Human rights in Iraq

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6972.130b (Published 14 January 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:130
  1. Telha Al-Shawaf,
  2. Salman Rawaf
  1. Consultant gynaecologist Bourn Hall Clinic, Cambridge CB3 7TR
  2. Director of clinical standards Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth Health Authority, Wilson Hospital, Mitcham, Surrey CR4 4TP

    EDITOR,—Human rights in Iraq have been violated for decades. The fact that doctors are forced to participate in violent atrocities1 adds another dimension to the suffering of the Iraqi people and, especially, our medical colleagues. Recent reports suggest that doctors have died for disobeying orders to perform amputations and other abominations, defending their conscience and integrity. In the past and during the Iraq-Iran war Iraqi doctors were subjected to terror to force them to carry out violations of human rights on innocent people. This resulted in an exodus of doctors from Iraq.

    Doctors are also under pressure because they feel helpless towards their patients. The harsh, punitive sanctions imposed by the United Nations since August 1990, which include sanctions against the supply of the BMJ; the destructive war in January and February 1991; the suppression of the civilian uprising; and the continuation of the embargo have resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, especially among children.3 4 Today's lack of medicine and food brings the Iraqi people nearer to a predicted “massive starvation and disease” in one of the rich countries in the world.5 The assertion that medicine and foodstuff are exempt from the sanctions is meaningless since Iraq has no funds to buy them.

    The unprecedented punitive sanctions have affected the whole of the Iraqi people except the original target, Saddam Hussein. The technical condition for lifting the sanctions—that is, that Iraq will not again be able to make weapons of mass destruction—has been whipped away, as the United Nations Security Council was informed by Rolf Ekens, the head of monitoring of Iraqi weapons. The political condition—the removal of Saddam Hussein—still remains. As recent events in Haiti have shown, economic sanctions and blockades cannot be effective against oppressive and inhumane political regimes unless they are combined with othermeasures. So does the United Nations, and in particular the United States, want to use force against Saddam Hussein again? Or is it time to lift the punitive sanctions and relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people and their doctors?

    We urge all medical professionals and bodies, especially the BMA, to put constant pressure on the British government and international bodies to lift the punitive sanctions on Iraqi people. Measures must be taken internationally to stop the export of any weapons to the regime (and other, similar regimes). The unnecessary death of more than 200 babies and children a day must be stopped and the Iraqi people allowed to regain self respect and a humane existence. This would ensure some allieviation of fear and the persecution of doctors in Iraq.

    We have collected an extensive bibliography on the impact of the Gulf war and the sanctions on the people of Iraq; this is available on request.


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