Conflict-induced food insecurity and the war crime of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare

Blavatnik School working paper
Abstract

This paper examines the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) relevant to avoiding or minimising conflict-induced food insecurity.

It is important to consider these rules in order to appreciate the range of protections to which civilians are entitled. Understanding these rules is also essential for interpreting the relevant provisions of international criminal law, including, most notably, the war crime of starvation of the civilian population.

After providing a brief outline of the general rules of IHL respect of which can reduce the risk of food insecurity, the authors focus on two sets of rules of direct relevance to food insecurity: the prohibition of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and the rules regulating humanitarian relief operation. With regard to the former, the authors consider whether, under IHL, the prohibition requires that the party that has engaged in the conduct must act with the purpose of causing starvation. They argue that while the general prohibition of starvation in IHL requires such purpose, there are other, more specific, rules of IHL directed at reducing food insecurity which do not require such purpose. Consideration is also given to the application of the principle of proportionality to measures which have the effect of causing starvation.

While most of this article focuses on IHL, it also provides some reflections on the interplay between the rules of IHL relating to humanitarian relief operations and the war crime of starvation in the International Criminal Court’s Statute. Moving briefly away from IHL, the authors also highlight a normative tension that can impede humanitarian action and therefore exacerbate food insecurity.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS 

Dapo AkandeProfessor of Public International Law & Co-Director, Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law & Armed Conflict, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.

Emanuela-Chiara Gillard, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law & Armed Conflict, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.

BSG-WP-2019/030