The Bossuyt Report

QUITE expectedly the United States has reacted angrily to criticisms by the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights against economic embargoes and its call on nations not to adopt economic sanctions or support such measures. The embargoes in question include Iraq and Cuba, two current and extreme cases that are deeply rooted in US foreign policy. The UN Security Council has intervened in the cases of Iraq and of Afghanistan, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the Sudan and the former Yogoslavia, among others, invoking the organisation’s Charter.

The un document that sparked the ire of the United States was authored by Belgian Jurist Marc Bossuyt at the request of the Sub-Commission. His report indicates that these international economic sanctions are based apparently on the assumption that economic pressure on civilians will translate into pressure on the government, thereby inducing policital changes.

But ‘this ‘‘theory’’ is bankrupt both legally and practically, as more and more evidence testifies to the inefficiency of comprehensive economic sanctions as a coercive tool.’ In regimes where political decisions are not made through democratic channels, it is simply impossible for civilian pressures to spur change in the government study.

On the contrary, the government being sanctioned could use the reprisals as a scapegoat for its problems, giving political leaders a foothold to engage in political extremism.

The suffering of the civilian population, allegedly the effective factor in comprehensive economic sanctions, undermines the efficacy of the sanctions while potentially strengthening the government in question and its policies.

The US reaction to the report included the warning that its conclusions ‘risk the credibility of the Sub-Commission.’ The UN body embroiled in this controversy, made up of 26 juridical experts named by thier governments but who act independently, has already suffered a serious reduction in its power this year. Specifically, it has been deprived of its authority to evaluate claims about human rights violations on a country-by-country basis.

The ban on getting involved in the human rights problems of any specific country has restricted the Sub-Commission to concentrating on more general issues, such as the case of economic sanctions and their impact on human rights.

But paradoxically, the study of these questions turned up flagrant cases that involve specific embargo situations, identifying the country that has established the sanctions and those who suffer their consequences.

Despite the restrictions on the Sub-Commission’s work on country basis, the names of the implicated nations arose spontaneously, commented Chilean academic os Bangoa, one of the body’s members.

The Bossuyt report says there are contradictions as to the exact number of deaths attributable to the sanctions against Iraq, but estimates range from a half million to 1.5 million people, ‘with the majority of the deaths being children.’

In summary, ‘the sanctions imposed on Iraq have produced a humanitarian disaster comparable to the worst catastrophes of the past decades’.

After nearly half a century, the unilateral embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba is increasingly stringent and has yet to achieve its objective. Bossuyt stressed that world leaders must adopt measures on the embargo in order to prevent the consequences observed in Iraq.

The Sub-Commission, which concluded its annual period of sessions on 18 August, approved a resolution that recognises Bossuyt’s efforts while calling on nations to reconsider the adoption of economic sanctions or thier support for such measures. But Uncle Sam is not listening. So long as UN means US, politics of sanctions will continue because the White House finds in it an effective weapon to punish those who refuse to knowtow to Washington. Though ‘sanctions’ could be a burning issue affecting a huge number of people, the political left throughout the world failed to mobilise public opinion against American hegemonism and the US policy to utilise the UN as a mere signboard for furthering their colonial interests.