Hans-Christof von Sponeck

Count Hans-Christof von Sponeck, born in Bremen in 1939, has been working
for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for 32 years. Appointed
by Kofi Annan in 1998 as United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq,
with the status of UN Assistant to the Secretary General, Mr. von Sponeck
resigned in March 2000 in protest against the sanctions, which had led the
Iraqi people to misery and starvation. It is with sorrow and bitterness that
he speakes about the sufferings endured by the Iraqis, a people he knew well
and learned to love, and he appeals to the political leaders responsible for
the catastrophe in a moving interview he gave to Silvia Cattori.

Silvia Cattori: In your book ”A Different War: The UN Sanctions Regime in
Iraq”, [1] you denounced openly the fact that the Security Council betrayed the
principles of the UN Charter. Could you give us specific examples where the
UN Secretariat behaved in an especially condemnable way?

Hans von Sponeck: The Security Council must follow the UN Charter and it
must not forget the Convention on the rights of the child and the general
implications of these conventions. Moreover, if the Security Council knows
that conditions in Iraq are inhuman - people of all ages have been in deep
trouble, not because of a dictator, but because of the policies around the
’oil for food programme’ - and it decides not to act, or not to do enough to
protect the people against the impact of its policy, then one can argue very
easily that the Security Council is to be blamed, for the very strong
increase in the mortality rates in Iraq.
A definite example is that during the 1980s, under the government of Saddam
Hussein, UNICEF identified 25 children per thousand under the age five years
of age that were dying in Iraq for various reasons. During the years of
sanctions, from 1990 to 2003, there was a sharp increase from 56 per
thousand children under five years of age in the early 1990s to 131 per
thousand under five years of age at the beginning of the new century. Now
everyone can easily understand that this was due to the economic sanctions,
so it is out of the question that the Security Council preferred to ignore
the consequences of its policies in Iraq under the pressure excercised by
the major intervening parties including, and in particular, the United
States and Great Britain.

Silvia Cattori: How could the Security Council neglect to consider the fact
that these sanctions allowed the superpowers to misuse their position and
uniquely pursue their war objectives, when it voted for other resolutions,
like for example resolution 1559 which was particularly intended to provide
the United States and Israel with a cover for future military strikes? Does
that mean that the Security Council and the UN Secretariat, supposed to
defend the people, have become mainly responsible for humanitarian

Hans von Sponeck: I would say, only those who either are ignorant, or those
who cannot accept the defeat, will continue to argue that the humanitarian
drama in Iraq was largely not due – not exclusively but to a large extent
–to an erroneous policy, a policy of punishment. The Iraqi people were
punished for having accepted the government in Baghdad, even though they
were completely innocent.

Silvia Cattori: Our political leaders, who are present in all international
bodies, knew perfectly well that these sanctions would have disastrous
consequences. Does that mean that, by remaining silent, they have accepted
innocent civilians to be killed, tortured, and starved?

Hans von Sponeck: I would say, unless the international community has a very
bad memory, we cannot forget that, either there was silence or there was
connivance, support, or there was a deliberate effort to promote conditions
of the kind that prevailed in Iraq during thirteen years of sanctions.
Therefore, you get different levels of accountability, of political
accountability. Not only the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the
President of the United States and their governments are responsible, but
others as well; Spain and Italy played a supportive role that means the
former governments are responsible as well. Mr Aznar in Madrid and Mr
Berlusconi in Italy are very much responsible for having contributed to the
humanitarian disaster that evolved in Iraq. They will not accept this
responsibility but the evidence is there.

Silvia Cattori: If the manipulation of the Security Council by the United
States is the main problem and if the US continues to commit crimes
pretending that they have a UN mandate, what can be done to correct that
unacceptable situation?

Hans von Sponeck: I think that this is a very important question. It is
relevant for the debate about what kind of United Nations we need to protect
the international community or to protect the 192 member governments from
the danger that certain other governments misuse their authority, their
information, their finances and their power to serve their own interest, but
against the interests of peace, the interests of justice and the interests
of mankind.

