UN Security Council votes unanimously on Dutch initiative to ban starvation as a weapon of war

On 24 May the UN Security Council voted in favour of a resolution to ban the use of starvation as a weapon of war. The resolution also calls for action to address the growing number of people suffering from hunger around the world, especially in conflict areas. This is an initiative of the Netherlands, which has a seat on the Council this year.

‘I’m happy we were able to achieve this tangible result today,’ said foreign minister Stef Blok. ‘This resolution binds 193 countries to one of our priorities: the prevention of war and conflicts.’ The Netherlands set three priorities for its year on the Council: fighting impunity, preventing conflict and reforming peace missions. For some time the Netherlands has been pushing for the Security Council to play a more proactive role and focus on not only resolving but also preventing conflicts. This is the first time that the Council has formally recognised that conflict can cause food insecurity and that the two can be mutually reinforcing. Food insecurity can also lead to mass migration and regional instability.

Kaag: 'Heinous medieval method of warfare must be outlawed'

On 23 March Sigrid Kaag, the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, urged the Security Council to take action to halt the recent rise in conflict-related hunger. ‘The unthinkable is happening: in the 21st century the number of people suffering from hunger is rising. The reason: armed conflict. In countries like Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, markets are being bombed, and humanitarian convoys are being intentionally held back in order to starve people into submission. This must be stopped,’ Ms Kaag said. ‘Starvation is a heinous, medieval method of warfare which must be outlawed once and for all. By taking action the UN Security Council sends a powerful signal to all states and individuals that are guilty of this crime.’

High on UNSC agenda

The aim of the resolution is to reinforce humanitarian law and offer innocent civilians better protection in times of war. It calls on countries to take steps to spare civilians and medical and humanitarian aid workers from armed conflict. The resolution also urges countries to investigate allegations of deliberate starvation. It further allows sanctions to be imposed on individuals who wilfully block humanitarian aid, such as food convoys. The adoption of this resolution ensures that this issue will remain high on the agenda of the Security Council, the leading international body in the realm of international peace and security.

After years of decline in hunger, the World Food Programme has noted an alarming rise in the number of people suffering from hunger. In 2016 there were 825 million people in this category, an increase of 37 million over 2015, and almost entirely the result of conflict. Between 2015 and 2017 the number of people facing serious hunger rose from 80 million to 124 million and the vast majority live in conflict areas.