Using hunger as a weapon is a war crime

Food can and must, only and always, be a bridge to peace

18 Apr 2024

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right “to have access to food in sufficient quantity and quality, nutritionally and culturally appropriate, and physically and economically accessible.”

This is the basis of Slow Food’s mission.

by Edward Mukiibi

It is evident, however, that while there is a daily imperative to address this issue globally, we are regrettably distant from ensuring that this fundamental right is secured for a significant portion of the world’s population. Various reasons, stemming from diverse social, economic, and political circumstances in different countries, hinder this assurance. Undoubtedly, wars pose a significant barrier to accessing food.

On the continent where I was born and where I live, wars are going on right now that are hardly covered by the international media.

Let me quote the words of the World Food Program: “’More than 25 million people scattered across Sudan, South Sudan, and Chad are trapped in a spiral of food insecurity. However, the brutal civil war shows no sign of easing after 10 months of fighting. Conflict is the main driver of hunger in most of the world’s food crises, from Sudan to Syria, from Yemen to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pushing food and nutrition insecurity to historic levels.’ The United Nations Security Council acknowledged the link between conflict and hunger and condemned the use of starvation as a weapon of war when it adopted its landmark Resolution 2417 in 2018. This resolution recognizes the need to break the vicious cycle of armed conflict and hunger and to establish accountability for those who exploit starvation for their ends.’”

Today, we also confront a tragedy of exceptional gravity: the situation of the people in the Gaza Strip. The enormity of this crisis makes us feel inadequate and desperate. It is exceptional because it is not solely the disgrace of hunger as a direct result of violence. When conflict arises, food insecurity almost inevitably ensues, as populations flee conflict zones and become displaced without resources.

In Gaza, we are witnessing an excessively cruel reaction to what, let us not forget, was an inhuman act of terrorism on October 7. Millions of people are confined to an enclave, subjected to a total siege, with restrictions on aid delivery effectively leading to food shortages and an impending hunger crisis affecting civilians, particularly women and children. International law explicitly prohibits “attacking, destroying, removing, or rendering inoperable assets essential to the survival of the civilian population, such as food, agricultural fields, crops, livestock, and drinking water facilities.” Yet, for the past six months, this is precisely what the international community has been witnessing.

The restrictions on food entering the Gaza Strip are not the only disaster unfolding. There is also the destruction of water quality, fruits, and vegetables. Ninety percent of the population of Gaza has no chance of making a living; they continue to move from north to south in search of a livelihood. Their struggle for survival is further hindered by a decimated infrastructure, including numerous formerly life-saving hospitals.

The UN is unequivocal in linking the hunger crisis in Gaza to Israel’s conduct of war: “The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on the entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime”. European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell goes even further, stating that Israel “is using hunger as a weapon of war.”

The International Criminal Court judges have ordered Israel to “take immediate and effective measures to allow the delivery of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian aid.” However, in recent days, we have watched in horror as World Central Kitchen volunteers have been killed, and NGO founder José Andrés has asserted that Israel is engaged in “war against humanity itself.”

Human Rights Watch reports that “Israel continues to obstruct the provision of basic services and the entry and distribution of fuel and life-saving aid into Gaza.”

The international community must demand that international law be respected, and that humanity prevail, because now the population is condemned to starvation, and when people are condemned to starvation, the only outcome is suffering and death.

Together with so many voices around the world, we call for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages. We demand an end to the use of hunger as a weapon so that the people of Gaza can receive food, clean water, medicine, and whatever else is necessary to alleviate their dire conditions.

The international community must sow the seeds of peace, utilizing all available means to bring an end to the violence.

We call for negotiations to commence immediately to ensure that the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict finds a just solution, one that guarantees the dignity of all people and fosters a peaceful future for everyone.

Using hunger as a weapon is a war crime.

Food can and must, only and always, be a bridge to peace.

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