Examination of witnesses (Questions 137
TUESDAY 25 MAY 1999
SAUNDERS and DR
137. Good morning. May I welcome you and thank
you very much for coming to give evidence to us on this important
subject of sanctions, how they apply and what they do. I understand
that you have agreed amongst yourselves that one of you would
like to make an opening statement. We have received your written
evidence, for which we thank you very much indeed.
(Mr Bowden) To introduce this group from ActionAid
and the Save the Children Fund, Dr Sarah Collinson on my left
is the Senior Research and Policy Coordinator for ActionAid which
has a lot of experience both in doing research into the impact
of sanctions in specific countries and as an agency has been affected
by the impact of sanctions on a humanitarian basis. ActionAid
is not involved in Iraq but is involved in Burundi and some of
the more general issues. My colleagues are Rita Bhatia, who is
our Policy Analyst, and Chris Saunders, who deals specifically
with the Iraq programme. I am Mark Bowden and I am responsible
for Eastern and Central Africa in the Save the Children Fund and
have an involvement both with the effect of sanctions in Burundi
but have also been looking at the problems of sanctions and other
embargoes on health and child care activities in a number of other
countries including Zanzibar, where there has been an aid embargo,
and the Sudan which has had problems tantamount to sanctions.
We have given written evidence to you and we are happy to go through
138. You said that Zanzibar was involved in
sanctions against Sudan.
(Mr Bowden) No, sorry. We are doing a study on Zanzibar
because there has been a cessation of aidto Zanzibar because of
the political problems in Zanzibar at the moment, and we are looking
at that as another example where aid has been totally frozen to
an area. This is not exactly a straightforward sanctions case
but there has been a total cessation of all international bilateral
aid to Zanzibar.
139. That is interesting. I did not know that.
(Mr Bowden) It is another example of the political
conditionalities that are being introduced.
140. Yes, the use of aid as a political weapon.
(Mr Bowden) Yes.
141. Thank you very much indeed. Were Save the
Children or ActionAid consulted in the course of the Government's
recent review on sanctions in which they conclude that they are
a wonderful thing but they could be made better?
(Ms Bhatia) Save the Children were not consulted about
the Government review. We were aware that the review was taking
place. The first thing we heard about the results of the review
was on the 15 March when there was a press release on the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office website.
142. This is announcement by website, is it,
so it was the first that you got to know of it?
(Ms Bhatia) Yes. There was also a written answer from
the Foreign Office Minister to a question by Joan Ryan asking
what were the results of the review. In answer to your question,
no, we were not aware of it.
143. This is a planted question, you think,
in the House of Commons?
(Ms Bhatia) Yes, a written answer in the House of
Commons, on the 15 March.
144. Sounds like a coordinated exercise, and
that is the first you knew?
(Ms Bhatia) Yes, this is the first I knew of it.
(Dr Collinson) Could I answer on behalf of ActionAid?
I should like to reiterate the point that ActionAid also was aware
of the review, and in fact it was one of the reasons that we were
interested to update our information on the situation of sanctions
in Burundi by commissioning a report from a consultant in the
region on the Burundi case. We were somewhat disappointed that
there was never an opportunity to input any of our conclusions
that led out of that research into the Government's review.
(Ms Bhatia) Can I add to that, that in December last
year there was a conference on Smarter Sanctions organised by
the Overseas Development Institute. I believe that DFID were one
of the co-sponsors of that. Some of us thought that the report
from that conference would feed into the review, but there has
not yet been a report from that conference. There has been a delay
in timing, so that was the other thing that we are aware of.
145. Were you involved in the ODI seminar?
(Ms Bhatia) Yes, we were.
146. We have got an executive summary of that
conference but, as you say, it has not yet been published. That
is most interesting. You know that the review concluded that sanctions
will remain an important tool of our foreign policy. The review
also concluded however that better targeting would be likely to
enhance the effectiveness of international sanctions to minimise
the risk of harm to ordinary people. Are Save the Children and
ActionAid happy with the conclusions of the government review?
(Mr Bowden) In general terms, no. From the Save the
Children perspective we feel that sanctions generally are harmful
to children and that targeting sanctions does not work. It is
our experience that the most vulnerable are the major victims.
