US Says NO to Food as Human Right While Afghanistan Suffers Under Sanctions
On November 9, 2021, the United States, the world's most vocal supporter of human rights, voted against a United Nations committee's draft on the right to food which passed by 180 votes in favor to 2 against (Israel, United States). The UN committee expressed alarm that in 2020, "the number of people lacking access to adequate food rose by 320 million ‑ to 2.4 billion ‑ amounting to nearly a third of the world’s population, and that between 720 million and 811 million people faced hunger". Currently, the hunger situation in Afghanistan is the most acute with over half the population suffering from extreme levels of hunger. Afghanistan has been subjected to US sanctions since the US loss to the Taliban in 2021.
|UN Vote on Food as Human Right|
“Hunger is a violation of human dignity”, Cuba’s delegate said while addressing the UN Committee meeting. Presenting the draft, he voiced concern that the United States has blocked consensus on the text for four years in a row. The United States representative — highlighting conditions in the Lake Chad Basin, Yemen and Somalia ‑ said the draft contains unbalanced and inaccurate positions that her delegation simply cannot support. The concept of food sovereignty could justify food protectionism, negatively impacting food security, she explained, adding that the United States does not recognize the right to food, as it lacks a definition in international law.
Meanwhile, Shelley Thakral, the World Food Program spokesperson for Afghanistan, says more than half the population — some 23 million Afghans — are facing what the WFP calls extreme levels of hunger. Malnutrition is soaring. Food prices have risen. And the WFP's surveys show the overwhelming majority of Afghans, 98% of the population, lack enough food to eat. Many are surviving on limited diets with less fresh vegetables, dairy or meat – or none at all, according to an NPR report.
Afghanistan is not the first example of the US sanctions resulting in mass hunger and starvation. The reality is that the United States' sanctions over the years have denied many people around the world their basic right to food. The sanctions do not just hit the current generation of people experiencing hunger. Sanctions permanently damage the social and economic fabric of the targeted nations. The effects of hunger last multiple generations in terms of their sub-par physical and mental development.
In a recent article published in The Guardian, Nicholas Mulder, author of "The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War" has criticized the use of sanctions. He has said "Promoting economic stimulus at home while enforcing deprivation abroad is a self-defeating way to seek world stability". Here is an except from Mulder's "The Economic Weapon":
"As sanctions have become an accepted tool of liberal international institutions, the threshold for using them has declined. How to respond to the violation of norms remains, ultimately, a political question. In the spring of 1919, Robert Cecil waved away protests against using blockade to overthrow Bolshevism by responding that he saw “no other alternative.” Many of today’s internationalists, too, see few alternatives. This perception has driven some of the most grievously counterproductive uses of sanctions, most prominently against Iraq in the 1990s, when its strangulation at the hands of the UN Security Council cost hundreds of thousands of lives and permanently damaged the country’s social and economic fabric. These humanitarian nightmares are an important reminder of the lethal early twentieth-century origins of sanctions. But most economic sanctions used today are far more mundane in character. In 2015 a UN official estimated that one-third of the world’s population lives in countries that are under some form of economic sanctions. These range from the specific, such as individual travel bans and asset freezes, to more general measures, such as technological and trade restrictions. Today’s omnipresent sanctions have traveled a long way from their interwar purpose of preventing war".
As far back as 1924, famous British economist John Maynard Keynes had argued that aiding our allies is more effective than sanctioning our foes. Mulder reminds the great powers of today, particularly the United States, that Keynes' lesson should be heeded now.
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More than half of the population is facing “extreme levels” of hunger, António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general, said last month. “For Afghans, daily life has become a frozen hell,” he added.
Now with no immediate respite in sight, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to neighboring countries.
From October through the end of January, more than a million Afghans in southwestern Afghanistan alone have set off down one of two major migration routes into Iran, according to migration researchers. Aid organizations estimate that around 4,000 to 5,000 people are crossing into Iran each day.
“There’s an exponential increase in the number of people departing Afghanistan through this route, particularly given how challenging this journey is in the winter months,” said David Mansfield, a researcher tracking Afghan migration. By his estimates, up to four times as many Afghans were leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan and then Iran each day in January compared with the same time last year.
ZARANJ, Afghanistan — From their hide-out in the desert ravine, the migrants could just make out the white lights of the Iranian border glaring over the horizon.
The air was cold and their breath heavy. Many had spent the last of their savings on food weeks before and cobbled together cash from relatives, hoping to escape Afghanistan’s economic collapse. Now, looking at the border they saw a lifeline: work, money, food to eat.
“There is no other option for me, I cannot go back,” said Najaf Akhlaqi, 26, staring at the smugglers scouring the moonlit landscape for Taliban patrols. Then he jolted to his feet as the smugglers barked at the group to run.
Since the United States withdrew troops and the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan has plunged into an economic crisis that has pushed millions already living hand-to-mouth over the edge. Incomes have vanished, life-threatening hunger has become widespread and badly needed aid has been stymied by Western sanctions against Taliban officials.