Silvia Cattori: How did you react to the execution of Saddam Hussein and his
co-defendants, sentenced to death by a tribunal established by the USA?

Hans von Sponeck: I would say, first of all, that I was not surprised. This
was the ultimate objective of those in power in Baghdad and of those who
occupy Iraq. It is impossible to defend Saddam Hussein, but we can respond
to the fact that there was no due process, but a masquerade. It was a
tribunal that hid a prearranged death sentence under the cover of
respectability. Saddam Hussein, like any other person, deserved the right to
a fair trial, but he was not given a fair trial. And therefore I was upset
by this obvious act, although we have international law, despite the fact
that the European nations, the US and Canada as well as other western
nations repeatedly express their intention to maintain justice, that they in
fact did not protect justice.

Silvia Cattori: You wrote to President Bush and asked him to free Tarek
Aziz. Did you get an answer?

Hans von Sponeck: I did not get an answer. I wrote this letter because I
know Mr Tarek Aziz. My predecessor and I both think he is a person with whom
we had a correct relationship, a person who – despite what we read in the
mainstream media – tried to look to the Iraqi people. He was ready and
willing to consider proposals for the improvement of the humanitarian aid
programme. From our perspective, from my perspective, he was a correct
person. I cannot judge what Mr Tarek Aziz did in Iraq outside my fields of
responsibility, but all I want to ask for is that a person, who is ill, if
for no other than humanitarian reasons, should be treated with dignity,
should be allowed to obtain medical care while having a fair trial. Just
like Saddam Hussein, Tarek Aziz deserved, and deserves, to be treated in
accordance with international law, in accordance with The Hague and the
Geneva Conventions. I object to the fact that over three years after he
voluntarily turned himself in to the occupation forces, he has not even been
charged, and still remains in custody while he is badly in need of medical

Silvia Cattori: While the situation created by the occupation of Iraq is
frightening, it is to be feared that the Resolution against Iran will be
used by the United States to strike that country. The German Navy – formally
under UN mandate – is in place in the Eastern Mediterranean. Is it because
you know to what extent your country is involved in the projects of war of
the United States that you recently wrote an open letter to Mrs Angela
Merkel asking her to refuse all use of violence against Iran?

Hans von Sponeck: That is correct. I feel very strongly that, gradually,
Germany and other European countries are getting involved into power policy
defined in Washington by power-hungry people. This is becoming more serious
because these power-hungry people begin to realize that they cannot, on
their own, implement a policy of domination. So they need the help of other
governments now, and these others seem to be Central-European and Eastern
European governments from Lithuania to Great Britain. They also try to
politicise NATO and make it an instrument, which to a large extent has in
fact already become a US instrument.
Therefore, just like any normal individual in this world, I cannot accept
the attempts – supported by Chancellor Merkel during the recent NATO summit
– to provide this military alliance with a political mission. NATO is an
instrument of the Cold War; for many years NATO was looking for a new
mission, for a new role. The only thing the allies knew was that they have a
military responsibility but, with the end of the Cold War in Europe, that
responsibility no longer existed and was no longer necessary. So there was
this desperate search for a new role.

I personally think that it is extremely dangerous that NATO now presents
itself as a democratic instrument for western democracies while, in fact, it
is a tool in the hands of the United States to implement the Project for the
‘New American Century’. Neoconservatives in the United States made this famous
proposal in the 1990s – while the Bush administration converted it into its
national security strategy of 2002 and subsequent years - and NATO is
supposed to assist its implementation. The responsible politicians that
recently met in Munich should have rejected this concept.
Mr Vladimir Putin, the Russian President for once did not mince his words
and expressed plainly what many of us feel. Of course, those who follow a
different agenda rejected his suggestions. However, there is a reality in
what Mr Putin said.

