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Stop Starving People

Americans are horrified that the Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, aimed at defeating Houthi rebels, is causing mass starvation. At the same time, United Nations sanctions, as well as those imposed unilaterally by several countries, are contributing to starvation and lack of medical supplies in North Korea. The United States fully supports such sanctions, and in fact, has asked for more. Our claim is that Kim Jong Un “starves his own people,” by diverting money to his nuclear program. While there is truth to this claim, it is also true that absence of medical supplies and a shortage of money, business opportunities and food is a result of our sanctions and that these sanctions have not stopped Kim Jong Un from building his nuclear program to the point that it now directly threatens the U.S. and many of our allies, but have contributed to mass starvation and limited health services in his country.

The argument is often made that “sanctions worked in Iran,” since Iran came to the table and negotiated a nuclear agreement with the U.S. and other countries. There is considerable truth to this, but the election of a moderate president in Hassan Rouhani, to replace the belligerent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made an even greater difference in Iran’s willingness to negotiate, as did the election of a willing leader in Barack Obama in the United States. Notoriously, decades of U.S. embargo on Cuba resulted in almost zero movement toward U.S. and Cuba rapprochement or the expansion of human rights in Cuba, while severely hampering health care and conditions for the poor in that country. During the U.S. embargo of Haiti in the early 1990’s those who suffered most were the poor of that country who both starved and died of disease.

Various international agreements, including Chapter IX  of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child assert that all people living in the world have the right to adequate food and to freedom from hunger and to the provision of medical assistance and health care.

Studies of the effects of sanctions indicate that those imposed on the financial systems and export of goods such as oil are the most effective. It is possible to reduce or eliminate the role of embargoes of medical supplies and to increase the likelihood that food supplies will be less affected in designing sanctions. It’s not always possible to stop a dictator from diverting resources to arms at the expense of the well-being on his people, but those who impose sanctions must not contribute to the denigration of health and well-being of a country’s people—since it is always the poorest who suffer the most—and must do everything possible to insure that their sanctions do not have this effect.

War is not humane. Neither is it humane to conduct an international action that deliberately starves or prevents from getting adequate medical services, the people of another country—no matter how evil we consider their leaders. An essential part of U.S. foreign policy, which ought to be endorsed by leaders of all political parties, must be to protect the well-being of all people in this world and to do nothing to jeopardize that well-being through our actions. We must stop starving people and harming their health, and our citizens must protest this egregious behavior as unrepresentative of our values and a crime against humanity.



Reader Comments (1)

Thank you for this essay.
Unfortunately as a nation we ignore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps if we used it as a standard here in the USA we might consider using it as a standard in our relations with other peoples.

December 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

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