Geneva, Aug 18 (IPS/Gustavo Capdevila) -- Efforts made to limit the powers of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights have not produced the effects desired by some, and instead have led to resolutions critical of economic embargoes, prompting an angry reaction from the United States.
A UN report about the impacts of economic sanctions on the full exercise of human rights is "incorrect, biased and inflammatory," charged George Moose, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva.
The embargoes in question include Iraq and Cuba, two current and extreme cases that are deeply rooted in US foreign policy. The UN Security Council has intervened in the cases of Iraq and of Afghanistan, Libya, Ruanda, Sierra Leone, the Sudan and the former Yugoslavia, among others, invoking the organisation's Charter.
The document that sparked the ire of the United States was authored by Belgian jurist Marc Bossuyt at the request of the Sub- Commission. His report indicates that these international economic sanctions are based on the assumption that economic pressure on civilians will translate into pressure on the government, thereby inducing political changes.
But "this 'theory' is bankrupt both legally and practically, as more and more evidence testifies to the inefficacy of comprehensive economic sanctions as a coercive tool," maintained Bossuyt, a former member of the Sub-Commission.
In regimes where political decisions are not made through democratic channels, it is simply impossible for civilian pressures to spur change in the government, advises the study.
On the contrary, the government being sanctioned could use the reprisals as a scapegoat for its problems, giving political leaders a foothold to engage in political extremism.
The suffering of the civilian population, allegedly the effective factor in comprehensive economic sanctions, undermines the efficacy of the sanctions while potentially strengthening the government in question and its policies.
The US reaction to the report included the warning that its conclusions "risk the credibility of the Sub-Commission." Moose also insisted that "the report reflects unfavourable on the Sub- Commission and on its author."
The UN body embroiled in this controversy, made up of 26 juridical experts named by their governments but who act independently, has already suffered a serious reduction in its power this year. Specifically, it has been deprived of its authority to evaluate claims about human rights violations on a country-by-country basis.
Another change included the modification of its name, now known as the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
The ban on getting involved in the human rights problems of any specific country has restricted the Sub-Commission to concentrating on more general issues, such as the case of economic sanctions and their impact on human rights.
But paradoxically, the study of these questions turned up flagrant cases that involve specific embargo situations, identifying the country that has established the sanctions and those who suffer their consequences.
Despite the restrictions on Sub-Commission work on country cases, the names of the implicated nations arose spontaneously, commented Chilean academic Jos, Bangoa, one of the body's members.
The Bossuyt report says there are contradictions as to the exact number of deaths attributable to the sanctions against Iraq, but estimates range from a half million to 1.5 million people, "with the majority of the deaths being children."
In summary, "the sanctions imposed on Iraq have produced a humanitarian disaster comparable to the worst catastrophes of the past decades," the Belgian expert said. After nearly half a century, the unilateral embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba is increasingly stringent and has yet to achieve its objective. Bossuyt stressed that world leaders must adopt measures on the embargo in order to prevent the consequences observed in Iraq.
The Sub-Commission, which concluded its annual period of sessions Friday, approved a resolution that recognises Bossuyt's efforts while calling on nations to reconsider the adoption of economic sanctions or their support for such measures.