Edited Version Published as Lead Opinion “Iran Sanctions are Cruel and Inhuman Punishment, Just as Witnessed During Bosnian Civil War”, Litchfield County Times, Housatonic Times, The Register Citizen, April 16, 2012
Iran hell bent on joining the nuclear club of nations is forging ahead with its nuclear program. Additional economic sanctions have been imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has just been dealt the death card.
The United Nations Security Council lead by its permanent members, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, with other countries blindly compliant, has declared economic sanctions as the best and only diplomatic alternative to war. That is a lie. It is not a viable alternative. Economic sanctions are the callous, cowardly mass murder of a civilian population.
“Economic sanctions” is when a bunch of countries gang up on another run by a crackpot, a Khadafy, a Hussein or, in Iran’s case Mahmoud Abimadinejad, seeking to coerce an innocent population to depose the son of a bitch. It is an ineffective weapon that wreaks death and human misery. It seldom achieves its objective and often just lets us take a hypocritical high moral ground, a feel good fig leaf, ignoring war crimes committed in the name of the collective good.
My first brush with sanctions came in ’93. The Bosnian civil war was raging, Sarajevo was under siege. Crossing the then Yugoslav border at Horgoš, near Zseged [what’s with Hungarians and weird names?] I was stranded in a sea of misery and privation. Traffic was backed up for hours. Yugoslavs were streaming across the border burdened with every day necessities, pampers, appliances, gasoline in jerry cans ready to explode, stuff, just plain stuff that was no longer available, deprivation for the likes of you and me.
Belgrade’s Intercontinental Hotel told a different story. The lobby bar was dimly lit with a pianist softly playing Broadway show tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Johnnie Walker Black label was on the menu, as was Moët & Chandon and Beluga caviar. I sipped I. W. Harper’s bourbon, smoked Marlboros while appreciating the exquisitely turned out ladies in the latest Versace, Valentino and Armani numbers, sporting sexy Jimmy Choo heels. The boutiques were ablaze with lights that danced off jewelry displays. Sanctions did not apply to the rich and powerful.
Picked up by a chauffeured Mercedes, I was whisked to Beogradska Banka, run by Slobodan Milosevic’s personal banker. I was hired to prolong the status quo. On other occasions, I lunched in a mile high private dining room atop the Genex Tower, home of Yugoslavia’s largest company. The regime that sanctions were intended to destroy was flourishing as never before. In fact it echoed George W’s stupid remark “My answer is bring them [sanctions] on”.
It was ordinary people that suffered. Hyper-inflation set in. A 10,000,000 Dinar bill bought you a loaf of bread. Savings evaporated. Medicines were unavailable. I smuggled drugs and medical devices for friends and family and brought hard foreign currency to starving pensioners. I became a dual national criminal, violating both Yugoslav and America’s laws, without remorse.
Sanctions do not murder people in distant lands. They kill close to home. In 1994, Marija, a cute 15 year old exchange student from Montenegro, was attending school in Ohio when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. Her parents were prisoners of sanctions – no visas were being granted. Strangers, including a world renowned oncologist, became engaged with her care.
The hitch was that while the care was free, the hospital had to be paid up front. Marija’s father had money in a bank account frozen by sanctions. Two Senators, a Congresswoman and others petitioned the United States to unfreeze the funds. No dice, sanctions prevailed. Marija died before her 16th birthday, alone without her parents, a stranger in a strange land, me by her side.
The 1990 Iraq’s UN economic sanctions remained in place until Hussein’s removal in 2003. The sanctions banned all trade and financial dealings except for medicine and “in humanitarian circumstances” food. The sanctions were the “toughest, most comprehensive economic sanctions in human history.” They were so repressive and destructive to the population that two United Nations representatives to Iraq resigned in protest. One, in resigning, saying “I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.” Researchers and non-governmental agencies estimate that a “minimum of 100,000 and a more likely estimate of 227,000 excess deaths among young children” resulted. See the cited articles and reports http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_Iraq .
The United Nations Children’s Fund’s Executive Director Carol Bellamy, the former New York City politician and Bill Clinton’s Peace Corps Director, has asserted that “there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under five in the country [Iraq]” were it not for sanctions.
If history repeats itself and thousands of children die as a result, are sanctions an appropriate tool of international foreign policy? Is the collateral damage and suffering of a civilian population resulting from sanctions a form of “ethnic cleansing” and a war crime? Should countries, individually and collectively, be charged with war crimes if sanctions result in substantial loss of civilian life?
These are questions that you should ask and that should be answered to your satisfaction. CBS 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had an exchange on May 12, 1996:
Stahl: “We heard that a half million children have died, I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price … we think the price is worth it”
Hitler thought the price just right in exterminating six million Jews while creating the Third Reich. The world took notice of that slaughter and on December 9, 1948 the newly established United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The United States promptly signed on December 11, 1948, but didn’t deem it fit to ratify and make it law until 1988 some forty years later.
The definition of genocide is clear and not subject to debate. Article 2 defines genocide as acts “committed with 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 or mental harm to members of the group;
[c] Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
The Convention prohibits all such acts and calls upon all participating states to prevent and punish them in times of war and peace.
There is no question that the economic sanctions imposed on Iran are directed at a national, ethnic, racial and religious group, a predominantly Muslim Iranian population, 95% Shia and 65% Persian. Sanctions are designed to cause privation, to deny a population necessities, food and medicine, and by doing so cause serious harm. Sanctions are calculated to deliberately result in conditions of life that threaten the population’s very existence which ensures either a violent regime change or extinction.
Why do we continue to allow economic sanctions to be used as a weapon?