Regrettably, though not surprisingly, either, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has yet to release any documentation which news reports as long as 16 days ago began promoting on the basis of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler’s charge that very same day that the American military forces occupying Iraq have been “using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population”—Crimes of State under various articles of the four Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols governing the laws of war and the treatment of protected populations during wartime.
During his prepared remarks two days later in commemoration of World Food Day (Oct. 16), Ziegler descried the American military forces’ use of food and water “as weapons of war in Iraq.”
To quote Ziegler’s exact words at length:
13. International law prohibits the use of food and water as weapons of war or as instruments of political or economic pressure, in order to safeguard the right to food of all people.
14. In Iraq, information has been brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention from a number of sources, including the NGO, CASI (Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq) http://www.casi.org.uk which suggest that military strategies of parties to the conflict, including both Coalition Forces and the insurgents, have adopted the cutting of food and water supplies to cities under attack. Given that insurgents frequently use civilian populations as human shields, the strategy of Coalition Forces for military assaults on cities have followed a pattern of firstly encircling the city under attack, secondly encouraging the civilian population to flee before the attack by cutting off their food and water supplies, in order to isolate insurgents within the encircled city. However, while it is clear that the strategy of restricting access to food and water, might be understood as effective military strategies, such strategies are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian law because of their impacts on the right to food and water of displaced civilian populations.
15. For example, in the latest assault on the town of Tal Afar in September 2005, it has been reported that Iraqi and Coalition forces restricted delivery of food, in order to encourage residents to flee. Water supplies were also cut off, although it was unclear who was responsible. Reports suggested that insurgents were responsible for cutting off water supplies to Shi’a areas. As a result, residents have been forced to flee to camps outside the city, but access to these camps for international agencies for the provision of food aid is said to be sporadic and the lack of potable water is reported to be contributing to death and disease amongst children. Earlier reports from last year, in September and October 2004, including from the NGO, CASI, also reported that during military assaults on Tal Afar, Samarra and Fallujah water supplies were cut off to residents in the cities under attack by Coalition Forces, affecting up to 750,000 civilians. As the Washington Post reported on 16 October 2004, ‘Electricity and water were cut off to the city ¨(Fallujah) just as a fresh wave of strikes began Thursday night, an action that US forces also took at the start of assaults on Najaf and Samarra”. The Coalition forces also prevented shipments of water into Fallujah by the Red Cross during the assault.
16. International human rights law requires protection of the right to food in times of peace and in times of war. International humanitarian law contains many rules which protect the right to food for populations caught in armed conflict. All parties to an armed conflict have a duty to ensure that all the basic needs of the civilian population, such as food and water, in the territory under their control. In particular, the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited in both international and non-international armed conflict. First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention, art. 54, para. 1, and second Additional Protocol, art. 14. That prohibition is violated not only when denial of access to food causes death, but also when the population suffers hunger because of deprivation of food sources or supplies. The prohibition of starvation is elaborated upon in provisions prohibiting attacks against or destruction of items necessary for the survival of the civilian population, including foodstuffs and drinking water: First Additional Protocol, art. 54, para. 2, and second Additional Protocol, art. 14.
Statements such as these received scant coverage at the time. (For a survey, see my “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” I, ZNet, Oct. 15.)
But at least the coverage shed light upon the pledge that a forthcoming report to be released under the auspices of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food would substantiate these charges.
Well. Today it is Sunday, October 30. Still no follow-up to this October 14 – 16 charge, however. No report. (“Interim” or otherwise.) No nothing.
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Homepage)
“Statement by Jean Ziegler Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food on the Occasion of World Food Day,” Jean Ziegler, October 16, 2005
The Right To Food (A/60/350), Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Right to Food, September 12, 2005. (This is an “interim” report, and was not released to the public until October 21.)
