This resolution, voted in the aftermath of the first Iraq war, condemned Iraq for the repression of its civilian population (it mentioned specifically the Kurds) and said that this threatened “international peace and security”. By using this language, the Security Council was opening the door to military action, since threats to international peace and security are the only circumstance in which force can be authorised according to Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
This resolution was indeed used by the United States and the United Kingdom to justify its imposition of “no-fly” zones over Iraq in the North and the South, even though the text itself says nothing about no-fly zones at all. The imposition of no-fly zones led to hundreds of thousands of sorties being flown over Iraq between 1991 and 2003. The UN Secretary-General at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, condemned the no-fly zones as “illegal” in an interview wth John Pilger in 2003.
The key paragraphs in this resolution are 1 and 2 which “condemn” repression of the Kurds in Iraq and “demand” that it cease. This is an example of the UN Security Council intervening in the internal affairs of a state. The Resolution also says that the consequences of this repression “threaten international peace and security in the region”, wording which triggers Chapter VII powers. These can be activated only when there is a threat to international peace and security but it is a moot point whether internal repression within a state, even if it exists, can be said to constitute such a threat.
The UK-US imposed “no-fly zones” – in reality a bombing campaign which lasted over a decade and which became increasingly agressive – came to an end only with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The full text of the resolution is pasted below. The key paragraph is the third, “Gravely concerned by the repression … etc.”
RESOLUTION 688 (1991)
Adopted by the Security Council at its 2982nd meeting on 5 April 1991
The Security Council,
Mindful of its duties and its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security,
Recalling of Article 2, paragraph 7, of the Charter of the United Nations,
Gravely concerned by the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq, including most recently in Kurdish populated areas, which led to a massive flow of refugees towards and across international frontiers and to cross-border incursions, which threaten international peace and security in the region,
Deeply disturbed by the magnitude of the human suffering involved, Taking note of the letters sent by the representatives of Turkey and France to the United Nations dated 2 April 1991 and 4 April 1991, respectively (S/22435 and S/22442),
Taking note also of the letters sent by the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations dated 3 and 4 April 1991, respectively (S/22436 and S/22447),
Reaffirming the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq and of all States in the area,
Bearing in mind the Secretary-General’s report of 20 March 1991 (S/22366),
1. Condemns the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq, including most recently in Kurdish populated areas, the consequences of which threaten international peace and security in the region;
2. Demands that Iraq, as a contribution to remove the threat to international peace and security in the region, immediately end this repression and express the hope in the same context that an open dialogue will take place to ensure that the human and political rights of all Iraqi citizens are respected;
3. Insists that Iraq allow immediate access by international humanitarian organizations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq and to make available all necessary facilities for their operations;
4. Requests the Secretary-General to pursue his humanitarian efforts in Iraq and to report forthwith, if appropriate on the basis of a further mission to the region, on the plight of the Iraqi civilian population, and in particular the Kurdish population, suffering from the repression in all its forms inflicted by the Iraqi authorities;
5. Requests further the Secretary-General to use all the resources at his disposal, including those of the relevant United Nations agencies, to address urgently the critical needs of the refugees and displaced Iraqi population;
6. Appeals to all Member States and to all humanitarian organizations to contribute to these humanitarian relief efforts;
7. Demands that Iraq cooperate with the Secretary-General to these ends;
8. Decides to remain seized of the matter.