Vienna, 25 September 1999

We have learned of your appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the Middle East. As you will be aware, one Middle Eastern issue of great concern to many people in Britain, and across the Middle East itself, is the immense human suffering being caused in Iraq by the comprehensive economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.

As you may also be aware, 30 September will mark the first anniversary of the resignation of Denis Halliday, formerly UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in protest against the crushing impact of sanctions on ordinary people in Iraq.

On resignation Mr Halliday said, in words now known across the world: 'We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.' (Independent, 15 October 1998)

I would ask you to mark 30 September by setting aside time to consider some of the many quantitative and qualitative reports of human suffering in Iraq, and to consider your own, newly-achieved, position within one of the few governments in the world that continues to support the continuation of this torture of an entire people.

I would ask you thenceforth to become a public and private advocate of the immediate and unconditional lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq.

I am aware of your long record of human rights activism prior to entering government, and I sincerely hope that you will feel moved by your conscience to act on the denial of basic human rights to an entire people.

In your deliberations, one key piece of evidence will clearly be the recent UNICEF report on cumulative child mortality in Iraq.

As you know, this estimated that half a million more children died in the 1990s than would have died if child death rates had continued to decline as they did in the 1980s.

UNICEF did not attribute all these deaths to sanctions, but stated clearly that economic sanctions were 'certainly one factor' in causing these child deaths, and UNICEF repeated the conclusion of the UN Security Council Humanitarian Panel on Iraq earlier this year, that 'Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war'.

I also would like to refer to our organization’s presentation before the UN Commission on Human Rights (1991) and our earlier reports on ‘The United Nations Sanctions Policy and International Law’ (1995) and ‘Economic Sanctions and Development’ (1997). Both reports come to the conclusion that the comprehensive sanctions regime imposed on Iraq violates the most basic principles of international humanitarian law.

Please seek out and consider the evidence put forward by UN agencies and by independent observers such as US epidemiologist Dr Richard Garfield. On 30 September, please contemplate the fate of an entire people. We expect you to speak out for the basic human rights of the ordinary people of Iraq, and for an unconditional and immediate lifting of the economic sanctions.

As a Foreign Office minister, you now have power, and with power comes responsibility.