“UN expert calls urgently on agencies, Governments to reduce under-nourishment,” UN News Center, October 21, 2005
“UN expert decries ‘assassination’ by hunger of millions of children,” UN News Center, October 28, 2005
The Laws of War (Homepage), The Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Geneva Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (1950-)
Geneva Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea (1950-)
Geneva Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1950-)
Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1950-)
World Tribunal on Iraq (Homepage)
Statement of Conscience Against War and Repression, Not In Our Name
“starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” I, ZNet, October 15, 2005
“starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” II, ZNet, October 30, 2005
C. A framework for the right to food responsibilities of international organizations
49. In its resolution 2005/17 on globalization and human rights, the Commission on Human Rights affirmed the need for multilateral institutions “to recognize, respect and protect all human rights”. In their final report, the Special Rapporteurs of the Subcommission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights J. Oloka-Onyango and Deepika Udagama noted that “reiteration of the legal obligation of international organizations such as the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF is deemed necessary in order to emphasize the point that these institutions must, at a minimum, recognize, respect, and protect human rights” (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/14, para. 39). However, as many others have suggested, these organizations would also have obligations to positively promote and assist States in their efforts to protect and realize the right to adequate food of their populations.46 As the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has argued:
“international organizations … have a strong and continuous responsibility to take whatever measures they can to assist governments to act in ways which are compatible with their human rights obligations and to seek to devise policies and programmes which promote respect for those rights. It is particularly important to emphasize that the realms of trade, finance and investment are in no way exempt from these general principles and that the international organizations with specific responsibilities in those areas should play a positive and constructive role in relation to human rights.”47
50. The Special Rapporteur suggests that in order to fully comply with their obligations under the right to food, international organizations must respect, protect and support the fulfilment of the right to food by their member States.
The obligation to respect
51. The obligation to respect is a minimum obligation, which requires international organizations to ensure that their advice, policies and practices do not lead to violations of the right to food.48 This means that, at least with regard to the World Bank and IMF, international organizations should be have minimum negative obligations to respect or not to do harm in relation to the realization of the right to food. This prohibition of doing harm seems to be universally recognized. This means that these organizations should not promote “development” projects that would result in forced displacement or the destruction of sources of livelihood, especially in cases without proper compensation and rehabilitation for the affectedpopulations. It also means that actions and decisions of the World Bank, IMF and WTO should not increase people’s food insecurity in a given country, including the poorest people. Adjustment measures should not be implemented without carrying
out impact studies for vulnerable groups, and putting in place necessary safety nets in advance, to ensure that they will not result in starvation or chronic malnutrition. WTO would also have to take due account of the human rights obligations of its members and should advise against the adoption of trade policies that may have negative impacts on the right to food.
The obligation to protect
52. The obligation to protect requires international organizations to ensure that their partners, whether states or private actors, including transnational corporations, do not violate the right to food, including in cases where concessions and contracts are granted, or in common projects that could threaten people’s livelihoods and food security. Those organs of WTO that have decision-making power, such as the DSB, should protect the right to food in judicial decisions, and should ensure that interpretations of WTO law are compatible with the human rights obligations of its member States regarding the right to food.
The obligation to support the fulfilment
53. The obligation to support the fulfilment of the right to food requires that international organizations facilitate the realization of the right to food and help to provide necessary assistance when required for all people, indigenous, minorities and vulnerable groups. This should include facilitating the capacity of all people to feed themselves, as well as helping to ensure emergency support when they cannot feed themselves for reasons beyond their control. In developing countries, where up to 80 per cent of the population may depend on agriculture, small-scale agriculture should form the basis of food security strategies, as non-agricultural employment is often inadequate to absorb all those forced out of agriculture. WTO should also ensure that trade rules adopted are raising the standard of living in all countries, and not permit the persistence of current inequities in rules on agricultural trade.
46. For example Ghazi, B., 2004, pp. 108-109 and 206-213.
47. Statement of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Globalization and
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 11 May 1998, para. 5. http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/0fad637e6f7a89d580256738003eef9a?Opendocument .
48. Skogly, S., [The Human Rights Obligations of the World Bank and the IMF, London: Cavendish,] 2001, p. 151.
Postscript (December 9):
“Human Rights Commissioner Says Fight Against Terrorism Can Only Be Won If International Human Rights Norms Are Fully Respected,” Press Release, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 7, 2005
“UN Commissioner for Human Rights Says Total Ban on Torture Under Attack in ‘War on Terror’,” Press Release, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 7, 2005
Human Rights Day: Independent Experts Reaffirm Prohibition of Torture Is Absolute, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 9, 2005