The US government has today decided to impose swingeing sanctions on Syria, even freezing all its assets. This is a long-expected attack on Syria, aimed at destroying another obstacle to US control of the Middle East and preparing the way for an attack on Iran.
Clearly there are human rights concerns in Syria, but banning exports of oil will effectively also ban imports of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.
The move has been supported by Human Rights Watch, who seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Iraqi sanctions, or perhaps are so wedded to US foreign policy that they don’t care.
Sanctions were applied to Iraq in August 6, 1990, and stayed largely in force until May 2003 and the main commodity sanctioned was, of course, oil. According to the Iraq Liberation Act the sanctions aimed to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The precise number of deaths among children due to these sanctions are disputed but according to UNICEF amount to 500,000 children (including sanctions and the collateral effects of war):
“As of 1999 children under 5 years of age are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago.”
UNICEF position on sanctions is that:
UNICEF believes there must be a child impact assessment at the point at which any set of sanctions are applied and most importantly constant monitoring thereafter to gauge the humanitarian impact.
On May 12 1996 on 60 Minutes Madelaine Albright was asked, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Madelaine Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.”
Denis Halliday, the UN administrator of the Iraq oil-for-food program, resigned in 1998 to protest the ravages the sanctions were continuing to inflict on Iraqis saying: “We are in the process of destroying an entire country” and denouncing the sanctions as “nothing less than genocide.”
In early 200 seventy members of Congress sent a letter to President Clinton including US House Democratic Whip David E Bonior called the economic sanctions against Iraq “infanticide masquerading as policy.”
Update 4th September – On the 3rd of September the European Union formally implemented an oil embargo and fresh sanctions against Syria. EU’s High Representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton declared that the “new restrictive measures are targeted to try and deprive the regime of its financial revenues.”
It is not known if a child impact assessment has been done.