Patrick Cockburn: Sanctions Are Medieval Seiges - And War Crimes

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Jan 21 01:08:28 GMT 2018

It’s time we saw economic sanctions for what they really are – war crimes
Saddam Hussein and his senior lieutenants were 
rightly executed for their crimes, but the 
foreign politicians and officials who were 
responsible for the sanctions regime that killed 
so many deserved to stand beside them in the dock

Patrick Cockburn @indyworld a day ago 69 comments

Independent Voices

North Korean ghost ships are washing up on the 
shores of Japan, sometimes with their starving sailors still on board Reuters
The first pathetic pieces of wreckage from North 
Korean fishing boats known as “ghost ships” to be 
found this year are washing up on the coast of 
northern Japan. These are the storm-battered 
remains of fragile wooden boats with unreliable 
engines in which North Korean fishermen go far 
out to sea in the middle of winter in a desperate search for fish.

Often all that survives is the shattered wooden 
hull of the boat cast up on the shore, but in 
some cases the Japanese find the bodies of 
fishermen who died of hunger and thirst as they 
drifted across the Sea of Japan. Occasionally, a 
few famished survivors are alive and explain that 
their engine failed or they ran out of fuel or 
they were victims of some other fatal mishap.

The number of “ghost ships” is rising with no 
fewer than 104 found in 2017, which is more than 
in any previous year, though the real figure must 
be higher because many boats will have sunk 
without trace in the 600 miles of rough sea between North Korea and Japan.

The reason so many fishermen risk and lose their 
lives is hunger in North Korea where fish is the 
cheapest form of protein. The government imposes 
quotas for fishermen that force them to go far 
out to sea. Part of their catch is then sold on 
to China for cash, making fish one of the biggest 
of North Korea’s few export items.

The fact that North Korean fishermen took greater 
risks and died in greater numbers last year is 
evidence that international sanctions imposed on 
North Korea are, in a certain sense, a success: 
the country is clearly under severe economic 
pressure. But, as with sanctions elsewhere in the 
world past and present, the pressure is not on 
the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who looks 
particularly plump and well-fed, but on the poor and the powerless.

The record of economic sanctions in forcing 
political change is dismal, but as a way of 
reducing a country to poverty and misery it is 
difficult to beat. UN sanctions were imposed 
against Iraq from 1990 until 2003. Supposedly, it 
was directed against Saddam Hussein and his 
regime, though it did nothing to dislodge or 
weaken them: on the contrary, the Baathist 
political elite took advantage of the scarcity of 
various items to enrich themselves by becoming 
the sole suppliers. Saddam’s odious elder son 
Uday made vast profits by controlling the import of cigarettes into Iraq.

The bureaucrats in charge of UN sanctions in Iraq 
always pretended that they prevented Saddam 
rebuilding his military strength. This was always 
a hypocritical lie: the Iraqi army did not fight 
for him in 1991 at the beginning of sanctions any 
more than it did when they ended. It was absurd 
to imagine that dictators like Kim Jong-un or 
Saddam Hussein would be influenced by the sufferings of their people.

These are very real: I used to visit Iraqi 
hospitals in the 1990s where the oxygen had run 
out and there were no tyres for the ambulances. 
Once, I was pursued across a field in Diyala 
province north of Baghdad by local farmers 
holding up dusty X-rays of their children because 
they thought I might be a visiting foreign doctor.

Saddam Hussein and his senior lieutenants were 
rightly executed for their crimes, but the 
foreign politicians and officials who were 
responsible for the sanctions regime that killed 
so many deserved to stand beside them in the 
dock. It is time that the imposition of economic 
sanctions should be seen as a war crime, since it 
involves the collective punishment of millions of 
innocent civilians who die, sicken or are reduced 
to living off scraps from the garbage dumps.

There is nothing very new in this. Economic 
sanctions are like a medieval siege but with a 
modern PR apparatus attached to justify what is 
being done. A difference is that such sieges used 
to be directed at starving out a single town or 
city while now they are aimed at squeezing whole countries into submission.

An attraction for politicians is that sanctions 
can be sold to the public, though of course not 
to people at the receiving end, as more humane 
than military action. There is usually a pretence 
that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being 
allowed through freely and no mention is made of 
the financial and other regulatory obstacles 
making it impossible to deliver them.

An example of this is the draconian sanctions 
imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were 
meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and 
help remove him from power. They have wholly 
failed to do this, but a UN internal report 
leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the 
effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of 
aid by international aid agencies. They cannot 
import the aid despite waivers because banks and 
commercial companies dare not risk being 
penalised for having anything to do with Syria. 
The report quotes a European doctor working in 
Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of 
 makes the import of the medical 
instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible.”

People should be just as outraged by the impact 
of this sort of thing as they are by the 
destruction of hospitals by bombing and artillery 
fire. But the picture of X-ray or kidney dialysis 
machines lacking essential spare parts is never 
going to compete for impact with film of dead and 
wounded on the front line. And those who die 
because medical equipment has been disabled by 
sanctions are likely to do so undramatically and out of sight.

Embargoes are dull and war is exciting. A few 
failed rocket strikes against Riyadh by the 
Houthi forces in Yemen was heavily publicised, 
though no Saudis were killed. Compare this to the 
scant coverage of the Saudi embargo on 
Houthi-held Yemen which has helped cause the 
largest man-made famine in recent history. In 
addition, there are over one million cholera 
cases suspected and 2,000 Yemenis have died from 
the illness according to the World Health Organisation.

PR gambits justifying sanctions are often the 
same regardless of circumstances. One is to claim 
that the economic damage caused prevents those 
who are targeted spending money on guns and 
terror. President Trump denounces the nuclear 
deal with Iran on the grounds that it frees up 
money to finance Iranian foreign ventures, though 
the cost of these is small and, in Iraq, Iranian 
activities probably make a profit.

Sanctions are just as much a collective 
punishment as area bombing in East Aleppo, Raqqa 
and Mosul. They may even kill more people than 
the bombs and shells because they go on for years 
and their effect is cumulative. The death of so 
many North Korean fishermen in their unseaworthy 
wooden craft is one side effect of sanctions but 
not atypical of their toxic impact. As usual, 
they are hitting the wrong target and they are 
not succeeding against Kim Jong-un any more than 
they did against Saddam Hussein.
 From South America, where payment must be made 
with subtlety, the Bormann organization has made 
a substantial contribution. It has drawn many of 
the brightest Jewish businessmen into a 
participatory role in the development of many of 
its corporations, and many of these Jews share 
their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided 
with a specially dispensed venture capital fund. 
I spoke with one Jewish businessmen in Hartford, 
Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown 
several years before our conversation, but with 
Bormann money as his leverage. Today he is more 
than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits 
earmarked as always for his venture capital 
benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how 
Bormann’s people operate in the contemporary 
commercial world, in contrast to the fanciful 
nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much “literature.”

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
participation in Bormann companies that when 
Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the 
Jewish and German communities of Buenos Aires. 
Jewish leaders informed the Israeli authorities 
in no uncertain terms that this must never happen 
again because a repetition would permanently 
rupture relations with the Germans of Latin 
America, as well as with the Bormann 
organization, and cut off the flow of Jewish 
money to Israel. It never happened again, and the 
pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an 
Argentinian safe haven, protected by the most 
efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.
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