SAN FRANCISCO -- In an upcoming law journal article, a UC Hastings professor has argued that the continuing sanctions against Iraq, in place since the end of the Gulf War, may be equated to genocide.
A legal anthropologist who studies the cross-cultural aspects of law, legal institutions, and modes of dispute processing, Professor George Bisharat has written on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has lived, studied and traveled throughout the Middle East.
His article, scheduled for publication in the University of Iowa’s Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, questions whether sanctions against Iraq have come to constitute genocide within the meaning of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide of 1948.
Bisharat points out that the sanctions were instituted against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Within months, it became apparent that sanctions were contributing to immense civilian suffering in Iraq but, nevertheless, they have been maintained since.
Estimates put Iraqi deaths as a result of sanctions at as many as 1 to 2 million, exceeding those massacred in Rwanda in 1994 and on a par with the Armenian Holocaust. UNICEF officials estimated in 1999 that some 5,000 to 6,000 Iraqi children -- many under the age of 5 -- were dying each month primarily due to sanctions.
Bisharat’s article first addresses reservations some may have about the “sanctions = genocide” equation. “Sanctions don’t have the ‘look’ or ‘feel’ of genocide in its classic sense,” he says. “But a growing number of critics have come to view sanctions as a new ‘stealth weapon.’ Because of their low visibility, sanctions don’t bear the political costs of military actions, but often have effects just as lethal.” Putting sanctions within their historical context, Bisharat outlines the lengthy series of decisions dealing with the sanctions regime and documents the impact sanctions have had on the Iraqi people -- a nation of nearly 18 million devastated by war, dependent on oil exports for 90 percent of foreign revenue, and importing 70 percent of its food.
At the core of the article is a detailed, point-by-point examination of the conditions resulting from sanctions in relation to the elements of the crime of genocide. Though perhaps not a classic case of genocide involving an elaborate ideology of racial hatred, the sanctions program nonetheless appears to satisfy the elements of genocide, Bisharat writes. He concludes that the concept of genocide must be sufficiently flexible to encompass “genocide with a new face.”
The sanctions program will come before the U.N. Security Council for reconsideration in May 2002.