U.S. sanctions deny necessities of life
For a More Just and Humane World
A silent but deadly war is being waged against the people of Iraq. Since Aug. 6, 1990, millions of Iraqis have been the innocent victims of economic warfare waged by the U.S. government in the form of economic sanctions. Once dependent on imports for 70 percent of its food and medical supplies, Iraq, a country of 22 million, is now essentially cut off from the rest of the world.
Sanctions deny the Iraqi people access to the basic necessities of life, including food, medicine, education, employment and clean water. Importation of adequate chlorine and spare parts to repair water treatment and sewage plants destroyed during the Gulf War is banned under the sanctions, consequently tap water is unsafe and raw sewage runs through many streets and is dumped into the rivers. Children, the weakest and most vulnerable, suffer the most. According to UNICEF, 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of 5 die each month, primarily from preventable and treatable diseases. This situation is well beyond a state of emergency and demands our immediate attention.
As a mother of two, I am especially sensitive to the impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi children. My heart breaks for the millions of mothers who have had to sit by helplessly and watch their children die for lack of food and medicine. And I am filled with rage against my government leaders who have the power to lift the sanctions and ease the suffering, but who choose to do nothing. I am disappointed in the lack of public outcry in opposition to the sanctions from Americans and can only hope that it is misinformation or the lack of information that keeps most people from caring enough to speak out. The story of the human suffering resulting from the U.S./U.N. imposed sanctions regime needs to be told and, unfortunately, our media are not telling it.
The need to witness and to draw attention to the truth regarding the sanctions is one reason I feel compelled to travel to Iraq. On Nov. 25, I will participate as a member of a five-person Colorado Springs delegation to Iraq. We will be sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based organization working to end the sanctions. We will be travelling throughout Iraq for approximately 10 days visiting hospitals, private homes, U.N. offices and both governmental and non-governmental organizations. We will have the opportunity to meet and speak with our Iraqi sisters and brothers and hear first-hand of their suffering.
The sanctions policy is an indiscriminate weapon utilized in total disregard of international law. The sanctions violate Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children, as well as the very charter of the U.N. More importantly, they violate my own conscience which is guided first and foremost by God's law.
My government is contributing to the slow starvation of thousands of Iraqi children each month. These are children who are no more or less valued and cherished than our own. Madeline Albright says the cost is worth it. I don't agree. As a person of faith and a person of conscience, I must do everything possible to nonviolently resist these illegal and immoral sanctions. This includes traveling to Iraq in open and public defiance of the sanctions law, which according to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assests Control, is punishable by up to 12 years in jail and $1 million in fines.
There are many ways you can get involved in the effort to stop the sanctions. And I beg you, PLEASE do something. Write your congresspeople, write a letter to the editor, attend an organizing or informational meeting. If it's more information you need, check out Voices in the Wilderness' Web site at www.nonviolence.org/vitw. Each of us traveling to Iraq would welcome the opportunity to talk with any individual or group before and/or after our trip.
Because the five of us are members of the Catholic faith community and because our trip may coincide with the pope's proposed visit to Iraq, we have asked for and received our bishop's support. We will be carrying with us a letter signed by Bishop Richard Hanifen and other priests from our diocese, expressing their opposition to the sanctions and solidarity with the people of Iraq. We will also be delivering a symbolic amount of medical and school supplies for the children of Iraq in defiance of the sanctions law.
Finally, your thoughts and prayers are always needed and welcome. I embark on this journey only after much soul-searching, thought, prayer and struggle. There is still a part of me that is very uncertain and afraid, but I suppose it is my faith that allows me to embrace this fear and move forward, knowing that God is always near.
Susan Gordon is a Notre Dame graduate of the Class of 1984. For a More Just and Humane World is a bi-weekly column sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns. Comments and discussions are welcome at ND.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Center for Social Concerns or The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, December 3, 1999