28 February 2007

Hilary Benn MP - war criminal?

On 19 February 2007, nearly 100 eminent doctors, backed by a group of international lawyers, revealed in a letter to the Independent newspaper the desperate plight of children who are dying in Iraqi hospitals for the lack of simple equipment that in some cases can cost as little as 95p. The Independent also published a story the same day, based on the letter, "The battle to save Iraq's children ".

The group of international lawyers says this amounts to a breach of the Geneva conventions that require Britain and the US as occupying forces to protect human life, in other words it is a war crime.

I was first alerted to this story by a Media Lens Alert: "Iraqi Civilian Suffering - The Media Silence".

The Editors of Media Lens then posted to their message board this posting:
Latest Alert: Hilary Benn's shameful response to the doctors' letter - Posted by The Editors on February 26, 2007, 8:20 pm

"We have spoken to Nicholas Wood, one of the organisers behind the letter signed by 100 doctors and by lawyers that we featured in today's alert. He confirmed that Benn refused to meet with the doctors and refused to send emergency aid to a particular maternity hospital identified by the doctors as being in desperate need of help - a place where children are dying for want of equipment that costs a few pence.
Benn claimed that responsibility for the deaths lies with Saddam Hussein because of poor standards pre-2003 and with the Iraqi government now. Nothing to do with us! Here's the letter Benn published in the Independent. We should be writing to Benn in large numbers, should we not?"

Yes, we should. And I did. Of course, one never expects a response from politicians like Benn, as one is sure they scoff at the idea of participative democracy and believe they are not answerable to the ordinary citizen...

Here is the text of my letter, which was also copied to the Editors of Media Lens:


27-feb-2007 17:08

Iraqi health care

enviado por

Mr. Benn,

Your letter published in the Independent on 20 January 2007 is a cold excercise in supreme cynicism.

Firstly, you completely ignore the legal ramifications of British failure, as one of the occupying powers under UN resolution 1483, to comply with the Geneva and Hague conventions that require the UK and the US to "maintain order and to look after the medical needs of the population" of Iraq. I suppose this is not surprising, because, as Cabinet member of the British government of one of the occupying powers and as Secretary of State for International Development you are the person directly responsible for providing that aid, and because of this failure "to look after the medical needs of the population" you could be charged at the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Secondly, as if that wasn't bad enough, you state in your letter "The terrible conditions you describe also have other causes. Their roots lie in what happened under Saddam's regime, which neglected healthcare, so that by 2000 health indicators for Iraq were comparable with some of the poorest countries in Africa." The reasons health indicators for Iraq were comparable with some of the poorest countries in Africa by 2000 had little to do with Saddam's regime neglecting healthcare as you well know, hence the supreme cynicism.

Iraq had one of the most advanced health care systems in the region prior to the 1991 Gulf War. A July 2003 report by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation noted that prior to 1990, 97% of the urban dwellers and 71% of the rural population had access to free primary health care; just 2% of hospital beds were privately managed. With the 1991 Gulf War that followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the situation changed dramatically.

US/UK air strikes deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as electrical plants, oil refineries, transportation networks and water treatment facilities, hospitals were destroyed; after hostilities ceased foreign nurses left the country; and the health budget was slashed. Spending per capita fell from $86 to $17 in 1996. In the eight months following the war, mortality rates for children under five shot back up to 120 per 1,000 live births, the highest recorded increase for any country in the world in the 1990s, according to the UNICEF/WHO report. I could go on, but I am sure you aware of this information.

Then we come to the genocidal sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations (backed strongly by the US and UK) which imposed harsh restrictions on imports of everything, including access to vital medical equipment, chemotherapy drugs (particularly important as a result of the use of depleted uranium muntions by the US/UK forces), and other key medicines, including even pain-killers. A 1999 Unicef report calculated that more than half a million children had died as a direct result of said sanctions. This has been well documented by John Pilger in his film 'Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq'.

You pass responsibility to the Iraqis for the current situation when it is the criminal failure of the occupying powers to fulfill their international legal obligations that is at fault. I will certainly support any initiative to bring you and the rest of the Blair regime before the International Criminal Court to answer for these crimes.

Yours Sincerely,

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