People's Stories Justice

Ending Starvation Crimes
by Wayne Jordash, Catriona Murdoch
Global Rights Compliance, World Peace Foundation
The ‘F’ word is back in use, famines have returned. In 2017 the UN identified four situations of acute food insecurity that threatened famine or breached that threshold, in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In December 2018 famine was formally declared across regions of Yemen. Starvation is also being used as a weapon of war in Syria. We have also seen how food and humanitarian aid is being manipulated, obstructed and politicised in the Gaza Strip and in Venezuela.
Starvation Crimes – an umbrella term coined by Alex de Waal to encompass a range of (non-exhaustive) criminal conduct intended to deprive people of items necessary for sustaining human life – are at the heart of the problem. Every instance of famine or acute food insecurity today is at its core man-made and this criminal and reckless behaviour is responsible for widespread and systematic death, injury and suffering worldwide.
As 2019 begins and the number of victims spirals into the millions, we must urgently address how we can strengthen our collective response to deter such conduct.
The current and collective scale of suffering and death as a result of these crimes is unprecedented in modern history: Yemen alone promises to be the most severe famine in living memory. Yet recognition of the deliberate nature of famine, attribution of fault and accountability remains elusive.
We at the start of a long road to criminalise starvation in a way that properly recognises the causes, identifies the culprits and correctly labels their crimes. Despite the birth of modern international criminal law over the last 25 years, there has been a dearth of prosecutions for starvation crimes.
As we have seen with all kinds of international crimes, the relevant conduct needs to move beyond the confines of the battlefield and the classroom and into the courtroom. Then the relevant law may be identified, clarified, codified and developed so that a belligerent warlord or a government supplying arms used to starve become fearful of its reach.
A significant barrier and indeed weakness of the crime of starvation under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’) in its present form, is that it only applies in an international-armed conflict (‘IAC’). This excludes nearly all of the current conflicts, including Syria, Yemen and South Sudan enduring mass starvation.
Given the international customary law clarity around its criminalisation in both conflict designations, as recently reflected in UNSC 2417, it is more than ripe for amendment. In April 2018, Switzerland proposed an amendment to article 8 of the Rome Statute on the “Inclusion of starvation as a war crime in non-international armed conflicts (‘NIAC’) into the Rome Statute”. It has much to commend it.
Unfortunately, time was against the Swiss proposal and in October 2018, the amendment decision was postponed to the 18th Session of the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties in 2019, to allow for a thorough discussion by the Working Group. There was no principled basis for omitting to include it in the Rome Statute from the outset. Given the escalating criminality in NIACs, there is now, more than ever, an urgent need to correct this mistake.
Filling this accountability gap will strengthen enforcement worldwide and will provide a platform for further global action. Many European countries appear receptive to these developments, including the Netherlands, who not only unanimously pushed through UNSC 2417, but matched words with deeds and altered their domestic legislation ahead of UNSC 2417’s vote in May, to ensure that the crime of starvation may be prosecuted in both a NIAC and an IAC. At least eight other countries have already removed the arbitrary distinction that remains in the Rome Statute.
The ICC is a court of last resort. It is states that need to show leadership on the issue and ensure that their laws are fit for purpose and may be used to prosecute under universal jurisdiction principles and also to ensure accountability for their own citizens or corporations misbehaviour. The increasing use of universal jurisdiction across the globe, including Argentina’s recent commencement of its investigation into the role of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in torture and war crimes in Yemen, shows that we should not assume the impunity of the powerful, especially where responsible states, civil society organizations and the public join hands to protect those in need.
Of course, starvation trials, whilst long overdue, are not a panacea. International and national justice is but one part of the journey. We must look more broadly at the full range of transitional justice tools, including truth, reparations, reform and guarantees of non-recurrence.
However, we must first deal with the misconceptions surrounding starvation that (conveniently) lapse into inertia and fatalism, painting starvation as a force majeure, or due to climate change, poverty or even legitimate military action. None of these excuses stand up to scrutiny or begin to address the unforgivable pain and suffering visited upon the innocent.
Our collective determination should be to make mass starvation unthinkable. We must aim to increase the likelihood that global leaders in a position to inflict or fail to prevent mass starvation, act to avoid it.
We need to work cooperatively to ensure that starvation is not viewed as an inevitable consequence of war and that those who intend it will be held up to public reproach and condemnation. For those leaders who refuse to alter course, they must pay the price. As 2019 begins we need to act now to ensure the millions of famine victims have a voice and some form of redress.
* Published by The Diplomat Magazine, Netherlands:

