FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Where You Stand Determines What You See…And How You Live

by KATHY KELLY

“Where you stand determines what you see, and how you live.”

That’s how Voices in the Wilderness members began our statement explaining why we’d decided to stay in Baghdad during the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. During the long war of the economic sanctions, we had stood at the bedsides of numerous mothers who held dying infants and looked at us with imploring eyes, asking “Why?” We saw too much of the catastrophic military and economic violence inflicted on ordinary Iraqis to ever consider giving up on efforts to end UN/US economic sanctions. We had returned to our homes haunted by the gasps of children in hospital wards that served as little more than “death rows” for infants, and we had tried to alert people in the U.S. and the U.K., people with some level of control over their governments, about how those governments brutally and lethally punished Iraqi children for political actions they could not control.

Where you stand determines what you see. For the latter half of June, eight of us will do plenty of standing, again in opposition to economic punishment of ordinary Iraqis, with children bearing the hardest punishment. We’re fasting for fifteen days leading up to the June 28-30 UNCC deliberations over whether to saddle the poorest Iraqis with billions of dollars of Saddam Hussein’s debt.
We’re standing in Geneva, which is one of the most comfortably elegant cities in the world, and where the future of one of the world’s most desperate countries will be decided.

Although I’m fasting here, taking only water (and that morning cup of coffee), I feel awkward about living in such an exquisitely cushy environ while trying to speak up for people who are going to bed hungry in deteriorating homes, lacking access to clean water, exasperated and frightened by round after round of violence, and bearing scorching temperatures that won’t let up for another two months.

The Iraqis I’m fasting for will never see the people we see entering the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). We stand in front of the entrance to the UN in Geneva, holding signs and banners that say to the UNCC, “You, too, are accountable. In your meetings, June 28 – 30, please discuss justice for Iraqis.”

The UNCC’s officials, accountants, claims analysts, and lawyers have played a crucial role in manipulating Iraq’s economy throughout the last decade. Quite possibly few have visited Iraq or read the reports filed by their colleagues in the World Health Organization, UNICEF or the Food and Agriculture Organization. We met the people filing those reports regularly, on every visit to Baghdad. They often implored us to go back to the U.S. and beg our government to recognize that economic sanctions punished the most vulnerable people in Iraq. They showed us tables and accounting which proved that over 500,000 young children, – half a million children under the age of five – might have survived if the sanctions had not crushed Iraq’s economy and prevented Iraq from continuing a trend that was steadily reducing infant mortality rates.

For UNCC workers who read the accounts, it must have been difficult to cooperate with the U.S. and UN in a strange set of priorities that gravely contradicted fundamental UN mandates. After the UN Security Council established the oil for food program in 1996, the Saddam Hussein government, desperate for more oil revenue, agreed to pay 30% of Iraq’s oil revenue, yearly to compensate countries, corporations and individuals claiming damages from Hussein’s invasion 1990-1991 invasion of Kuwait. All of the claims to individuals, claims which amounted to 3 billion dollars, have now been settled by the UNCC. It’s easy to imagine needy individuals submitting those claims. But beyond the individual claims, shouldn’t the UNCC members have re-examined their priorities? They could have told the wealthy countries and corporations with outstanding claims, “We’re sorry, but you will have to wait. Iraq’s oil resources should immediately be reinvested into Iraq to give the people there, particularly the children, a chance to survive.” This sort of statement would have cohered with UN mandates to protect the rights of children and uphold human rights.

Saddam Hussein’s regime showed ruthless disregard for the rights of its citizens. But the oil-for-food program, with all of its flaws, did save lives and many more could have been saved had their been more revenue available and had the UNCC showed more urgent compassion for humanitarian concerns.

Some UNCC workers clearly were troubled. We’ve recently learned of two lawyers who resigned for conscientious reasons.

But for the most part, the system moved along, and you can examine multiple lists, for each year between 1996 and 2003, of countries and corporations whose claims for many billions of dollars were paid out, from Iraqi oil revenue, after the UNCC deemed their claims to be just. So far, the UNCC has approved 52.1 billion of Iraqi oil revenue in payment to individuals, companies and governments. That was their priority. Allowing Iraqi oil revenue to pay for food and medicine that could have saved hundreds of thousands of children seems not to have been part of their discussions.

From June 28 – 30, the UNCC will hold its final round of discussions before determining how much more of an outstanding 65 billion in reparation and debt Iraq should be required to pay for the 1990-91 war making.

This time, it’s crucial to assure that members of the UNCC are fully aware of Jean Zeigler’s UNICEF report which states that 7.7% of Iraqi children under age are currently suffering from acute malnourishment. It’s vitally important that they read the May 2005 UNDP report that details catastrophic conditions because of impure water, erratic electricity, and high unemployment.

A June 17, 2005 World Food Program report should be on their agenda. It shows significant shortfalls in rice, sugar, milk and infant formula. A recent UN survey notes that more than half the population lives below the poverty line. The median income fell from $255 in 2003 to $144 in 2004 Put these reports together and its tragically easy to see that the 7.7% of Iraqi children under age five suffering from acute malnourishment, a disease often referred to as wasting, might not survive more cuts in Iraq’s budget for human services.

Hans von Sponeck, a former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, who resigned his post as an act of conscience, stood with us on the first two days of our fast. Speaking to a Reuters reporter, Hans said, “It is incredible that these people, completely outside the structure, should be bringing a message that they should know inside.” Gesturing at the buildings across the street, Hans laid out the responsibility the people inside the UNCC bore for violating the UN charter. “The UNCC has no legitimacy for one day longer, “ he said. “It is not a colonial master.” Hans von Sponeck also pointed out that you can’t have it both ways. If Iraq is now a sovereign country, then the Iraqi government should be negotiating how much money it owes to creditors.

Our literature calls for a cancellation of all of Iraq’s outstanding debt and a moratorium on reparations payments.

Various UN workers stop to chat with us from time to time. One told us to be assured that members of the UNCC were very aware of our presence.

An accountant told me that he was terribly troubled by policies that lined the pockets of wealthy companies and contributed toward suffering of innocent people. “Accountants can find a kind of relief in just working with numbers,” he said, looking bemused. “Numbers don’t talk back.”

Neither do dying children. International conscience must be represented by those willing to stand up for them, within the UN and in every community that believes Iraq’s children have a right to live.

KATHY KELLY is a co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness (www.vitw.org). Her book, Other Lands Have Dreams, was recently published by Counterpunch. She can be reached at: kathy@vitw.org

 

 

 

 

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Jesse Jackson
Jeff Sessions is Rolling Back Basic Rights
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Rivera Sun
Blind Slogans and Shallow Greatness
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail