Canada Calling – Canadian Parliamentarian Speaks Out for Iraqi Children
By Faisal Kutty – More than four years have passed since the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Saddam Hussain has been able to stay in power. Unfortunately, many of his country’s children have not been able to stay alive. According to a report released late last year by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 560,000 children have died as a direct result of the United Nations embargo imposed in August 1990.
In the wake of the U.N. study, in order to see the situation for himself and to report to the Canadian Parliament, the member of parliament for Markham-Whitchurch-Stouffville, Jag Bhaduria, visited Iraq in December. Prior to his departure, the Indian-born legislator made a passionate plea in Parliament. “The bottom line is that literally thousands of innocent children are dying every day,” he said. “In the true spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I call upon the government to support the elimination of the U.N. embargo and support the giving of humanitarian aid and medical supplies to the people of Iraq.”
The West’s obsession with removing Saddam, who has survived more than 15 years of virtually continuous warfare, internal dissension, assassination attempts and internationally imposed sanctions, has blinded many to the suffering of the civilians under his rule. The average Iraqi, who has no say in the policies pursued by Baghdad, faces hyperinflation, extensive food and medical shortages and massive unemployment. Government food rations reportedly provide only a fraction of the required caloric and nutritional requirements, but those who seek to supplement their diets by turning to the black market find exorbitant prices beyond the reach of most Iraqis.
Bhaduria’s trip attracted criticism from some who feel that he was playing into the hands of Saddam Hussain, who has U.N. permission to export petroleum and use the proceeds to purchase food and medicine for the Iraqi people on condition that a percentage of the proceeds be turned over to a fund to compensate non-Iraqi victims of the Gulf war. Saddam has rejected those conditions as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
Bhaduria, an associate member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, counters that the objective of his trip is strictly humanitarian. He says he paid for the travel out of his own pocket and that the only assistance he received from the Iraqi government was the use of a modest hotel room during his stay in Baghdad.
The mainstream media did not attribute much importance to his visit. But not all Canadians are criticizing it. In fact, some hope that others in positions of power will do the same so that they, too, can see at first-hand the suffering of innocent children. “It is about time that we spoke out against the American-sponsored sanctions which are only hurting the weak and young,” says Abdul-Qadir Ahmed, a Canadian of Iraqi descent. Indeed, after his trip, Bhaduria is even more convinced that Canada should be at the forefront in extending humanitarian aid to the Iraqis.
“Innocent children in Iraq are no different than children in Haiti or Somalia.”
Bhaduria says that when he visited medical facilities he was overwhelmed by what he witnessed, including watching a three-year-old die right in front of him due to lack of proper medical supplies. In fact, a number of independent studies confirm that the sanctions have no effect on Saddam Hussain’s entourage, but have a devastating effect on Iraq’s children and the underpriviledged. (See, for example, “Sanctions, Saddam and Silence: Child Malnutrition and Mortality in Iraq,” Washington Report, January 1996).
“These innocent children in Iraq are no different than children in Chad, Haiti or Somalia,” said Bhaduria, who is known for his social and human rights activism. “They have done nothing to deserve this plight and we must help them.” Unfortunately, their plight has not managed to make it into the headlines. Many observers hope initiatives like the one by Bhaduria will help to bring the matter to public attention.
Bhaduria, who also visited India after traveling to Iraq, promised to raise the matter in Parliament upon his return and to push to make medical supplies and food available. “Ultimately, I hope that the U.N. will see fit to lift the economic sanctions on Iraq,” he added.
Canadian Relief Worker Held in Pakistan
Ahmed Said Khadr, regional director for Pakistan of the Ottawa-based Human Concern International (HCI), was arrested on Dec. 3 in connection with the mid-November bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. He has been on a hunger strike since his arrest and is deteriorating rapidly, according to his wife, Maha Elsamnah. He has lost a great deal of weight and has developed urinary tract problems.
Khadr, a Canadian of Egyptian origin, was arrested when he went to a police station to complain about a police raid on his residence. Following his arrest, Pakistani Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar told parliament that the “suspected paymaster of the plot” has been taken into custody. Khadr maintains his innocence. He says he believes he is being held because of his Egyptian background. Some concerned Canadians hope their government will intervene to ensure that he is treated fairly.
Khadr and his wife became Canadian citizens after they moved to Canada in the mid-1970s. Friends describe Khadr as a self-effacing, soft-spoken individual who had one mission in Pakistan: to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the Afghan war. The 48-year-old University of Ottawa computer science graduate managed various relief programs for HCI including an orphanage, schools, mother and child health care centers, widows’ sewing projects, and development projects in the areas of agriculture and irrigation. HCI executive director Kaleem Akhtar says he doesn’t believe the allegations against Khadr: “Politics is not his cup of tea.”
