Starvation as a Weapon

Food insecurity is on the rise and the primary cause is armed conflict. Famine in conflict regions is intentionally being inflicted. Conflict affects food security, disrupts supply, and forces people away from their land and livestock. However, starvation is being used as a deliberate weapon in conflict regions.

Starvation as a weapon of war occurs when food supplies are obstructed by warring parties. An example of this can be seen in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan.

International law requires warring parties to allow humanitarian access, and yet in conflict regions, armies are deliberately denying food to civilian populations.

For more than a century (1870 to 1979), famines killed nearly 1 million people each year. However, with the advancement of technology, humanitarian efforts, and international laws, starvation deaths declined.

Since 2011, armed conflict is reversing the number of people dying from hunger. In 2018 nearly 20 million people were at risk of starvation due to armed conflict.

The ICRC IHL issued Rule 53. Starvation as a Method of Warfare. Rule 53 cites that under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime in international armed conflicts. The ICRC further stated that similar acts in non-international armed conflicts would also be a war crime.

In 1977, Article 54 of Additional Protocol I and Article 14 of Additional Protocol II were adopted as supplements to the Geneva Conventions. The Articles prohibit the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

Starvation as a weapon is not only a war crime, but it may also qualify as a method of extermination. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines extermination as “the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population.”