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New research brief on the need for amendments to the Rome Statute

15 March 2019

Global Rights Compliance (GRC) welcomes the research brief published by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, discussing the need to harmonize the list of war crimes that can be committed in international armed conflicts (IAC) with those that can be committed in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). Significantly for the work of GRC, this brief underscores the need to add Starvation as a crime in NIACs.

Global Rights Compliance is currently engaged in advocating for the amendment of the Rome Statute for the War Crime of Starvation through the project Accountability for Mass Starvation, in partnership with the World Peace Foundation, which is aimed at operationalising the resolution passed in May 2018 by the UN Security Council S/Res/2417 (‘UNSC 2417’). UNSC 2417 proved to be a landmark resolution, which draws no distinction between the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in a NIAC or an IAC.

Amending the Rome Statute to include starvation as a crime in a NIAC would result in consistency across the relevant legal frameworks. It would harmonise the Rome Statute with international humanitarian law (‘IHL’) and customary international law (‘CIL’).

There is no indication from the drafting history of the Rome Statute why starvation was only criminalised in a IAC. The Preparatory Committee of the Rome Statute first considered the inclusion of the offence of starvation in 1996, yet the final package of the Rome Statute did not include it, leading to the conclusion that the omission was unintentional. The Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross noted with regret the absence of references to the use of famine in the context of NIACs. There appears to be no practical or principled reason why the crime did not feature in a NIAC under the Rome Statute, rendering it ripe for amendment.

The importance of the inclusion of starvation in NIACs is linked to the reality of conflicts we witness today. Every instance of famine occurring today is in the context of a NIAC. The victims of starvation in Yemen, Syria, South-Sudan, north-eastern Nigeria and Somalia would all be denied access to justice under the current legal framework.

GRC has provided its legal expertise on Starvation to a number of international organisations and states involved in the protection of civilians in times of conflict, including Save the Children, which also discusses the need to amend the Rome Statute for the crime of starvation in its latest report.

The Accountability for Mass Starvation Project is led by GRC’s Senior Legal Consultant Catriona Murdoch and supported by Legal Consultant Margherita Stevoli, a Geneva Academy alumna.

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