I am convinced that, due to this militarised politicisation of NATO, we will
have taken a big step backwards to what is not only a Cold War atmosphere
between major powers, but also, and this is the tragedy, to an increase in
defence spending in many countries including China, Russia, and Western
Europe. This spending has already been greatly increased in numerous
countries, and it can serve no other purpose than escalating the
polarisation between different groups around the world.
The world beyond Central Europe and North America is no longer willing to
accept a western one-sided policy. The public no longer accepts the
requirements of last century’s military and economic powers. Their days are
over and, if we do not take this into account, we will only make things
To me, the key words at the moment are dialogue and diplomacy. We have to
accomplish this in a clearly multilateral spirit, not in the spirit of a
superpower, which is anything but a superpower be it economically,
politically or morally, let alone ethically.
Even if there is a little bit of superpower spirit left in the United States
because of its military power, it is not going to be enough to save the ‘Pax
Americana’. ‘Pax Americana’ is a thing of the past and the sooner we recognise
this in Europe and prepare ourselves for multilateral cooperation – which is
something different from the bilateral or NATO type cooperation – the better
it will be.

Silvia Cattori: NATO is taking part in wars of occupation – in contradiction
to its own Charter – and, in collaboration with the CIA, it is involved in
secret criminal operations: What I think of in this context are the
abductions of suspects to secret prisons. If Europe continues to submit
itself to and accepts the installation of American anti-missile systems in
NATO member states, might this not lead to confrontation, or even to the
return to the worst days of Cold War?

Hans von Sponeck: It is insane. There is no excuse, and Condoleezza Rice’s
argument according to which Russia had no reason to worry about ten
anti-missile systems to be stationed in Poland and in the Czech Republic is
so dishonest. If ten can be placed today, twenty might be placed tomorrow.
The very fact that these antimissile systems are positioned at the border of
the former USSR, or Russia, is already enough to augment the reasons for
confrontation between Russia and the West, let alone China.

We are creating and we are shaping tomorrow’s enemy. I, and with me many
others around the globe, cannot accept this development. We do not count,
however, we are weak, we are considered naïve, we are considered ’blue-eyed
people’, as the Americans have often called us, who do not understand the
‘global vision’.

Well, if we are living in a democracy, then I have the right to understand
this ‘global vision’, but I am not informed about it. I am just asked to rely
on the good will and on the good intentions of a government like the one in
Washington. But I cannot do so, we cannot do so, because we have been
disappointed over and over again by misinformation, by brutal dishonesty, by
power politics that only served one party. I am far from accepting this and,
therefore I regard the whole policy of convincing the Czech and Polish
governments to have these antimissile systems as extremely dangerous and
misplaced. That is nothing but blatant and brutal power politics, which we
do not need and which we will fight against. Peace, future internationalism
and the consolidation of nations and progress – in the spirit of the UN
Charter and other international laws – don’t have any need of that.

Silvia Cattori: You were in Kuala Lumpur in February, to attend a conference
on war crimes. There was, in the West, very limited media coverage on this
important event. If such meetings, which denounce the drifts of NATO and the
violations of the UN Charter, are ignored, how can a debate be opened for
reforming these organisations? Don’t you feel like speaking in a desert
while the media, the UN, the States, go on lying and ignore your struggle?

Hans von Sponeck: Well, you know, one should not be discouraged by the fact
that the media ignore us. Most of the time, when citizens tried to convince
their leaders to change direction, they have been ignored. Well, should that
be the end of the effort? I do not think so. The very fact that people, not
just fools, not just misguided dreamers, but very realistic people who have
an overall view on the world, who understand the political processes, come
together to debate in a serious way the conditions and misuse of power,
gives important evidence that the international conscience is alive, that an
international conscience exists. Kuala Lumpur did not make it to the
headlines; Hollywood makes it to the headlines, cheap emotionalism, and
cheap quality media events like the Big Brother programme in London make

The fact that 5000 people got together in Kuala Lumpur to discuss war as a
crime, against the background of all the global sufferings that these
illegal wars have caused, did not make it to the headlines is regrettable,
but it should not make people less willing to speak out. Those attacted by
these crimes should notice it. Every one of us, as an individual, has a
responsibility to observe, has to make his or her views known. In addition,
I am sure that the Kuala Lumpur meeting has created more awareness in many
circles around the world, which will ultimately be transferred into a
greater resistance against these feint and selfish and one-sided policies
that the West tries to enforce.

