Since the end of the Cold War, economic sanctions or embargoes have been used with increasing frequency and effect, notably against Iraq, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Sudan, and Cuba. One the one hand, these sanctions are often imposed as an alternative to either inaction or military force in the face of aggression or grave injustice. On the other hand, sanctions are blunt instruments that do not always achieve their desired objectives (and can even be counterproductive), and can bring terrible suffering to civilian populations.
General Approach. In their 1993 statement, The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, the U.S. Bishops urged that comprehensive sanctions be used sparingly and with restraint, and proposed tentative criteria for evaluating decisions to impose sanctions:
- They should be a response to grave and ongoing injustice, after less coercive measures have been tried, and with clear and reasonable conditions for their removal;
- They must avoid grave and irreversible harm to the civilian population. Therefore, sanctions should be targeted, as much as possible, against those directly responsible for the injustice, and provision must be made to ensure that the basic human needs of the population are met;
- The consent of the population affected by sanctions is a moral consideration, although consent does not eliminate the need for humanitarian exemptions;
- Sanctions should be part of a serious diplomatic effort to find a political settlement.
Iraq. Like many others, the bishops supported UN sanctions (with a humanitarian exemption) against Iraq in 1990 as an alternative to the use of military force. Since the end of the Gulf War, the USCC has repeatedly supported efforts to secure Iraqi compliance with its international obligations while ending the morally intolerable suffering caused by sanctions:
- Iraq's responsibilities. The Iraqi government has a duty to cease its internal repression, to end its threats to peace, to abandon its effort to develop weapons of mass destruction and to respect the legitimate role of the U.N in ensuring that it does so. Its failure to comply with the cease-fire resolutions, and to feed and care for its citizens under existing exemptions to the embargo is indefensible.
- International community's responsibilities. The USCC has repeatedly called for fresh thinking and new approaches to the ongoing crisis with Iraq. In order to avoid further harm to the Iraqi people, the USCC has urged an end to the current embargo. In the past, the USCC supported the "oil-for-food" program, which permits Iraq to sell virtually all the oil it can but requires that the revenues be used only to buy certain UN-approved commodities and pay reparations to Kuwait. The USCC has been clear, however, that "oil-for-food" is not a long-term solution. Restrictions on trade in civilian goods must be lifted, while more targeted financial and political sanctions and a strict embargo on military-related items should be retained. The goal is not to reward Iraq's irresponsible behavior, but to relieve a morally intolerable situation where innocent civilians are suffering for the actions of a regime over which they have no control.
- Support for peaceful measures. The USCC has repeatedly expressed deep concern over the use of force, which is on-going, to compel Iraq to comply with its obligations.
- Urge Members of Congress and Secretary of State Colin Powell (U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520) to support steps to end promptly the embargo against Iraq.
- Urge support for legislation to ease the embargo against Cuba.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace (1993) (section on sanctions), OPPS, 3211 Fourth Street, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20017. $3.95.
USCC statements/ letters on Iraqi sanctions (8/91, 11/97, 2/98, 11/98, 9/99, 11/99) and Cuba sanctions (5/00, 7/00, 9/00) (www.usccb.org/sdwp/international)
"Economic Sanctions and the Just War Doctrine," by D. Christiansen and G. Powers, in Economic Sanctions, edited by D. Cortright and G. Lopez (Westview Press, 1995)
For further information: Gerard Powers (Iraq) or Tom Quigley (Cuba), 202-541-3199 (ph);
202-541-3339 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com