Our concerns, certainly from Burundi but from other areas as well,
are that sanctions tend to enhance the informal economy and weaken
the structures of government on a general basis, which means that
you end up with a far weaker government with less capacity for
negotiation through formal structures as a result of sanctions
and the development of cronyism within government and a considerable
black market. We would far rather look at the better use of aid
conditionalities as a way of bringing influence to bear or specific
embargoes on arms or other issues rather than generalised sanctions.
The history of sanctions, particularly in Africa, has been poor.
Furthermore, we are in a situation where we only have sticks with
which to berate governments and very little positive influence
to get governments back into the political dialogue and the debate
that will bring about the appropriate changes.
147. I see in your submission to us that you
say that in the case of Burundi economic sanctions had little
effect on political developments, "instead creating opportunities
for corruption and highly lucrative black market economic activities
for the elite". Would you generalise that and say that that
is true also of Iraq and of other areas on which sanctions have
been imposed? Iraq of course has a comprehensive set of sanctions
and Burundi was only regional sanctions and was rather ill defined,
although it looked pretty comprehensive to me when I looked at
(Mr Bowden) I will speak briefly on Burundi and perhaps
Chris Saunders, my colleague, can speak in a little more detail
on Iraq. Certainly in Burundi a number of agencies would all agree
that the sanctions have basically given greater power to a smaller
political business elite that have ended up being the main supporters
of the President and have very much weakened the structures of
government. I would say also that the main sanctions busters have
been the main proponents of sanctions and the Tanzanian businesses
have been happily moving fuel into Burundi throughout the sanctions
period and it has in a sense increased the informal economy and
corruption within Tanzania as well. It has knock-on effects not
just in the country that is having sanctions imposed on it, but
also may well have knock-on effects in enhancing the informal
black market economy of neighbouring countries that are imposing
(Mr Saunders) With Iraq being made more complex by
the fact that we are talking about Iraq in the north, the Iraqi
Kurdistan, than the south and centre, I would agree entirely with
what Mark has just said in referring to the south and centre of
Iraq. I think the situation in the north, which represents 15
per cent of the population of Iraq, is slightly more complicated
because the sanctions busting, which is prolific and running through
Turkey into the north, the trade, the smuggling, whatever term
is applied to that, is actually taxed by the de facto government
in the north of Iraq, the Kurds, the PUK and the KDP, particularly
the KDP. Considerable income is derived from that taxation and
that income is actually utilised in what we consider to be in
many respects effective development and support of the Kurdish
population. You cannot generalise in Iraq because of this major
split and distinction.
148. And that is important?
(Mr Saunders) Yes.
(Dr Collinson) Excuse me. In a moment I would like
to answer the original question on behalf of ActionAid.
149. I should like to follow on from what you
said, Mr Saunders. Given the situations you have described, the
fact that there is considerable trade and the fact that the political
parties in that part of the world do benefit from that trade,
do you think it is in their interests (the political parties'
interests) to keep sanctions in place?
(Mr Saunders) Without a doubt.
150. Now, Dr Collinson, would you like to answer
(Dr Collinson) Thank you. I am backtracking a bit,
but the original question was whether we were happy with what
we know of the Government's review. I stress what we know of it,
because we do not know a great deal apart from the press release
and the short statements in the House of Commons and the House
of Lords. My opinion is that certainly in view of our concerns
about the sanctions situation in Burundi and also in Sierra Leone,
there are a number of quite important issues that the review glosses
over or does not tackle at all. It does not reflect the responsibilities
that the United Kingdom Government has as a permanent member of
the Security Council and the relationship of the Security Council
and the responsibilities of the Security Council when sanctions
are imposed by regional organisations or groups of states, which
is something that we may see more and more of in the future. These
are issues which I hope we can discuss more in the course of the
morning's evidence. To give an example, the review talks about
the need to have humanitarian exemptions written into any sanctions
regimes from the very beginning. That begs the question of how
those exemptions are going to be applied in practice and what
arrangements there are, particularly, in the case of Sierra Leone,
for example, between the UN and the regional organisation responsible.