I am not anti-West, I am a ’Westerner’ but that does not mean that I cannot
critically look at the one-way street which has developed, the one-way
traffic on which international power, international trade, international
culture are travelling. That, as I have said before, cannot continue because
it is no longer acceptable, and Kuala Lumpur brought together people from
all over the world, who are of the same opinion. So this has, I am sure,
added to an awareness, and a willingness to invest time in order to make
views known. And if that does not hit the headlines today and bring about a
change immediately, it may do so tomorrow, and if it is not tomorrow, then
the next day.

Silvia Cattori: Voices who, like Mr Jimmy Carter’s and Mr John Dugard’s
denounce the crimes of Israel in Palestine, voices who, like Mr Dennis
Halliday’s [2] and your own voice put the finger on UN’s drifting off course in
Iraq, all these voices are demanding for an immense respect. However, these
are rare voices, which can be easily marginalised by the political powers.
Aren’t you disappointed that hardly anybody or only a few people at your
level follow your example and take position against these state crimes and

Hans von Sponeck: Of course, I am disappointed. You know, these days, every
day, I am waiting anxiously for a senior American general, a senior American
political personality to come out and say: enough is enough, I will not
continue to support insanity, I will not go on supporting illegality, I will
no longer support policies that have led us into deep difficulties and deep
violations of anything that a civilised person should stand for. Of course,
one is disappointed, but in view of what has happened during the last few
decades, particularly during the years when Mr Bush has been in power, we
cannot allow ourselves to be idle. This is an appeal for the international
peace movement which should be oriented towards a better coordination, i.e.
much better networking, much more combined effort, much more joint
declarations. People from all over the world should join hands and
demonstrate to themselves and to the larger public that they have the firm
intention not to accept what has led us into a world in which the gulf is
wide open between those who have nothing – and that is a very, very large
majority, over one billion people out of the six and a half billion people
on our planet living with less than one dollar a day – and the top ten
percent who are living in unimaginable luxury and well being.

This cannot continue. And if some people who listen to our conversation may
say ’here is really a very naïve person’, and others say ’look this is a
communist, terrible, he is asking for equality for everybody’, I will tell
them ’no, I am not’. First of all I do not think I am naïve, secondly, I do
not think I am a communist in the traditional sense. I am a person who, in
32 years of work for the United Nations and beyond, has learned to accept
the fact that all of us are not equal, but that all of us should have equal
opportunities to develop our own contribution to peace. It is not a question
of lack of money, there is plenty of money for everybody but, what is
missing is the will to share the resources and to do more than pay lip
service to this wonderful body of instruments that has been established by
good people after the Second World War. Over the last sixty years, this body
has tried to lay the basis for greater justice and for socioeconomic
progress for everybody.

Silvia Cattori: All the hope that you feed must make you suffer, as you are
well aware that for the Muslim peoples that the West is humiliating, the
worst is still to come?

Hans von Sponeck: Of course. If you read and if you see, what is happening
in the Middle East, there is no single day on which you do not feel ashamed,
you do not feel the humilitation that strikes us when we see these poor
people suffering hard, people from Palestine to Iraq and in other parts of
the Middle East as well. The human language is not, at least for me, capable
of expressing the feelings that I really have. It is horrifying. I come from
a country, which experienced and caused this horrible Second World War. It
lasted for five years, and we still talk about it. What about the many years
in Iraq, thirty years of dictatorship, and thirteen years of sanctions, and
now three and a half years of occupation: how much can an individual, how
much can a nation endure? And if you see – I think of the universities I
visited was in Baghdad, Mustanseriya University, Baghdad College, Baghdad
University – that these institutions where young innocent people are
supposed to prepare for life, were destroyed by bombs. When I was in Iraq, I
saw people living peacefully in integrated neighbourhoods! I never heard a
conversation like “I am a Shiite, you are a Sunnite, and you are a Turcoman”
at that time.

