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Ramsey Clark: Report to UN Security Council re: Iraq

January 26, 2000

Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations

Dear H.E. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, KCMG,

A delegation of U.S. citizens from twenty states has just returned from Iraq. On January 17, we observed in Baghdad the 9th Anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf War. January 17 - February 28, 1991. U.S. aircraft flew 110,000 aerial sorties against Iraq, averaging one every 30 seconds, dropping 88,500 tons of explosives, the equivalent of 7 l/2 Hiroshima bombs.

This was by far the most intensive bombardment in history. It killed tens of thousands of people, injuring many more. Medicines and medical supplies were exhausted. It devastated water systems from reservoir, pumping station, pipeline, filtration plant to kitchen faucet as well as urban sewage and sanitation systems nationwide. Food production, processing, storage, distribution, and marketing facilities were widely destroyed. Poultry was nearly wiped out by loss of electricity and lack of grain. Animal herds were decimated. Fertilizer and insecticide plants and storage structures were destroyed. Communications systems, telephone, radio, TV, were shattered. Transportation was badly battered. Vital industries were attacked everywhere. 

Electric power was knocked out across the nation in the first 24 hours of the assault. Petroleum production, refining, storage and distribution from well to service station were attacked across the nation.

The combined effect of this vast destruction of essential goods, services and industries with the most comprehensive economic sanctions of modern times, first imposed on Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1990, has caused more than a million and a half deaths.

Conditions of Life and Death in Iraq

I have traveled to and within Iraq ten times since sanctions were imposed, once during the bombing in 1991. Each year, the death rate has risen radically. The numbers of deaths have been reported internationally regularly and updated each month since 1991. In Iraq, they are palpable. UN agencies, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, UNICEF and others have found and confirmed the deaths time and time again. They must shock the conscience of every sentient human being. Comprehensive reports by UN agencies and other sources are available to you. You are charged with this knowledge. The total numbers of deaths in every segment of the society has risen radically in each of the past nine years under U.S./U.N. sanctions.

As a tragic illustration total annual deaths of children in Iraq under the age of five from respiratory infection, diarrhea and gastroenteritis and malnutrition are:

1989:7110 deaths
1999(Jan.- Nov.):  73572
Table 1: annual deaths of children in Iraq under the age of five from respiratory infection, diarrhea and gastroenteritis and malnutrition

The annual number of deaths of children under age five grew more than tenfold from 1989 to 1999. Total deaths of children under age five from these selected causes alone during 1990 to November 1999 is 502,492.

While children under age five are the most vulnerable age group, except for the extreme elderly, every age group has suffered radical increases in the numbers of deaths. Members of the population with serious chronic illnesses requiring regular medication, or therapy, suffer the highest percentages of death of any sectors, approaching 100% for some illnesses where survival rates were as high as 95% before sanctions.

The sanctions target to kill, or injure infants, children, the elderly, and the chronically ill.

The red Crescent and other knowledgeable professional groups believe it will be years after the end of sanctions before the increase in deaths from most causes stops rising because of the cumulative effect of the sanctions on the physical conditions of parents, children, the new born and the overall environment.

Most of those who survive suffer severe physical and mental injury from the sanctions. Indicative of the impact of sanctions is the enormous rise in the percentage of registered births under 2.5 kilograms, a dangerously low birth weight in a nation without adequate food, medicine and medical supplies and equipment. Like death, under weight births have risen radically every year:

Year / % of live births at weights under 2.5 kilograms
1999(Jan. - Nov.):  24.1
Table 2: % of live births at weights under 2.5 kilograms

The percentage of live births below 2.5 kg. has increased more than fivefold to one in four registered births. The consequence for the lives of these children is enormous. Many will have underdeveloped organs, mental retardation, remain smaller and weaker than average and be more vulnerable to sickness, malnutrition and bad water. Their life expectancy has been reduced by as much as 30%. Probably 90% of all the infants born in Iraq since 1990 have significantly lower birth weights than they would if there were no sanctions. The effect on lives and health of children with higher birth weights is also drastic. This is why foreign medical teams for five years have referred to a “stunted generation” in Iraq.

Suggestive of the struggle the children living and dying under sanctions in Iraq face are the following increases since 1990 in treated cases of nutrition related sicknesses and deficiencies.

