The Face of Genocide



Today the supporters of the embargo against Iraq rarely argue that the Iraqi people are not suffering. Only the perversely ignorant could doubt the miseries of that tortured nation. Rather the upholders of sanctions choose to argue that all the suffering of the Iraqi civilian population is caused by the brutal intransigence of Sadddam Hussein. If he would only observe all the UN Security Council resolutions, if he would only ‘step aside’, if he would only … then the embargo could be lifted and the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people brought to an end. We can of course debate the extent to which the relevant resolutions (principally 661 and 687; 688 and others are not mandatory resolutions) have been observed (Rolf Ekeus, UN official in charge of dismantling Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’, concedes that there has been substantial Iraqi co-operation), but such a debate — much favoured by cynical US strategists — represents a deliberate diversion from the central ethical and legal question: to what extent, if at all, is it justifiable to subject a helpless civilian population to disease and starvation in the furtherance of a political objective? Before considering this crucial question, before examining the legal and ethical face of genocide, it is useful to glance at the traditional role of the economic embargo as a coercive tool.


Security Council Civilian Population Geneva Convention Economic Sanction Security Council Resolution 
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© Geoff Simons 1996

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