Baghdad is the largest Kurdish city of the world with over one million
Kurds, and there were many problems, for sure, there was a dictator, there
were political murderers but, compared with what we see today, that was
nothing. The sectarian confrontation that exists now was created by this
illegal war. And the threat towards the Al-Maliki government is the limit of
dishonesty: “If you do not bring security to Iraq, then we, the Americans,
will reconsider to what extend we will continue our support”. What is this?
Who established these kinds of conditions? Who is responsible for this chaos
and the sectarian confrontation?

Silvia Cattori: Western countries condemn Iran that has signed the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, for a bomb that it does not have. They do not
condemn Israel that did not sign this treaty, and that has nuclear bombs.
Choosing between Israel that does not conceal preparing for waging a
pre-emptive nuclear war, and Iran who wants to have a civil nuclear
industry, is not Israel the one that is really threatening world peace, and
is not Iran the target? How do you react to this denial of justice?

Hans von Sponeck: I have only one immediate response: it is a classical
example of a double standard. We have a demand for a nuclear free zone: It
is the Security Council’s resolution 687 of April 1991 which in paragraph
14, calls for a nuclear free zone for the complete Middle East. Israel has
not even signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran may have intentions that
are against the long-term international interests, but Iran has not yet
passed the red line. Mister El-Baradei, the director of the International
Atomic Agency did not say that Iran had passed that line. All he did was to
say that Iran has not fully disclosed, not transparently enough, its
intentions and that Iran has put more centrifuges into operation.

But what an extraordinary demonstration of double standards, not to point
the finger at Israel and others! What about Pakistan, what about India? And
about the US itself which is openly working on a new generation of nuclear
weapons, totally in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of which the
US is an initiator. So this is a disastrous double standard. If I were an
Iranian, I would say: ’Sorry, take yourself measures to put into practice of
what you say is the norm and then we can talk, let’s sit down at the table,
at the same eye level, with no preconditions.’

I accept the Iranian demand for dialogue. I think it is absolutely the right
thing to do. Iran says: ’You have a disagreement, so let’s meet, but do not
come and tell me before I can meet you, that I must have fulfilled certain
conditions that you want me to fulfil; I am sorry, we come, we meet, we
talk, and we lay the cards on the table. And what we discover when we look
at reality is a frightening attempt to keep up a double standard.

Silvia Cattori: What message would you like to give to those political
leaders who do not care about human rights who wage wars and violating
international and human rights? What message would you like to give to the
populations who are, at present, exposed to the terror of occupying states?
And what message would you like to give to those who oppose these wars but
do not know how to stop them and are grieving over the inaction of the
political parties?

Hans von Sponeck: To those who are violating human rights, I would say: You
must live with your own guilty conscience, and how can you, in the light of
all the evident damage, live with your guilty conscience? Don’t you think
that there are better ways to protect your interests by at the same time
allowing others to benefit from existing opportunities?

To those who are victims and those who are concerned, I would say: Never
give up, just try your best, we all live in freedom, as healthy individuals,
to make our contribution small as they may be. If we gather for that aim, if
we cooperate, if we network, if we try to make our views known to those in
power, we can make a contribution. We can use our votes –those of us who
live in countries with free elections – let us make use of our votes but not
in a mechanical way. For it is a great act of responsibility to cast a vote.
Know your political candidates, put pressure on them, hold them accountable,
check their records and, when there is a re-election, if you are not
satisfied, encourage those who deserve your confidence to run for office.
What else can we do?

[1A Different Kind of War: The Un Sanctions Regime in Iraq. Berghahn Books
2006, ISBN 1845452224

[2Mr Dennis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General and
Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, predecessor of Mr Hans von Sponeck, that
the sanctions led to resign in protest in September 1998. He declared at
that time: « We are destroying an entire society (...).This is illegal and
immoral ». His resignation was followed by that of Mr Hans von Sponeck and
two days later, by that of Mrs Jutta Burghardt, in charge of the UN Food
Programme who joined the declaration of the two former.