Accountability for Starvation: Testing the Limits of the Law

Famine is an age-old scourge that almost disappeared in our lifetime. Between 2000 and 2011 there were no famines and deaths in humanitarian emergencies were much reduced. The humanitarian agenda was ascendant. Then, in 2017, the United Nations identified four situations that threatened famine or breached that threshold in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. Today, this list is longer. Each of these famines is the result of military actions and exclusionary, authoritarian politics conducted without regard to the wellbeing or even the survival of people.

Violations of international law including blockading ports, attacks on health facilities, violence against humanitarian workers, and obstruction of relief aid are carried out with renewed impunity. Yet there is an array of legal offenses, ranging from war crimes and crimes against humanity to genocide, available to a prosecutor to hold individuals to account for the deliberate starvation of civilians. However, there has been a dearth of investigations and accountability for those violating international law.

The reasons for this neglect and the gaps between the black-letter law and practice are explored in this timely volume. It provides a comprehensive overview of the key themes and cases required to catalyze a new approach to understanding the law as it relates to starvation. It also illustrates the complications of historical and ongoing situations where starvation is used as a weapon of war, and provides expert analysis on defining starvation, early warning systems, gender and mass starvation, the use of sanctions, journalistic reporting, and memorialization of famine.

Chapters include:

1. Introduction, Bridget Conley, Alex de Waal, Catriona Murdoch, and Wayne Jordash

Part I: The Historical and Conceptual Context

2. What is Starvation?, Bridget Conley and Alex de Waal
3. Social Nutrition and Accountability for Mass Starvation, Susanne Jaspars
4. ‘An Unprosecuted Crime’, Bridget Conley, Randle Defalco, Senai Abraha, and Alex de Waal

Part II: The Law

5. A Comprehensive Review of Existing IHL and ICL As It Relates to Starvation, Wayne Jordash, Catriona Murdoch, and Joe Holmes
6. The Right to Food in Armed Conflict, Simone Hutter

Part III: The Case for Prosecutions Today

7. ‘Not Never Again, but Next Time’: Armed Conflict and Mass Starvation in South Sudan 2013-2019, Chris Newton
8. Starvation as Strategy in the Syrian Armed Conflict: Siege, Deprivation, and Detention, Mohammad Kanfash and Ali Aljasem
9. ‘Once We Control Them, We Will Feed Them’: Mass Starvation in Yemen, Aditya Sarkar
10. Prosecution of Starvation in South Sudan, Wayne Jordash and Uzay Yasar Aysev

Part IV: Broader Perspectives

11. Humanitarian Challenges and Implications for Famine Early Warning Systems, Dan Maxwell
12. Sanctions as a Mechanism for Accountability for Starvation Crimes, Ben Spatz, Catriona Murdoch, and Olivier Windridge
13. Sex, Gender, Age, and Mass Starvation, Dyan Mazurana, Bridget Conley, and Kinsey Spears
14. Reporting Famine, Jane Ferguson
15. Truth, Memory, and Victims, Alex de Waal

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