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GRC welcomes the UN Secretary-General’s decision to appoint a High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine; more action needed by the UN Security Council in response to conflict-induced hunger

23 March 2021

GRC welcomes the UN Secretary-General’s decision to establish a High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine to ‘bring coordinated high-level attention to famine prevention and mobilise support to the most affected countries.’ The Task Force will be led by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, and include representatives from the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Such a task-force has the potential to support the preventative and accountability objectives of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2417 on conflict-induced hunger (UNSC 2417).


The Secretary-General announced the establishment of the High-Level Task Force during the UN Security Council (UNSC) debate on conflict and food insecurity held on 11 March. This debate was preceded by a closed door ‘any other business’ meeting by the UNSC on 4 March 2021, on the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region in Ethiopia. Despite the majority of UNSC member states expressing their concern about the dire humanitarian situations in multiple conflicts across the world, UNSC members failed to reach the necessary consensus to take action under UNSC 2417 to reduce the increased risk of conflict-induced hunger or famine, including in Tigray.


GRC regrets this development and reiterates the need for the UNSC to take action with a view to preventing the use of starvation as a method of warfare, improving the humanitarian situation of the civilian population in crisis situations and taking steps to hold perpetrators of violations of international law accountable.


As outlined in GRC publications preceding the UNSC meetings, Ethiopia: A Test Case for UN Security Council Action Under Resolution 2417, prepared jointly with the World Peace Foundation, and Guidance Note: Strengthening UN Security Council action under Resolution 2417 to break the cycle of conflict-induced hunger, the UNSC has a range of tools available to meet UNSC 2417’s preventative and accountability aims. These include, amongst other things, supporting initiatives to collect and disseminate information and evidence of the use of starvation as a weapon of warfare, taking swift action to clearly label and condemn the use of starvation as a method of warfare, calling on parties to conflicts to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, calling for independent and impartial investigations into starvation-related conduct by parties to conflicts, and requesting the UN Secretary-General to report more regularly to the UNSC on specific conflict contexts. The UNSC should also establish a focus point on UNSC 2417, such as a special envoy, with reporting procedures that enable the collection of information and dissemination to the UNSC through the UN Secretary General about the use of starvation as method of warfare on a confidential basis where appropriate.


Currently, numerous conflicts face the threat of famine or severe food insecurity and require the UNSC’s immediate attention, particularly in the following contexts where starvation-related conduct has been a driver of displacement: Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Northeast Nigeria, the Sahel, Syria, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. If the UNSC is to meet the objectives it set through UNSC 2417, it must operationalise the resolution by acting in a preventative manner before the consequences of conflict-related conduct lead to even more dire humanitarian consequences, including famine. The conflict in Ethiopia, in particular, is the first real test for the UNSC of whether it can take early action to realise the preventative objectives of the resolution and reduce the risk of conflict-induced hunger or famine. Such intervention falls within the primary responsibility of the UNSC for the maintenance of international peace and security, and its commitment to addressing conflict-induced food insecurity and famine.

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