Can We Prosecute Starvation?

YemenGlobal Rights Compliance, in partnership with the World Peace Foundation has released the first briefing paper related to the Yemen Accountability Project: Entitled “Can we prosecute starvation?”, the paper considers the relationship between starvation and conflict, reviews the relevant law, and discusses the requisite evidence for mounting a prosecution.

In summary, the paper addresses the following key points:

  • Famine can be ended. The world came close to doing so. Between 2000 and 2011, there were no famines. Today, several famines threaten various states and regions, all due to the conduct of armed conflict;
  • Famine is properly understood as an atrocity: the result of distinct and often criminally intentional policies that target discrete populations in the pursuit of military or political goals. Famines will no longer occur when they are so morally reprehensible that causing them, or allowing them to happen, is unthinkable. In order to achieve this goal, a sharper application of international law is needed;
  • Although starvation has appeared in a handful of prosecutions in international criminal law over the modern era, there have been a dearth of prosecutions resting squarely on the crime of starvation;
  • A principal challenge is ensuring that the law distinguishes between legitimate military actions such as sieges, the multiple and intersecting causes of famine, and the deliberate starvation of civilians;
  • The clearest and most progressive law on the books is Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute, however it does not apply to non-international armed conflict, the context for all of today’s famine situations;
  • Several other legal options exist for prosecution, ranging from war crimes, to crimes against humanity, to genocide, which might be used to address the deliberate starvation of civilians. Doing so will require careful attention to the elements of the offence and the necessary evidence required to establish those elements and the required intent;
  • Only when existing or future legal mechanisms develop or create a better understanding of these scenarios, will prosecutions produce a more singular definition of the crime of starvation.

Book Launch: ‘Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine’

Until the 1980s, famine killed ten million people every decade, but by early 2000s mass starvation had all but disappeared. Today, famines are resurgent, driven by war, blockade, hostility to humanitarian principles and a volatile global economy.

Date: Thursday, 22 February 2018.

Time: Book Signing and Sales from 17:30pm; Panelist Discussion Commences 18:00 – 19:30pm.

Location: Leiden University, Spanish Steps, The Hague Campus, Turfmarkt 99, 251 DP The Hague.

Panelists: Alex de Waal,  Ambassador Marriët Schuurman, Wayne Jordash QC and Catriona Murdoch.

Signed editions of Mass Starvation will be available for sale.

Alex de Waal, world-renowned expert on humanitarian crisis and response, will discuss Mass Starvation, a book which explores the history of modern famines: their causes, dimensions and why they ended.

Ambassador Marriët Schuurman, Coordinator of the Task Force UN Security Council Membership of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (‘MoFA’), will share her view on the links between conflict and food insecurity.

Mass Starvation breaks new ground in examining forced starvation as an instrument of genocide and war.

Wayne Jordash QC will discuss the legal elements of the crime of starvation.

Catriona Murdoch will follow and discuss GRC’s projects on promoting legal accountability for mass starvation, with a focus on the war in Yemen.

GRC lawyers Wayne Jordash QC and Catriona Murdoch will conclude the event by discussing GRC’s experience working for conflict-affected governments, individuals and NGOs around the world to inform various available avenues for countering impunity.

For more information about the event and registration, click here.

Will Seven Million Starving Yemenis Ever Find Justice?

The control of food importation into Yemen is being used as a weapon of war, seemingly by all sides.

By Catriona Murdoch* and Wayne Jordash**

A photograph from September 2016 shows a malnourished boy laying on a bed outside his family's hut in Hodaida, Yemen [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

A photograph from September 2016 shows a malnourished boy laying on a bed outside his family’s hut in Hodaida, Yemen [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

The last two decades have seen a significant expansion of international, regional and domestic accountability mechanisms for an array of international crimes and a variety of forgotten victims. Much of this activity has been focused on the conduct of senior military and political leaders who control or significantly contribute to excesses on the battlefield. However, as is becoming clear, this focus does not adequately confront the scale or scope of victims living in the path of armed conflict or under the yoke of brutalising regimes.

This year has seen the resurgence of famineSouth Sudan is enduring the first famine to be declared globally for six years. NigeriaSomalia and Yemen are all on the brink of famine. In each, deliberate political and military action has contributed to the resulting death and injury of thousands of innocent civilians, demanding that serious consideration be given to prosecuting those responsible. Yemen is emblematic of the problem and a may provide a backdrop for the development of the potential remedy proffered by a more imaginative approach to the prosecution of those who engineer, or fail to act to prevent, mass starvation.

Yemen has been described as the “war the world forgot” eclipsed by Syria and complicated by a Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States, the United Kingdomand France. The resulting humanitarian disaster features a famine of cataclysmic proportions. The word “famine” evokes images of dusty pot-bellied children and the wrath of nature. However, the reality is that this is less nature’s cruelty and more mans: “starvation” often more accurately reflects these wholly human-made and preventable catastrophes, where failed diplomacy and ostensible military objectives collide. Continue reading