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Mass-graves found of at least 535 killed during ‘organized and planned’ inter-communal attacks
by UN News, agencies
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Feb. 2019
A preliminary UN investigation into a massacre reportedly carried out in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last month, reveals that “at least 535 civilians were killed in four attacks”, the UN Mission in the country, MONUSCO, said on Wednesday.
In mid-January, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, said that according to “credible reports”, hundreds of villagers from the four communities in Yumbi, had been killed during inter-ethnic clashes between the Banunu and Batende communities, during several days, beginning on 16 December. She deplored the “shocking violence” and highlighted the importance of “investigating and bringing the perpetrators to justice”.
The initial investigation conducted by the Joint UN Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), attached to the mission, has concluded that in addition to the dead, 111 other villagers were wounded.
There has been no confirmation of exactly who carried out the killings but the mission said that “the attacks were conducted in an organized and planned manner, and were extremely violent and fast, leaving little time for the populations to flee”.
The wave of violence was allegedly triggered by a dispute over the burial of the customary chief of the Banunu community.
“The team identified a total of 59 burial sites in two of the attacked towns, but do not rule out more sites,” said a statement from MONUSCO on Wednesday. “Furthermore, 967 properties, including churches, schools and health centers were looted or destroyed, and at least 363 boats were destroyed.”
An estimated 16,000 people reportedly fled Yumbi and the surrounding area, to different locations including “some 7,000 persons who, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), sought refuge by crossing the river into the Republic of Congo. The Mission reports that the security situation is currently relatively calm, with national security forces having deployed to the area.”
The UN and its humanitarian partners have dispatched emergency help in the form of medicine, food, water tablets and malaria kits, and further assistance is on the way.
The head of the UNJHRO has reported that each communal grave discovered so far – reportedly dug initially by local Red Cross workers and returning family members who had fled - likely contained dozens of bodies, while there were more than 40 other individual graves unearthed, following the joint fact-finding mission that was conducted along with local authorities.
The outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in December took place just weeks ahead of crucial Presidential elections, which had been delayed for two years. Voters in Yumbi were unable to cast their votes, as the Electoral Commission building was among those totally destroyed.
MONUSCO said it “strongly condemns” the violence and is calling for a thorough investigation. The mission said it was ready to support the Congolese authorities to “bring justice to the victims, and promote reconciliation between the two communities.”
Ebola outbreak in DRC’s east, now world’s second largest ever
In eastern DRC, the outbreak of deadly Ebola virus disease which began six months ago, has now officially become the second largest ever, the UN reported on Wednesday.
More than 740 people, 30 per cent of them children, have been infected so far, and 460 have died, with a total of 258 surviving the disease. UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, said that I was scaling up its response to help victims, as part of the Government and World Health Organization-led effort to end the outbreak – the largest in the country’s history.
“The response to this latest outbreak continues to be hampered by insecurity, frequent movement of people in the affected areas, and resistance from some communities,” said UNICEF.
"While we have been able to largely control the disease in Mangina, Beni and Komanda, the virus continues to spread in the Butembo area, largely because of insecurity and population movement," added Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative in the DRC. "We are scaling up our response and deploying additional staff in the health zones of Butembo and Katwa, where 65 per cent of the new Ebola cases in the last three weeks have occurred."

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