Voices In The Wilderness
issue 316 - September 1999
Nikki van der Gaag speaks to the sanctions-busters.
They call themselves ‘Voices in the Wilderness’. Their aim is to draw attention to the plight of the Iraqi people by breaking the sanctions; taking medical supplies and toys to Iraq and hand-delivering them to children’s hospitals.
They do so despite the risk of prosecution – the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment in Britain and 12 years plus a million dollars in fines in the US. Voices in the US has already been threatened with such a fine. On 3 December 1998, the US Treasury Department informed the organization of its intention to impose $163,000 in penalties for breach of sanctions. They had 30 days to pay, although to date nothing has happened.
I met the latest delegation – two Americans and three Brits – in a hotel in downtown Baghdad. The lobby reeked of petrol; cheaper than water and less precious, it was being used to clean the floor.
Andrea Needham, from the British delegation, explains how they work. ‘We always make it very public that we are going to Iraq to break sanctions. We delivered a letter to the Prime Minister before leaving explaining exactly what we were going to do.’
Voices are welcomed by the Iraqis, but face a more mixed reception back home.
‘People in the US aren’t always friendly,’ said Soyun Kim, a US delegate. We did a Peace Walk for Iraq in January. Along the way some people showed their support but others threw things at us. Two young men shouted “Bomb them!”’
All five said they would be prepared to go to prison in order to bring the plight of the Iraqi people to the attention of the world. Andrea and a colleague, Gabriel Carlyle, have already been arrested and imprisoned for protesting against the bombing of Iraq last December. In the US, six people were arrested on 15 June when they protested against the awarding of an honorary doctorate of law to Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State. They argued that such an award should not be given to someone who administers a foreign policy that violates international law and has caused the death of so many Iraqi civilians.
Voices in the US:
1460 West Carmen Ave, Chicago, IL 60640.
Tel: 773 784 8065
Fax:773 784 8837
email: [email protected]