On Nov. 27, two weeks after the bombing, Khadr was in Afghanistan when two dozen Pakistani soldiers entered his home in Peshawar at 11 p.m. and took away his wife, her parents who were visiting from Canada, and three of their children. Upon his return five days later, Khadr went to file a complaint and was arrested shortly thereafter.
Khadr has not been charged with anything specific. Akhtar told the Washington Report that the relief worker is being held under a Pakistani law which permits a person to be held without charges for up to a month if he is suspected of having committed a criminal act. The government also can seek an extension of time if it wishes. Khadr’s detention has exceeded a month. His wife and six children, aged 4 to 16, are staying in a hotel in Islamabad. His elderly in-laws, Mohammed and Fatima Elsamnah, who had gone to Peshawar to attend a wedding, also were detained for more than a month. They have subsequently returned to Toronto.
Khalid Sarwar, press attaché for the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa, told the Washington Report that he did not know much about the matter, as he was relying on Canadian and Pakistani newspapers for his information. Nevertheless, he is of the opinion that Khadr’s detention is legal. “Every country has got such laws,” he said. “A person can be arrested for interrogation until he is formally charged with those allegations. But that doesn’t mean that they are being held indefinitely.”
The Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA), a Toronto-based civil rights group, has launched a nation-wide campaign on Khadr’s behalf. Imran Yousef, its coordinator, says his group wants the Canadian government to pressure Pakistani authorities to respect Khadr’s civil and human rights; see to his medical needs; accord him due process; ensure that he is not extradited to Egypt, which has a dismal human rights record; and ensure that no more unfair and unnecessary hardships are placed on Khadr and his family.
A number of other organizations also are monitoring Khadr’s situation. Bert Raphael, president of the Jewish Civil Rights Educational Foundation of Canada, in a letter to Dr. Farouk Rana, High Commissioner of Pakistan to Canada, wrote: “I would be most obliged for your assurance that he will be accorded all his rights under Pakistani law and all international treaties and obligations to which Pakistan is a signatory.” The sentiment was echoed by Jehad Y. Al-Iweiwi of the Canadian Arab Federation, who wrote that “While we understand and respect Pakistan’s effort to combat acts of terrorism, we are worried about unfair and unnecessary hardship placed on individuals like Khadr.”
The CMCLA collected and presented a petition with more than 800 signatures to Canadian and Pakistani authorities. The group also wrote to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, urging him to inquire into Khadr’s situation with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on his visit to Pakistan on Jan. 14th. In the letter dated Dec. 27th, Yousuf wrote that concerned Canadians expect him to “intervene to ensure that justice is served.” He added that “the outcome of this matter will set a precedent for how committed Canada is to ensure the safety of its citizens abroad.”
To contribute to Khadr’s legal costs and other expenses, please make checks payable to: HCI, General Fund, POB 3984, Station C, Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 4P2. For more information, contact CMCLA, Unit 13, 27 Lapsley Road, Scarborough, Ontario, M1B 1K1, phone (416) 321-2087, fax (416) 293-8065, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Zealand’s Premier Supports Kashmir Resolution
James Bolger, Prime Minister of New Zealand, confirmed that his country supports the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute through dialogue and negotiation. This position was outlined in a recent letter to the Kashmiri-Canadian Council (KCC), a Toronto-based lobbying group,
The letter was in response to letters delivered by Mustaq A. Jeelani, KCC executive director, to all participants in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting late last year. The KCC letter stated that the 1972 Simla Agreement, signed by India and Pakistan, required the parties to reach a “final settlement” which has yet to happen.
The situation in Kashmir has deteriorated rapidly since 1989 with the increase in Indian military personnel, currently estimated at 600,000, assigned to the region. There is growing concern among many observers that the tension around Kashmir may lead to a full-scale war between India and Pakistan, with dire repercussions for the entire world due to the nuclear capabilities of both states.
“New Zealand’s support is encouraging,” says Jeelani, adding that “Kashmiri-Canadians should appreciate the prime minister’s interest in resolving the Kashmiri issue.” For information, contact KCC, 44516-2376 Eglinton Ave., East, Scarborough, Ontario, M1K 5K3, phone (416) 282-6933, fax (416) 282-7488.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and free-lance writer.
Note: First Published: February/March 1996, Pages 28, 103
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