Beginning that process, Mr. Biden issued an executive order Friday morning invoking emergency powers to consolidate and freeze all $7 billion of the total assets the Afghan central bank kept in New York. The administration said it would ask a judge for permission to move $3.5 billion to a trust fund it would set up to support the needs of the Afghan people, like for humanitarian relief.
The highly unusual set of moves, which The New York Times had first reported was expected, is meant to address a tangled knot of legal, political, foreign policy and humanitarian problems stemming from the attacks and the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
When the Afghan government dissolved in August — with top officials, including its president and the acting governor of its central bank, fleeing the country — it left behind slightly more than $7 billion in central bank assets on deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Because it was no longer clear who — if anyone — had legal authority to gain access to that account, the Fed made the funds unavailable for withdrawal.
The Taliban, now in control of Afghanistan, immediately claimed a right to the money. But a group of relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, one of several sets who had won default judgments against the group in once seemingly quixotic lawsuits years ago, sought to seize it to pay off that debt.
Meanwhile, the economy in Afghanistan has been collapsing, leading to a mass starvation that is in turn creating an enormous and destabilizing new wave of refugees — and raising a clear need for extensive spending on humanitarian relief.
by EZRA KLEIN
“The current humanitarian crisis could kill far more #Afghans than the past 20 years of war,” David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, wrote recently. And we bear much of the blame. We have turned a crisis into a #catastrophe."
Ninety-five percent of Afghans don’t have enough to eat. Nearly nine million are at risk of starvation. The U.N.’s emergency aid request, at more than $5 billion, is the largest it has ever made for a single country. “The current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war,” David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, wrote recently.
And we bear much of the blame. We have turned a crisis into a catastrophe.
The drought in Afghanistan is the worst in decades. The Taliban is a brutal regime that has no idea how to manage an economy, and in many ways is barely trying. “Remember, the Emirate had not promised you the provision of food,” Mullah Muhammad Hassan, the head of the Taliban regime, said. “The Emirate has kept its promises. It is God who has promised his creatures the provision of food.”
But neither drought nor Taliban mismanagement fully explain the horror unfolding in Afghanistan. “The long and short of it is Western economic restrictions are creating an economic crisis in the country which is driving tens of millions Afghans into starvation,” Graeme Smith, an Afghanistan expert at the International Crisis Group, told me.
In August, President Biden withdrew American troops from Afghan soil. But even as we left Afghanistan’s land, we tightened a noose around its economy. The Afghan economy was built around our support. Roughly 45 percent of the G.D.P. and 75 percent of government spending was foreign aid. When we abruptly cut off that cash, we sent it into a tailspin.
Then we went further. We froze more than $9 billion that belonged to the Afghan government — the vast majority of its foreign reserves. Sanctions that had long applied to the Taliban as a terrorist group suddenly applied to the government of Afghanistan, and few companies or countries dared violate them. “If state collapse was the object of policy, it could hardly be better designed,” Miliband told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in unusually blunt testimony.
“You saw people who had jobs in August,” Shelley Thakral, who works for the World Food Program in Afghanistan, said. “Teachers, construction workers, people who worked in offices — they don’t have jobs anymore. I remember coming in November, and sitting in some of our distribution sites and seeing people who, especially in Kabul, were just lost. They were standing in line for food assistance for the first time in their lives.”
I was more sympathetic than many to the chaos that accompanied the American withdrawal. We lost too many of our own, and left behind too many who had risked their lives at our side, but the core of the catastrophe stemmed from failures previous administrations had covered up or refused to face. There is no good way to lose a war.
What’s happening now is different. Economic collapse was predictable, and it was predicted. As the economic historian Adam Tooze put it in August, “The Taliban may threaten Afghan freedom and rights, but it is the abrupt end to funding from the West that jeopardizes Afghanistan’s material survival.” That we did so little to stop it, and so much to worsen it, is unconscionable.
The Biden administration isn’t made of monsters. They don’t want this. They don’t want it for Afghanistan, and they don’t want it for their own place in history. “The most urgent priority animating diplomacy as well as American decision making on Afghanistan is to meaningfully address the humanitarian and economic crises,” Tom West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, said on Tuesday.
+ The tributes to Madeleine Albright, who died this week at 84, are sickening to read. The lede for her obituary should read very simply: Chief architect of a sanction regime that killed 500,000 Iraqi children, whose deaths she said were “worth it.”
+ In our identity-obsessed political culture, Madeleine Albright finally proved that American woman (the Israelis and Brits had demonstrated this quality decades earlier) are fully capable of supervising mass death without flinching or showing the tiniest twinge of regret or remorse.
+ It is the ultimate moral crime to target for misery, pain and death those least responsible for the offenses of their tyrannical rulers. Yet this is the very policy Madeleine Albright made Standard Operating Procedure for US diplomacy.
+ The “soft power” of economic sanctions don’t prevent war. After Ms. Albright’s sanctions on Iraq killed 1 million civilians, half of them children, the US still invaded Iraq, toppled their government, occupied their country for the next 17 years and continues to bomb it at will.
