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UN Security Council Resolution 2417 unanimously passed: a landmark Resolution acknowledging the deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare

On May 24, 2018, the United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”) unanimously passed a historic Resolution 2417 (2018) acknowledging the deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. The resolution, sponsored by the Netherlands, highlights the link between armed conflict and food insecurity.

On May 24, 2018, the United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”) unanimously passed a historic Resolution 2417 (2018) acknowledging the deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. The resolution, sponsored by the Netherlands, highlights the link between armed conflict and food insecurity.

The UNSC recalled that on-going armed conflict and related violence have devastating humanitarian consequences on the civilian population, including high risks of famine. It further recognised that armed conflict directly impacts upon food security.  It strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in conflict situations. In particular, the UNSC called for all parties to spare civilian objects, including objects necessary for food production and distribution – farms, markets, water systems – and to refrain from attacking objects that are necessary to the survival of the civilian population – crops, livestock, agricultural assets, drinking water installations and supplies.

Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute prohibits the deliberate use of starvation as a tactic of warfare; however, it is handicapped by its application to international armed conflicts (IAC) only. This illogical omission creates an accountability lacuna whereby those being deliberately starved to death in non-international armed conflicts (NIAC) have no recourse before the International Criminal Court (“ICC”). The fact that all five countries currently suffering conflict-induced hunger are arguably designated as NIACs is significant.

It is significant that UNSC 2417 does not make the same distinction between the different types of armed conflict, instead underlining that the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare may constitute a war crime – irrespective of the conflict classification. 

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