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Food insecurity

The information below is provided ahead of a high-level open debate on “Famine and Conflict-Induced Global Food Insecurity" on Thursday, 3 August 2023 at 10:00am.

This post is aimed at supporting the objective of the organizers to identify opportunities to strengthen, coordinate, and elevate efforts to strengthen global food systems and prevent future famines to reduce conflict. At the same time, the focus here is on relevant human rights dimensions.

The post is organized based on the questions identified in the concept note for the meeting.

Key topics below

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  1. Obligations based on UNSC resolution 2417 (2018).

  2. Inclusive humanitarian assistance.

  3. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the UNFCCC.

  4. Violations of the right to food (according to CESCR).

  5. Prohibition of starvation (GA resolution on right to food).

  1. Commitments in Roadmap for Global Food Security.

  2. Sanctions and exemptions.

  3. Investigations on use of starvation and impeding humanitarian access.

  4. Addressing challenges faced by forcibly displaced people (Global Report on Food Crises 2023).

  1. Remedies according to CESCR.

  2. Affected populations recognized in UNSC resolution 2417.

  3. Women in decision-making (UNSC resolution 2417).

Best practices [142 words]

  1. The Black Sea Grain Initiative.

  2. Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises.

  1. Amendment to Rome Statute on starvation in non-international armed conflicts.


General principles and aligning efforts among actors [437 words]

  1. Based on Security Council resolution 2417 (2018), all efforts have to be based on respect for international humanitarian law by all parties to conflict, underlining the parties’ obligations related to protecting civilians and civilian objects, including objects necessary for food production and distribution, meeting the basic needs of the civilian population within their territory or under their effective control, and allowing and facilitating the rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief to all those in need [res. 2417, PP15, OP1 and OP5-OP7]. In addition, all parties to armed conflicts must fully comply with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law, as applicable [res. 2417, PP17]. In its resolution 2573 (2021), the Security Council urged all parties to armed conflict to ensuring the proper functioning of food systems and markets [res. 2573, OP6].

  2. Humanitarian assistance needs to be gender- and age-sensitive, and to remain responsive to the different needs of the population [res. 2417, OP3].

  3. Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights upholds the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. Article 2 of both the United Nations Framework Convention and the Paris Agreement affirms the objective to ensure that food production is not threatened by climate change.

  4. Detailing violations of the right to food, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated in its general comment no. 12 (1999) [para 19] that they include: "the formal repeal or suspension of legislation necessary for the continued enjoyment of the right to food; denial of access to food to particular individuals or groups, whether the discrimination is based on legislation or is pro-active; the prevention of access to humanitarian food aid in internal conflicts or other emergency situations; adoption of legislation or policies which are manifestly incompatible with pre-existing legal obligations relating to the right to food; and failure to regulate activities of individuals or groups so as to prevent them from violating the right to food of others, or the failure of a State to take into account its international legal obligations regarding the right to food when entering into agreements with other States or with international organizations."

  5. The General Assembly reaffirmed in its resolution on the right to food (led by Cuba) that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited under international humanitarian law and that it is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless, for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works [GA resolution 77/217].


Necessary investments and roles [373 words]

  1. The more than 100 signatories of the Roadmap for Global Food Security committed to provide immediate humanitarian assistance, build resilience of those in vulnerable situations, support social protection and safety nets, and strengthen sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food systems in line with the objectives of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals, and the objectives of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.

  2. The Security Council has a role in imposing sanctions that can be applied to individuals or entities obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance, or access to, or distribution of, humanitarian assistance [res. 2417, OP9]. At the same time, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food recommends to ensure that sanction regimes do not impair the delivery of humanitarian assistance and provide for broader exemptions and simpler procedures [A/HRC/52/40, para 98(d)].

  3. States have a role in conducting investigations related to the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, including the unlawful denial of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in armed conflict, and, where appropriate, to take action against those responsible, with a view to reinforcing preventive measures, ensuring accountability and addressing the grievances of victims [res. 2417, OP10].

  4. The Global Report on Food Crises 2023 detailed the additional food security and nutrition challenges faced by forcibly displaced people [p. 25]:

    1. Most displaced rural households have lost their livelihoods, and have limited legal access to work and income.

    2. Lack of access to basic services including healthcare systems, clean water and improved sanitation, and/or overcrowding in camps are still risk factors for malnutrition and illness, particularly affecting children and women.

    3. Restrictive policies in refugee-hosting countries limit freedom of movement, access to land for agriculture, employment opportunities and access to financial services.

    4. Severe underfunding has resulted in cuts to humanitarian assistance for many displaced populations.

    5. Significant protection risks exist for displaced populations. They are often exposed to human rights violations while being on the move and are forced to engage in harmful coping strategies to meet their basic needs, including increasing debt, child labour, onward migration, engagement in armed groups and sale of sex.

    6. A strain on limited natural resources due to the increased population flows often raises tensions between host communities and refugees.


Increasing accountability and humanitarian access [149 words]

  1. In reference to remedies, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated in its general comment no. 12 (1999) [para 32]: "Any person or group who is a victim of a violation of the right to adequate food should have access to effective judicial or other appropriate remedies at both national and international levels. All victims of such violations are entitled to adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition."

  2. The Security Council recognized in its resolution 2417 (2018) the need for protection and assistance for all affected civilian populations [while focusing on armed conflict], including women, children, refugees and internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities and older persons [res. 2417, PP11].

  3. The Security Council also reaffirmed the important role of women and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution [res. 2417, PP12].


Best practices [142 words]

  1. An obvious successful example of multilateral action, up until its termination, was the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Prior to Russia's withdrawal, the Initiative had prevented a further rise in global food prices and exacerbation of existing agricultural, energy and financial crises that are already severely impacting the world’s most vulnerable people. The Secretary-General said on 20 July 2023 that Russia's attacks on Ukrainian ports were having a negative effect on global wheat and corn prices, which hurt everyone, but especially vulnerable people in the Global South.

  2. The Special Rapporteur on the right to food recommended as guidance the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises of the Committee on Food Security, a policy tool that is negotiated by Member States, grounded in international humanitarian law and human rights law, and strongly supported by civil society [A/HRC/52/40, para 101].


Additional recommendations [69 words]

  1. While the use of starvation in international armed conflict amounts to a war crime, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food stated that starvation is always a human rights violation. He encouraged all States to accept and/or ratify the 2018 amendment to the Rome Statute to include starvation in the list of recognized war crimes that can be committed in non-international armed conflicts [A/HRC/52/40, paras 68 and 99].


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