Laying the Path to Accountability for Starvation Crimes

Global Rights Compliance (GRC) and the World Peace Foundation (WPF) at The Fletcher School (Tufts University), partners in the project “Accountability for Starvation: Testing the Limits of the Law” have published a series of memos documenting how existing international law might apply to starvation conditions, and why it should be applied to Syria, South Sudan and Yemen (forthcoming).

“Mass starvation is not a natural phenomenon nor is it a haphazard by-product of war,” explains Alex de Waal (WPF), “it is the foreseeable result of intentional actions and should be treated as criminal. This memo series provides the legal and case-specific analysis that establishes how and why accountability for starvation can be pursued.”

“We are at the start of a long road to the effective criminalisation of starvation. While starvation has not yet been prosecuted by an international court,” explained Wayne Jordash Managing Partner of GRC, “there is no legal reason to believe that these challenges of prosecuting starvation are insuperable or even more significant than in the average international criminal law trial.”

The Crime of Starvation and Methods of Prosecution and Accountability,” by GRC, offers unique insight into why the Rome Statute should be amended, as proposed by the Government of Switzerland, to allow starvation to be prosecuted in non-international armed conflicts. The authors also analyse the elements of the crime of starvation through the relevant international legal frameworks, including International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Criminal Law (ICL). It further clarifies the applicable legal framework, detailing how the conduct of warring parties and individuals may constitute a starvation violation.

In addition to the Legal Paper we are releasing two case study papers analysing starvation violations in specific contexts of Syria and South Sudan. The Syria policy memo by Mohammad Kanfash and Ali al-Jasem, from partner organization, Damaan Humanitarian Organization, analyses patterns of starvation crimes in the war in Syria. With focus on Eastern Ghouta, Aleppo, Deir Alzor and penal starvation, the report documents how segments of the population in what was previously a middle-income, food-exporting country, become exposed to starvation conditions. It addresses the patterns of siege and how the government’s ‘kneel or starve’ strategy repeatedly throughout the war brought entire civilian populations to the brink of starvation.

The South Sudan policy memo by Tong Deng Anei, Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley of the World Peace Foundation demonstrates how both government and opposition forces used starvation tactics, causing hunger, disease, social breakdown and heightened mortality. Humanitarian aid was also blocked, stolen and manipulated, and aid workers were attacked and killed. With focus on Unity State, Wau/Baggari (Western Bahr al Ghazal State), and Yei (Central Equatoria State), the memo details how conflict actors’ decisions created famine or near famine conditions.

A third case study, of Yemen, is forthcoming. This memo series is timely: as the conflicts in both Syria and South Sudan appear to be winding down, the effects of using starvation as a weapon of war continue to impact millions. In Yemen, the use of starvation persists, impacting enormous segments of the civilian populations. Further, in May 2018, the United Nations Security Council affirmed that “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare may constitute a war crime” (UNSC Res. 2417).

These seminal reports contributes to the goals of “Accountability for Starvation: Testing the Limits of the Law” project, which seeks to identify how international law may be used to advance the prevention, prohibition and accountability for mass starvation.

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