+ Albright may be dead. But her policy of “hands-off” killing through sanctions continues to function as the most lethal weapon in the US arsenal. Look no further than Afghanistan where upwards of 175 newborns are dying every day as a consequence of crippling sanctions. The moral stench of her policies is made more ghoulish by the fact that Albright justified the deaths of children, women, the old, the infirm and the destitute on humanitarian grounds. Few people in history have overseen the deaths of so many civilians they claimed they were acting to protect.
+ Although the first line in Albright’s obituary should be her shocking lack of conscience about consigning 500,000 Iraqi kids to death, her lifelong obsession was not the Middle East but Russia. She never stopped pushing for NATO expansion right to Russia’s borders, sparking an antagonism that has only intensified ever since.
+ Given the black hole opening in Ukraine, threatening to suck all the major European powers into it, it’s instructive to recall that it was Bill Clinton, NATO Supremo Wesley Clark and Madeleine Albright’s failure to negotiate in good faith with Milošević that led to the Kosovo War–a war all of the above desperately wanted and got–heedless of the still convulsing consequences.
+ Jason Motz: “She’ll be greatly missed…at The Hague.”
The announcement of Madeleine Albright's death at the age of 84 on Wednesday resulted in an outpouring of tributes and fond remembrances, but some sharp criticism also arose on social media in regards to comments she made in 1996 about the deaths of Iraqi children.
Albright, the first female secretary of state in United States history, made the remarks during a 60 Minutes interview. Correspondent Lesley Stahl discussed with the then-United Nations ambassador how Iraq had been suffering from the sanctions placed on the country following 1991's Gulf War.
"We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima," Stahl said. "And, you know, is the price worth it?"
"I think that is a very hard choice," Albright answered, "but the price, we think, the price is worth it."
By RAGHURAM G. RAJAN
Because Russia's war against Ukraine could not go unpunished, the use of painful, sweeping economic sanctions is clearly justified. In the future, though, these powerful new tools will need to be subject to proper controls; otherwise, they could trigger a reversal of globalization – and of the prosperity that it has made possible.
CHICAGO – War is horrific, no matter how it is waged. Nevertheless, Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, with its scenes of Ukrainian civilians being murdered or driven from their homes, undoubtedly had to be opposed. In addition to supplying Ukraine with military weapons, governments around the world have deployed economic weapons against Russia. While Russia, an economic midget relative to its military power, may still lash out by expanding the range of military weapons it uses and the territories it targets, it is a risk the world had to take.
Compared to Russia’s indiscriminate bombing, economic weapons will not kill people as quickly, create as much visible destruction, or inspire as much fear. Nonetheless, the unprecedented economic weapons that have been deployed against Russia will be unquestionably painful.
The strictures on Russia’s central bank have already contributed to the ruble’s collapse, and new limitations on cross-border payments and financing have had an immediate impact, weakening confidence in Russian banks. Though trade sanctions (restricting exports of key inputs such as airplane parts to Russia, as well as purchases from Russia) and the exodus of multinational corporations from Russia will have a less immediate effect, they will reduce economic growth and increase unemployment significantly over time. If these measures are not reversed, they will eventually translate into lower living standards, poorer health, and more deaths in Russia.
That we have come to this point reflects a widespread political breakdown. Too many powerful countries are now being led by authoritarian rulers whose reliance on nationalism makes them less willing to compromise internationally and who face few domestic constraints on their behavior. If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression were to go unpunished, more international provocations like his war in Ukraine would become inevitable.
Equally problematic is the breakdown of the international order. The United Nations Security Council cannot legitimately act against any of its permanent veto-wielding members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The organization’s impotence translates into impunity for strongmen who flout international norms. Moreover, even if the UN could approve a military response, the will to confront a determined nuclear power militarily would probably be lacking.
Economic weapons, made possible by global integration, offer a way to bypass a paralyzed global governance system. They allow other powers an effective (that is, painful) but civilized way to respond to aggression and barbarity.
But the risks that these weapons can create must not be underplayed. When fully unleashed, sanctions, too, are weapons of mass destruction. They may not topple buildings or collapse bridges, but they destroy firms, financial institutions, livelihoods, and even lives. Like military WMDs, they inflict pain indiscriminately, striking both the culpable and the innocent. And if they are used too widely, they could reverse the process of globalization that has allowed the modern world to prosper.
Officials from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in China this week to discuss Afghanistan, Reuters reported, citing the State Department and the Chinese foreign embassy.
A State Department spokesperson told Reuters that U.S. special representative for Afghanistan Tom West will be attending the talks while a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said that the meeting would be hosted by Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong.
Interfax news agency reported, citing a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had arrived for the talks in China, Reuters noted. Pakistan is also slated to participate in the discussions.
Taliban representatives have been invited to attend the talks by China, the U.S. understands, the State Department spokesperson told the news wire.
“China, the US, Russia and Pakistan are countries with important influence on the Afghan issue. We hope to seek synergy between this meeting and the third Foreign Ministers’ Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan, further build consensus on the Afghan issue, encourage regional countries and the international community to step up support for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, and help the country achieve peace, stability and development at an early date,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday regarding the talks.