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Oil-for-Food Background Information




Mr. President,

Thank you for giving me the floor. My report is already in your hands. If I may, I will make just a few brief remarks about the Oil-for-Food programme, limiting myself to the humanitarian aspects of Resolution 1284 and the actions that they call for from the United Nations.

I also have with me Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, and Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the Iraq Programme, who will be available to answer any questions you may have.

As you know, the oil-for-food programme has now been in existence for a little over three years. Its purpose is to alleviate the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi population, since they are not the targets.

It has undoubtedly brought them some relief, but many of the essential needs of the population remain unsatisfied.

In its original form, it was subject to very tight restrictions, both on the types of goods Iraq was allowed to import - which were limited to food and medicine and other strictly humanitarian items - and on the revenue it was allowed to generate by oil exports.

Since then, as a result of decisions made by this Council over the last three years, the list of items Iraq is allowed to import has been considerably expanded and liberalised.

And now, under the terms of Resolution 1284 (1999), the ceiling on oil exports has been completely eliminated.

Also, the recent rise in the price of oil has greatly increased the value of the exports, with the result that a much larger income is now available for the Programme. However, Iraq's oil industry is seriously hampered by lack of parts and equipment, and this threatens to undermine the Programme's income in the longer term.

That is why I have repeatedly recommended a significant increase in the allocation of resources under the Programme for the purchase of spare parts for the oil industry. I understand that the Council is now ready to consider these recommendations favourably, and I would very much welcome that.

But I should also mention that many of the "holds" on contract applications, imposed by members of the 661 Committee, do have a direct negative impact on the humanitarian programme, and on efforts to rehabilitate Iraq's infrastructure, most of which is in appalling disrepair. We need a mechanism to review these holds, in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the Programme.

Of course, we also need the co-operation of the Government of Iraq. I urge them to take all necessary steps to ensure the effective and prompt distribution of the imported items.

I am sure that, if the Programme as amended by Resolution 1284 is fully implemented, there will soon be a considerable improvement in the humanitarian situation.

But even if it is implemented perfectly, it is possible that our efforts will prove insufficient to satisfy the population's needs. The Council therefore needs to keep the effectiveness and impact of the Programme constantly under review, and take further steps to improve it should that prove necessary.

Let me conclude by saying that the humanitarian situation in Iraq poses a serious moral dilemma for this Organisation. The United Nations has always been on the side of the vulnerable and the weak, and has always sought to relieve suffering, yet here we are accused of causing suffering to an entire population. We are in danger of losing the argument, or the propaganda war - if we haven't already lost it - about who is responsible for this situation - President Saddam Hussein or the United Nations.

I am particularly concerned about the situation of Iraqi children whose suffering and, in all too many cases, untimely death has been documented in the report prepared by UNICEF and the Iraqi Health Ministry last year. That report, which has been echoed by many other observers, showed that, in the centre and south of Iraq, infant mortality and morbidity have increased dramatically and reached unacceptable levels.

We cannot in all conscience ignore such reports, or assume that they are wrong. It is imperative that we all - Secretariat and Council and 661 Committee - implement fully and expeditiously what the Council's resolutions demand of us. I am very happy, therefore, to hear that the Committee is now ready to give us the list of drugs and other medical supplies which, under Resolution 1284, the Secretariat will henceforth be able to approve on its own authority.

Indeed, the Council should seek every opportunity to alleviate the suffering of the population, who after all are not the intended targets of sanctions.

That said, all of us must realise that the people of a State which is the object of sanctions must always in some degree be victims - often victims both of their own Government and of the measures taken against it. The only satisfactory outcome of any such situation is for the State in question to return to full compliance with the decisions of the Council, so that sanctions can be ended as quickly as possible.

I have no doubt that all of us look forward with impatience to the day when that will happen in the case of Iraq.

Thank you very much.

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For further information please contact Hasmik Egian, OIP - NY, 1.212.963.4341