The United Nations Security Council today wrapped up its first debate on Iraq since hostilities began on 19 March, with speakers making an overwhelming appeal for humanitarian relief for the civilian population despite their differences over the military action now being waged.
The Council meeting, which began yesterday, was held at the request of the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to hear the views of those states that are not members of the 15-nation body.
The majority of the nearly 70 non-members that addressed the Council called for an end to what they said was illegal aggression and demanded the immediate withdrawal of invading forces. Expressing regret that diplomacy had failed to resolve the question of Iraq's disarmament, many said the current military action was a violation of the basic principles of the UN Charter. They also stressed that they could not understand how the Council could remain silent in the face of the aggression by two of its permanent members against another Member State.
Some non-Council members, however, said Iraq had squandered opportunities for peaceful efforts to disarm it of any weapons of mass destruction and the current military action was a last resort brought about by its non-compliance with Security Council resolutions.
After the non-members addressed the 15-nation body, Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico was the first of the Council members to speak. He maintained his country's conviction that the war should not have started. The immediate challenge facing the Council was not getting bogged down in irrelevance, but in overcoming differences and arriving at consensus to allow it to comply without delay with its humanitarian responsibilities to ensure the survival of a large portion of the Iraqi population, he said.
Angola's Ambassador Helder Lucas deplored the fact that, despite the efforts of many countries, war had still occurred. He called for swift implementation of proposals to assist the Iraqi people.
Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan deplored the resort to force, which he said could have been prevented if inspections had been allowed more time to secure the effective and verified destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In the current war, people must come first, he stressed, and containing the war's humanitarian consequences was the most urgent task.
Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of the United Kingdom, which is participating in the coalition with the United States in the military action in Iraq, said Member States could not set aside the clear evidence that Iraq was repeatedly defying the UN in refusing complete disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. Now was the time to unite to ensure that the UN and the international community could act quickly to meet the needs of the Iraqi people, during and after military action, he said.
Cameroon's Permanent Representative, Martin Belinga-Eboutou, said the Council had lost several opportunities to follow the path of peace and had dashed many expectations. Now was the time for realism and pragmatism, he declared. Responding to the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people must be in the forefront of the Council's concerns.
US Ambassador John D. Negroponte regretted that Iraq had not taken the final opportunity afforded to it to disarm and said the response of the coalition was not illegitimate. Calling on the Council to approve adjustments to ensure the continuity of the UN Oil-for-Food programme, under which Baghdad is allowed to spend a portion of its oil revenue on food and humanitarian supplies, he said there would be serious implications for the Iraqi people if the Council failed to do so.
Speaking for the Russian Federation, which opposed the use of force, Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said the unprovoked military action was a violation of international law. The Russian Federation was seriously alarmed at the humanitarian situation in Iraq and supported Secretary General Kofi Annan's efforts to mobilize voluntary contributions to meet the needs of the Iraqi population, he said.
Also declaring military action against Iraq a violation of the basic principles of the UN Charter and international law, Chinese Ambassador Wang Yingfan supported the continuing important role of the Council and hoped consensus would soon be reached on the Oil-for-Food programme for providing humanitarian relief to Iraq.
Another opponent of military action, Germany called for the war to be brought to an end as soon as possible. While primary responsibility for meeting relief needs now fell on the belligerents who controlled the territory, the international community and the UN humanitarian agencies must do everything possible to avert a humanitarian disaster, Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said.
Spain, who joined the UK and US in sponsoring a draft resolution that would have found Iraq not in compliance with previous Council demands, said repeated Iraqi non-compliance had led to an international coalition to take enforcement action to achieve disarmament. The highest priority now was providing urgent humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, Ambassador Inocencio Arias said.
Chile believed that current risks before the United Nations were major, Ambassador Gabriel Valdés said. It was time for the Council to make a special effort to bring their positions closer together, restoring to the United Nations its capacity to act. Currently, the Council should get down to solving the humanitarian situation in Iraq, following the proposals made by the Secretary-General.
Bulgaria believed the Iraqi Government was responsible for the current situation, Ambassador Stefan Tafrov said. The international community, however, must not give up its responsibility towards Iraq, but rather make every effort in the humanitarian field to rebuild the country after the conflict. The main task was to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the people.
Syria's representative, Fayssal Mekdad, said the UK and the US had carried through their threats outside of international legitimacy. There was no legal or moral justification for waging war against the Iraqi people. The humanitarian need of the Iraqi people was an urgent issue, he added.
France, which had threatened to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force, regretted that military action had begun without Council authorization. The primary concern now was for the civilian population of Iraq, Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière said. He hoped military action would be over soon, and the Iraqis would be spared from further suffering.
Winding up the debate, Mamady Traoré of Guinea, which currently holds the Council's rotating Presidency, urged the body to find ways and means to restore its unity and recover its effectiveness and dynamism. The international community was questioning the effectiveness of the Council, a few days after the beginning of hostilities in Iraq, he said.
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