Year  /  Number of cases

1990:      485 (base)

1991:  12796  26.3 times
1994:  20975  42.6  
1998:  30232  61.4  
Table 3: Number of cases of Kwashiorkor
Year  /  Number of cases
1990:      5193  (base)
1991:    96186  18.5 times
1994:  192296  37     
1998:  264468  50.8  
Table 4: Number of Cases of Marasmus
Year  /  Number of cases
Protein, Calorie, Vitamin deficiency, Malnutrition
1990:      96809 (base)
1991:    947974  9.8 times
1994:  1576194  16.3 
1998:  1910309  19.7
Table 5: Number of cases of Protein, Calorie, Vitamin deficiency, Malnutrition

is an extremely dangerous end product of malnutrition in which the victim wastes and dies without early intensive care. Few doctors in Iraq had ever seen a case before late 1990. From medical school and continuing studies they associated Kwashiorkor with starvation in the poorest regions of Africa and south Asia during periods of war, drought, pestilence and other calamities. 

Marasmus inflicts a lower death rate than kwashiorkor, but is extremely dangerous, permanently damaging and requires early and extended care for survival. The effects of severe and protracted malnutrition are permanent and life shortening.

Common communicable diseases preventable by vaccination which are provided nearly all children in developed countries and were standard in Iraq before 1990 have increased by multiples. While rates for these diseases fluctuate unlike the death rates and rates for malnutrition related sickness, because of the cyclical nature of their communication, they have been regularly higher, increasingly so, and have afflicted additional hundreds of thousands of children. Increases in 1998 over 1989 were as follows:

  • whooping cough, 3.4 times;
  • measles, 4.5 times (25, 818 cases);
  • mumps, 3.7 times (35,881). 

The Sanctions Committee of the Security Council has failed to approve negotiated contracts for Iraq to purchase vaccines for these and other diseases. Poliomyelitis, which had been virtually extinguished in Iraq, has increased by a multiple ranging from 2 to 18.6 times since 1989. Cholera rose from zero cases in 1989 to 2560 cases in 1998 and conditions in Iraq threaten an epidemic. Amoebic dysentery was 13 times greater in 1998, totaling 264,290 cases, over 1989 and much higher in several earlier years. Typhoid fever was up 10.9 times to 19825 cases in 1998 over 1989. Scabies increased every year from zero cases in 1989 to 43,580 in 1998. Every adult knows the misery, suffering and sometimes heartbreak these preventable communicable diseases cause.

Doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, all persons in health care, work under tragic conditions. Doctors and nurses uniformly state that patients they could easily save under normal conditions die every day. The hospitals are in wretched condition: dark, cold, dirty, stairwells crumbling, walls peeling, beds without sheets, plumbing inoperable, electricity erratic, equipment without parts, medicines, oxygen, aesthetics, antiseptics, antibiotics, x-ray film, catheters, gauze, aspirin, light bulbs, pencils always scarce, often unavailable. Common life saving medicines from dehydration tablets to insulin are never in adequate supply.

In plain numbers without measuring the conditions under which they were performed, or the availability of important equipment and supplies, major surgical operations have declined each year from a monthly average of 15,125 in 1989 to 3823 in November 1999 or by 74.7%. The monthly average number of laboratory investigations has declined from 1,494,050 in 1989 to 454,375 in November 1999, or by 68.6%.

Drastic deterioration in the whole environment, the physical plant, sanitation and the introduction of some 25,000,000 ounces of depleted uranium by U.S. aircraft and missiles have caused enormous increases in illnesses from tuberculosis to leukemia and other cancers, tumors and malformations in fetuses. These conditions will take many years and billions of dollars to restore to 1989 levels. The hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed and the health of millions damaged can never be restored.

Today unemployment is 60%.  95% of the private sector of the economy is shut down. There are no ambulances. 80% of the sanitation trucks from 10 years ago are inoperable. There are no new trucks, cars, tractors, buses, or other vehicles. Food distribution from a comprehensive rationing system controlling staples delivers 1100 calories per day for every person throughout the country, Kurd, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim, Christian, Jew, rich, poor, alien, with special rations for infants, pregnant women, the severely malnourished, and others with special needs. The poor cannot significantly supplement their food rations. In 1989, daily caloric intake in Iraq averaged 3400.

These brief facts demonstrate the deadly conditions of life deliberately inflicted on the entire population of Iraq, but which inherently impact on infants, children, the elderly and chronically ill first and destroy a vast part of the nation and its overwhelmingly Muslim peoples.

Representative of the attitude of the U.S. government foreign policy makers toward Iraq and the sanctions are the considered remarks of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a syndicated newspaper article published in the second week of January 2000 in which he referred to the “alleged suffering of the Iraqi people.” Then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright spoke more forthrightly, if more cruelly. She stated in an interview on the top-rated CBS national network magazine show 60 Minutes, seen by tens of millions of people in the spring of 1997, that she believed the deaths from the sanctions of 585,000 Iraqi children under the age of five as direct result of sanctions reported by the U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization in late 1986 was a price worth paying to maintain the sanctions against Iraq.

