we are not happy with. We can't be everywhere. I repeat it's complex.
JP: How much power does the United States exercise over your committee?
PW: We operate by consensus.
JP: And what if the Americans object?
PW: We don't operate.