There were serious failures with the humanitarian exemptions in
Sierra Leone with the result that no food and hardly any medicine
entered the country throughout the time that the sanctions were
in place. There are important questionsand this refers
back to an issue which has already been mentioned by Save the
Childrenof the relationship between sanctions and development
assistance. Certainly we are seeing in Burundi now a very direct
linkage where sanctions have drifted into aid conditionality with
the same impact on the country.
151. We did have the Foreign Office in front
of us last week on this outcome of the sanctions inquiry and you
might like to get a transcript of what they said they had concluded.
(Dr Collinson) There is one more thing that I would
like to add on the Burundi case. With the research that we had
commissioned the author certainly reported some opinion within
Burundi that the sanctions, at least initially, did have some
political impact, but it is not really possible to have a very
objective view of whether the sanctions were politically effective
or not at the very beginning; that is arguable. Certainly, and
I think this is where there is very broad consensus, as the sanctions
continued they became more remote from the original political
objectives. There was much too much drift and the actual standards
that were applied in the imposition of the sanctions, in the monitoring,
not only of the humanitarian impact but of the political and security
impacts as well, was inadequate. This is an area where we have
particular concerns and this relates again back to the role of
the UN in ensuring that those standards are maintained in the
future at a higher level than was the case in Burundi.
152. The Burundi sanctions were designed to
express disapproval of the takeover in the military coup, were
they not, and so by that standard they failed because the military
coup leader remains the President of the country.
(Dr Collinson) The sanctions were also imposed to
bring the Government into the peace process, to see a restoration
of the national assembly, and full negotiations with all parties
to the conflict in Burundi. There was some progress towards some
of those objectives early on and this is why there is a very strong
argument for the fact that the sanctions, if they were or were
not effective, they certainly should have been lifted much earlier
on than they were.
153. These are not of course UN sanctions. They
are regional sanctions.
(Dr Collinson) These were sanctions imposed by the
region which were not exactly approved by the Security Council.
The Security Council for a number of reasons did not fully approve
the sanctions and therefore there was some argument about whether
the sanctions were actually legal.
154. On the basis of the UN Charter they are
illegal, are they not?
(Dr Collinson) Exactly.
Chairman: But who cares about that now that
we are in conflict in Kosovo?
155. The question I was supposed to ask was
how do you design sanctions regimes so as to take into account
humanitarian development aspects, how do you lessen them? You
seem to be saying do not waste your breath really. It is more
trouble than it is worth, that the local movers and shakers will
get round it and turn it to their purpose anyway.
(Mr Bowden) In general terms in the African perspective
I would agree with your last statement, that it is more trouble
than it is worth. But it is at the end of the day a political
statement and I have to say that there are many of the neighbouring
states who feel that the Burundi sanctions have been a great success
and it has been hailed, certainly by some of the governments in
the region, as a political success in getting Buyoya to engage
more with political parties. If they are then to be used mainly
as a political statement, there are ways in which you could improve
sanctions. Some of them would be to have a far clearer sense of
items that would be normally exempt from any sanctions regime,
so a clearer statement of health and education. I would say basically
health education plus a certain amount of agricultural inputs
that would normally to be considered to be exempt and having a
clear list of those would certainly help. In the case of Burundi,
having greater clarity as to the processes for granting exemptions
would help. One of the major problems we all had in Burundi over
regional sanctions was that the process for gaining exemption
was very unclear. There was no clarity at all. The length of decision
making by the regional sanctions group took an awfully long time.
As a result, things like the immunisation campaigns and the immunisation
system in Burundi collapsed just because of the length of decision
making in the end. Vaccines were exempted but there had been such
a long delay in getting these exemptions through that there had
been a collapse in the system beforehand. A lot more clarity about
what items are subject to sanctions, what items are exempt from
sanctions and the processes by which exemption is granted and
how goods are transported into the country would make a lot of
difference, if you are to impose sanctions.
