The first UN Assistant Secretary General serving in the position of Coordinator of the UN Humanitarian Program for Iraq (including the Oil-for-Food program) was Denis Halliday. Mr. Halliday resigned after about a year in 1998 to protest the sanctions. Here is his talk at Harvard (Novembe 5, 1998) on Iraq and the sanctions. And this is his briefer statement (from Wikipedia) explaining why he resigned:
I often have to explain why I resigned from the United Nations after a 30 year career, why I took on the all powerful states of the UN Security Council; and why after five years I continue to serve the well being of the people of Iraq. In reality there was no choice, and there remains no choice. You all would have done the same had you been occupying my seat as head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq.
I was driven to resignation because I refused to continue to take Security Council orders, the same Security Council that had imposed and sustained genocidal sanctions on the innocent of Iraq. I did not want to be complicit. I wanted to be free to speak out publicly about this crime.
And above all, my innate sense of justice was and still is outraged by the violence that UN sanctions have brought upon, and continues to bring upon, the lives of children, families – the extended families, the loved ones of Iraq. There is no justification for killing the young people of Iraq, not the aged, not the sick, not the rich, not the poor.
Some will tell you that the leadership is punishing the Iraqi people. That is not my perception, or experience from living in Baghdad. And were that to be the case – how can that possibly justify further punishment, in fact collective punishment, by the United Nations? I don’t think so. And international law has no provision for the disproportionate and murderous consequences of the ongoing UN embargo – for well over 12 long years.
Here are 10 pages from the book The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk, Pages 702-711; these pages deal with the Iraq sanctions. Robert Fisk was voted the UK’s best foreign journalist many times; here are two devastating paragraphs from this veteran jouornalist, pages 705-706 of his book on Iraq, covering 1991-2003:
So why did the Americans and the British and their other friends at the United Nations impose this hateful sanctions regime on Iraq? Many of the Western humanitarian workers and UN officials in Baghdad had come to their own conclusions. Margaret Hassan, a British woman married to an Iraqi, a brave, tough, honourable lady who ran CARE’s office in the Iraqi capital, was outraged by the tragedy with which she was striving to cope. “They want us to rebel against Saddam,” she said. “They think that we will be so broken, so shattered by this suffering that we will do anything – even give our own lives – to get rid of Saddam. The uprising against the Baath party failed in 1991, so now they are using cruder methods. But they are wrong. These people have been reduced to penury. They live in shit. And when you have no money and no food, you don’t worry about democracy or who your leaders are.”
Margaret Hassan was right. “Big picture,” an air force planner told the Washington Post in 1991. “We wanted to let people know. ‘Get rid of this guy and we’ll be more than happy to assist in rebuilding. We’re not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that and we’ll fix your electricity.’” Just before the 1991 liberation of Kuwait, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document described probable results of the destruction of power stations and continued economic sanctions. “With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure these supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population.” In other words, the United States and Britain and other members of the Security Council were well aware that the principal result of the bombing campaign – and of sanctions – would be the physical degradation and sickening and deaths of Iraqi civilians. Biological warfare might prove to be a better description. The ultimate nature of the 1991 Gulf War for Iraqi civilians now became clear. Bomb now: die later.
The years of U.S./U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq could fill entire books. One of the best and newest is by Professor Joy Gordon titled Invisible War: The United States and Iraq Sanctions published by Harvard University Press.
“It is time Americans knew of the cruelty inflicted on Iraqis in our name behind closed doors at the UN in one of the morally most disastrous foreign policy decisions in American history. Gordon has documented it, calmly, courageously, meticulously, and convincingly.”
—Henry Shue, University of Oxford, author of Basic Rights
A second book, by one of the most decent and knowledgeable persons I’ve ever met on the issue of Iraq sanctions, is A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regme in Iraq by H.C. von Sponeck. The Australian filmmaker John Pilger says of the book, “This is one of the most important books I can remember.”
This book is filled with the great amount of data, charts and knowledge that the author, Hans von Sponeck, gathered while serving as UN Assistant Secretary General in the position of Coordinator of the UN Humanitarian Program for Iraq. In October 1998, he took over to replace Denis Halliday as heading all UN operations in Iraq and managing the Iraqi operations of the Oil-for-Food program. Von Sponeck together with Jutta Burghardt, head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq, resigned in February 2000 for the same reason as Halliday, to protest UN’s Iraq sanctions policy.