Convicted felon and two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly questioned the morality and legality of the United Nations’ sanctions against Iraq last night, commenting on what she called tragic conditions and issues Iraqi civilians face largely because of U.S. policy.
Kelly, who helped initiate “Voices in the Wilderness,” a group dedicated to campaigning against these sanctions, has been to Iraq 14 times since 1996 when the campaign began. She said she has had her passport taken away and has been threatened with jail time and fines for breaking laws she feels are cruel and should not be obeyed.
“We don’t believe it’s criminal to bring medicine and toys to people in Iraq. We think the economic sanctions are criminal,” she said.
Kelly also said she believes the sanctions violate international law and the U.N. charter.
She alleged the sanctions are still being imposed on Iraq because of the United States’ desire to control petroleum and recycle funds between the Mideast and the U.S.
Kelly said the Gulf War never really ended and changed into an economic war punishing civilian populations that can do nothing about government regimes.
“There’s a sentiment in this country that believes that the war isn’t accomplishing anything,” she said.
Kelly said students need to be asking why the U.S. cannot work toward negotiating solutions with other countries, engaging in longer conversations with countries like Iraq and relying on the U.N. for guidance.
“The attention of the world is very much focused right now on U.S. decisions regarding the Middle East Peace Process and Iraq,” she said. “It’s appropriate to ask questions of the media and elected representatives.”
Kelly said negotiation is possible and that Iraq needs to be seen as more than its leadership.
“We need to start recognizing that the U.S. has been responsible for promoting a state of siege that has primarily targeted civilians who have no control over the government,” she said. “And in the process it has strengthened the government the U.S. says it is trying to dislodge.”
She stressed the need for a fuller picture and more education in order to show the realities the U.S. media has refused to communicate. Kelly also blamed mainstream media for a lack of adequate coverage.
Kelly criticized the fact that a 1999 U.N. Children’s Fund report, largely attributing the deaths of 50,000 Iraqi children under the age of five to economic sanctions, received only two sentences of coverage in the Wall Street Journal. She added that in 10 years, sanctions caused the deaths of over half a million children above pre-war levels.
“We might suppose that the deaths of over a half million children might merit more than two sentences in a mainstream paper, but I don’t think you’ll find it,” she said.
Kelly said the U.S. is supposed to be the beacon of democracy but that democracy is based on information and the general public lacks knowledge of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
“The U.S. public is disadvantaged in relation to people elsewhere,” she said. “You can ask desk clerks, taxi drivers, most anyone in Iraq. They can tell you about economic realities and the nuances of political discussion, which is quite contrasted to discussion in our country,” she said.
LSA junior Fadi Kiblawi, who helped organize the event, said Kelly was invited because of her expertise on what he said is a “hot topic” on campus. Numerous speakers on campus have denounced sanctions, Kiblawi said, adding that presenting the humanitarian effect of the sanctions was important.
“Most people on campus are very apathetic to this issue and most people don’t really know what’s going on,” he said. “Our goal is to make people aware which we feel in turn will garner more support ending sanctions.”
Medical student Dan Dorgan said he found it refreshing to hear a viewpoint he feels is kept silent most of the time.
Dorgan added that Kelly’s most important message seemed to be a push for people to educate themselves and find sources of information, a message he said he feels applies universally.
“That way people can understand and figure out how to ask better questions about both sides of the issue, especially challenging the status quo and mainstream presentation of issues,” he said.