The Sanctions Violate the Genocide Convention of 1948

Genocide is defined in the Genocide Convention, in part, as follows:

Article II...genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

There can be no doubt that the sanctions against Iraq intentionally destroyed in major part members of a national group and a religious group, as such, killing members of the groups, causing bodily and mental harm to their members and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction, at least, in part. If this is not genocide, what is?

The United States, after decades of resisting, finally ratified the Genocide Convention before these sanctions were imposed. It has frequently accused other governments of genocide, sometimes assaulting them severely with its massive, high tech military weapons against which nearly all nations are defenseless.

The Food for Oil Program has failed to stop the increased death rates

The Food for Oil program was approved in December 1996 as a means of maintaining the sanctions against Iraq which were meeting growing opposition in the Security Council. After three years of operation barely six billion dollars in contracts under the program have been received from 19 billion dollars of oil sales. Despite Iraq’s desperate needs, more of the funds from sales of its oil have been turned over to the U.S., the UN and others making claims against Iraq than have been allocated to contracts approved for purchase of food, medicine, equipment and equipment parts for the people of Iraq. Five billion in contracts for purchases entered into by Iraq has not been approved.

As has been seen the deaths of children and every other segment of the society from the sanctions have continued to rise in 1997, 1998 and 1999. To rebuild the health care system, the food production processing, storage and distribution system and the water systems will cost many billions. Restoring facilities for health, communications, transportation, education, industry and clean up of the environment polluted by the U.S. aerial assaults, including the use of depleted uranium found in extremely dangerous concentrations in parts of Iraq, will cost many tens of billions of dollars.

Iraq was devoting more than 20 billion annually to public facilities, goods and services before 1989. Income from oil sales for 1997-1999 averaged under 2 billion dollars annually, 10% of the amounts available before sanctions. If Iraq devoted all of the funds under the Oil for Food Program to food, medicine and water, the deaths caused by sanctions would continue to rise and the health of the nation decline. The United States has proceeded to frustrate approval of contracts under the program in a systematic way to prolong the genocide against Iraq.

United States military aircraft deliberately destroyed Iraq’s water storage, distribution and quality control systems during the intensive bombing during January and February 1991. Within two weeks there was no running water in any city or town in Iraq. Many tens of thousands of people in Iraq have died as a direct result of drinking contaminated water.

Iraq has entered into contracts totaling $700,000,000 for water and sewage projects. This sum is a very small fraction of current needs. Only $65,000,000 has been received, less than 9%. This is done deliberately to continue conditions of life destructive of the population of Iraq. Purchase of chlorine for municipal water treatment, a standard international usage, has been completely rejected. People continue to die at increasing rates from bad water.

Oil production for even the very low levels authorized under the program, less than 1/3 of the pre-sanctions level, has been difficult to achieve and usually below authorized amounts, because of deteriorated and destroyed facilities and lack of equipment and parts. Still the sanctions committee has approved only 18% of the tendered contracts for oil production, refining and transport. This is done to prevent Iraq from restoring its ability to save its people through the sales of oil.

Of the $207 million sought for communications under the program, not a penny has been approved. The sanctions committee fears communicated truth will set opinion free and end the sanctions.

The Oil for Food Program has never been anything more than a means for slowly increasing the rate of destruction of the people of Iraq. Security Council Resolution 1284 is simply a means of starting the process over again. During three years under the program from 1996 to 1999, well over 200,000 children under age five died in drastically increasing numbers each year at a rate growing from just under 9 to well over 10 times the number who died in 1989. That experience must not be repeated. The sanctions must be ended now.

It is criminal to hold the lives of the people of Iraq hostage to demands of the U.S. against their government, whatever those demands may be. In war it is prohibited to use starvation as a weapon. Medical aid must be given enemy wounded. Under sanctions an Iraqi is being deliberately killed every two minutes by conditions of life. Sanctions are the functional equivalent of pointing guns at the heads of Iraq’s children and elderly while saying do what we demand to their government, or we will shoot, then pulling a trigger every two minutes, or less.

To save the United Nations in the judgment of history, the Security Council must end the sanctions immediately. They are genocide.

To save itself from the judgment of the people of the world, the U.S. must immediately act to end the sanctions and account for its acts.

Ramsey Clark,
formerly U.S. Attorney General

International Action Center
39 West 14th Street, Room 206
New York, NY 10011
phone: 212 633-6646
fax: 212 633-2889

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