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Children are Paying the Third World Debt With Their Lives

SYNOPSIS: A key finding in the UNICEF report, "The State of the World's Children," issued late in 1988 revealed that nine hundred million people, mostly women and children, suffered because their nations used essential resources to repay debts to bankers in industrialized nations. UNICEF Executive Director James Grant called for a world summit to save an estimated three million children who he said die each year from easily preventable diseases. More than half a million of those children died in 16 developing nations in 1987 because their debt-burdened governments had to cut back on social spending.

Previously, deaths among the young had been falling. A decade of immunization against basic diseases was saving 1.5 million lives a year. How ever, due to economic hardship, the 40 poorest countries in the developing world halved health spending over the course of several years and cut education budgets by a quarter.

UNICEF cited the two major causes of the worsening conditions: rising debt repayments and falling commodity prices. In 1988 Third World debt stood at more than $1 trillion, while debt repayment took almost a quarter of the developing world's export revenues.
Lawrence E. Bruce, Jr., president of the UN Children's Fund, charged the "mounting debt payments of so many of these developing countries to Western institutions are quite literally snatching food and medicine out of the mouths of millions of children."


UPDATE: On September 28, 1996, the world's seven wealthiest industrial nations, the so-called Group of Seven (G-7), renamed the Group of Eight (G-8) in 1997, approved a plan to relieve up to $7.7 billion in debts of about 20 of the world's most heavily indebted countries, many of them in Africa. The plan will cover up to 80 percent of the debt the debtor nations hold individually (Associated Press, 9/29/96). Apparently the plan didn't include Haiti, where violent anti-government strikes broke out on January 16, 1997. The strikers were protesting the government's austerity program inaugurated in response to pressure from international lending institutions (Associated Press, 1/17/97).
However, the continuing problem of worldwide hunger among children was reflected in data released by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (Knight-Ridder Tribune, 10/27/96): 200 million children are malnourished; 11 million children under age five die as a result of hunger and malnutrition; and millions more have diseases related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bad food, and water.

The 1996 UNICEF report, "The State of the World's Children," changed the focus from the impact of poverty to that of war. In the past ten years, the report says, wars have left two million children dead, four million to five million disabled, and 12 million homeless. Further, as reported in World Press Review (January 1996), "The 1990s have brought a vicious new breed of warfare" as guerrilla and government armies have resorted to the use of children to fill the role of combatants. A report by Save the Children in late 1996 revealed that an estimated 250,000 soldiers under 18-both boys and girls and some as young as five years old-are serving in some 33 armed conflicts around the world (Associated Press, 11/1/96).



U.S. Refuses to Abide by International Court of Justice

SYNOPSIS: The World Court of the United Nations, otherwise known as the International Court of Justice, passed down a ruling finding the United States in violation of international law as a result of the Reagan Administration's support of the contra war effort.

As a result, the U.S. may have to pay billions of dollars in reparations for damages caused in Nicaragua. At the same time, it is suffering the loss of international credibility because of its non-compliance with third party adjudication by the World Court.

New York Congressman Ted Weiss, speaking in the House of Representatives on October 21, 1988, tried to warn the nation of the danger of ignoring the court's ruling when he said, "Mr. Speaker, the Reagan Administration's decision to withdraw from the World Court's compulsory jurisdiction violated a solid policy of support over the past four decades."

In full view of the world, the U.S. is facing charges of hypocrisy for its failure to uphold its own most cherished values of adherence to the rule of law. The stubborn refusal of Washington to deal constructively with the World Court can only lead our foreign allies and enemies alike to conclude that America submits itself to decisions of the World Court only when the decisions are in favor of its own national interest.


UPDATE: Shortly after Violeta de Chamorro was elected president of Nicaragua in 1990, with generous campaign funding from the Bush Administration, she withdrew Nicaragua's World Court claim against the United States (Newsday "Viewpoints," 11/8/93). But while the United States was not forced to pay reparations for the damages caused in Nicaragua, it did suffer the loss of international credibility because of its non-compliance with the ruling.

In November 1994, in a discussion of the role of the UN's International Court of Justice in cases such as Yugoslavia and Rwanda, international law expert Benjamin B. Ferencz was asked, "Does the United States support the idea of international law?" He responded, "The United States plays games with the idea. It's a hypocritical, deceitful game that's being played. We say we are not against it in principle, but we'll find enough problems to make sure it never moves." Ferencz pointed out that in the 1980s, the Court found the U.S. mining of harbors in Nicaragua to be an unlawful act but the United States ignored the finding (National Catholic Reporter, 11/11/94).

In 1996, in a close decision by the World Court concerning the use of nuclear weapons, critics pointed out that the Court didn't have any power to enforce its decisions. They noted how the U.S. ignored the court's ruling in the Nicaragua case (Washington Post, 7/9/96).

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