(Ms Bhatia) A lot of what Mark has just said also
applies to the use of multilateral sanctions because there has
been a lot of criticism about the way that the UN Sanctions Committees
operate. What happens is that each Security Council resolution
creates a Sanctions Committee that is composed of representatives
of the 15 members of the Security Council, under the Presidency
of a non-permanent member of the council. One of the problems
is that the analysis shows that these individuals are often diplomats,
they are not technical people, and also there are difficulties
in using experience from one Sanctions Committee and transplanting
that to another one, so there is no institutional memory of sanctions
policy and practice. If I might use an example here, one of the
clear criticisms with the Sanctions Committee on Iraq is that
a lot of the processes have become politicised. You have different
phases and we are currently in phase five of the distribution
plan for Iraq. Earlier on in the programme, that is in phase one,
46 per cent of all items were put on hold. That means that one
member of the committee can put an item on hold and only that
committee member can release that item. It has improved for the
moment, but the problem that they are experiencing now with phase
five is that the submission and approval of contracts for phase
four is still continuing, with the arrival and distribution of
humanitarian supplies for all phases still ongoing. These are
some of the problems that we have experienced with the Sanctions
Committee in Iraq. I should like to refer members here to the
note submitted by the President of the Security Council, Ambassador
Amorim, and this note suggests how the Sanctions Committees can
improve their working methods. There has been a lot of reference
to that. In part the note recommends that Sanctions Committees
should as far as possible harmonise their guidelines and routines
of work. That is in recognition of this very disparate process.
However, we would argue that this note perhaps does not go far
enough. It does not make humanitarian assessments mandatory. It
says that the secretariat should be requested to provide whenever
necessary its assessment of the humanitarian and economic impact
of sanctions from the Sanctions Committees. The point is that
humanitarian impact assessments are still not mandatory.
156. I think this is a good time to try and
discuss the design of sanctions and their impact. We are looking
at the future of sanctions and therefore we need to look at the
past and you talk about the experience in the past. My question
is to Mr Bowman because you deal in Africa. What was the experience
after sanctions, such as they were, in South Africa? I cannot
really remember what happened with sanctions against South Africa.
Eventually economic sanctions were imposed. What exactly was the
experience from that and what are the conclusions you draw from
that, looking to the future in the current state of affairs?
(Mr Bowden) The Save the Children Fund was involved
in South Africa during the period of limited sanctions, and also
I have some experience, going way back, of the effect on Zimbabwe,
the former Rhodesia, of sanctions that were undertaken in those
days. One of the differences in southern Africa is that in some
ways it strengthened the economy.
157. Home grown?
(Mr Bowden) The home grown economy. There was a lot
more emphasis on local industries. Rhodesia, as it then was, in
particular owes its manufacturing base and capacity to sanctions.
It may have had a long term developmental effect in that way.
I do not think it was intended at the time. South Africa also
went down the route of a great deal more investment in its own
industry and industrial capacity. The down side is that again
the major group that were affected by sanctions were the poorer
elements of the population, partly because of price increases.
The price effect of sanctions is quite dramatic and I would say
that in most African economies, despite the common understanding
of the situation, the poor are more dependent on the market than
the better off groups, so almost automatically anything that has
a major effect on prices will affect the poorest element of the
population, including the agricultural population, a great deal
more. The other impact that I think should not be underestimated,
and this is something that has come up in Burundi again, is the
degree of scientific and technical isolation that occurs. South
Africa was 20 years behind the times in terms of its health planning,
its understanding of health issues, because it was basically excluded
from international discussions and meetings. In Burundi the travel
sanctions for example have had a similar effect upon isolating
health services and health staff from debate, planning, over important
health and other scientific issues. That left the social development
of South Africa, and again we are going back to this isolation
element that took place as a result of the travel embargoes, far
more behind in terms of health planning and policy than it would
have been if there had been more engagement with specific sectors
that we feel should be outside the area of sanctions.
158. So there are common lessons?
(Mr Bowden) There are some common lessons.
159. You say that South Africa lagged behind
in health planning policy. It did not lag behind in research into
heart surgery and all the fancy stuff.
(Mr Saunders) For the majority of the population it
(Mr Bowden) Basically where it lagged behind was in
primary health care and public health policy.
16 H.C. Deb, 15 March 1999, cc 515-6. Back