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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Starvation as a Weapon of War: Red Cross Rules and Geneva Conventions
Saturday, 13 October 2012 20:28

Starvation as a Weapon of War: Red Cross Rules and Geneva Conventions

Written by ICRC
Biafran children Biafran children Photo credit: NY Times

 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. An independent and neutral organization, its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it employs some 12,000 people in 80 countries; it is financed mainly by voluntary donations from governments and from national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. Read full overview

 

Rule 53. Starvation as a Method of Warfare:

 

Rule 53. The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited.

Summary

State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.

International armed conflicts

While in 1863 the Lieber Code still stated that “it is lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed, so that it leads to the speedier subjection of the enemy”,[1]  by 1919 the Report of the Commission on Responsibility set up after the First World War listed “deliberate starvation of civilians” as a violation of the laws and customs of war subject to criminal prosecution.[2]  The prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare is codified in Article 54(1) of Additional Protocol I.[3]  This provision was generally considered new at the time of the adoption of Additional Protocol I but since then has hardened into a rule of customary international law. Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” is a war crime in international armed conflicts.[4]

The prohibition of starvation is set forth in numerous military manuals.[5]  Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is an offence under the legislation of many States.[6]  This rule is also supported by official statements and other practice.[7]  This practice includes that of States not, or not at the time, party to Additional Protocol I.[8]  Contrary practice has been generally condemned or has been denied by the accused party.[9]

 

Non-international armed conflicts

The prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare is contained in Additional Protocol II.[10]  In addition, this rule is contained in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.[11]

The prohibition of starvation is included in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[12]  Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare constitutes a war crime in any armed conflict under the legislation of several States.[13]  The prohibition of starvation was applied by the District Court of Zadar in the Perišić and Others case in 1997.[14]  It is further supported by official statements and reported practice in the context of non-international armed conflicts.[15]  States have generally denounced alleged instances of the use of starvation as a method of warfare in non-international armed conflicts, for example, in the civil wars in Nigeria and Sudan.[16]

The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1995 strongly condemned “attempts to starve civilian populations in armed conflicts” and stressed “the prohibition on using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”.[17]  This prohibition was also emphasized in the Plan of Action for the years 2000–2003, adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999.[18]

Rules 54–56 are a corollary to the prohibition of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. This means that attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population (see Rule 54) and denying access of humanitarian aid intended for civilians in need, including deliberately impeding humanitarian aid (see Rule 55) or restricting the freedom of movement of humanitarian relief personnel (see Rule 56) may constitute violations of the prohibition of starvation. Practice in respect of Rules 54–56 further reinforces this rule’s status as a norm of customary international law.

 

 

Sieges that cause starvation

The prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare does not prohibit siege warfare as long as the purpose is to achieve a military objective and not to starve a civilian population. This is stated in the military manuals of France and New Zealand.[19]  Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War explains that the prohibition of starvation “clearly implies that the city’s inhabitants must be allowed to leave the city during a siege”.[20]  Alternatively, the besieging party must allow the free passage of foodstuffs and other essential supplies, in accordance with Rule 55. States denounced the use of siege warfare in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[21]  It was also condemned by international organizations.[22]

 

Blockades and embargoes that cause starvation

Likewise, the prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare does not prohibit the imposition of a naval blockade as long as the purpose is to achieve a military objective and not to starve a civilian population. This principle is set forth in the San Remo Manual on Naval Warfare and in several military manuals which further specify that if the civilian population is inadequately provided for, the blockading party must provide for free passage of humanitarian relief supplies.[23]  Blockades and embargoes of cities and regions have been condemned by the United Nations and other international organizations, for example, with respect to the conflicts in Afghanistan and the territories occupied by Israel.[24]  Embargoes imposed by the United Nations itself must also comply with this rule.

 

Article 55 of the Geneva Conventions states:

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

 

ARTICLE 55

To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.

The Occupying Power may not requisition foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies available in the occupied territory, except for use by the occupation forces and administration personnel, and then only if the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account. Subject to the provisions of other international Conventions, the Occupying Power shall make arrangements to ensure that fair value is paid for any requisitioned goods.

The Protecting Power shall, at any time, be at liberty to verify the state of the food and medical supplies in occupied territories, except where temporary restrictions are made necessary by imperative military requirements.

 

Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of .

 

Article 55 of the Geneva Conventions states:

"To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate...."

Article 59:

"If the whole or part of the population of an occupied territory is inadequately supplied, the Occupying Power shall agree to relief schemes on behalf of the said population, and shall facilitate them by all the means at its disposal.  Such schemes, which may be undertaken either by States or by impartial humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, shall consist, in particular, of the provision of consignments of foodstuffs, medical supplies and clothing."

 

 

And Article 60 insured that even if civilian relief efforts are underway:

"Relief consignments shall in no way relieve the Occupying Power of any of its responsibilities under Articles 55, 56 and 59."

As for what constitutes an "occupying power," according to Amnesty International, "The sole criterion for deciding the applicability of the law":

...is drawn from facts: the de facto effective control of territory by foreign armed forces coupled with the possibility to enforce their decisions, and the de facto absence of a national governmental authority in effective control...Even though the objective of the military campaign may not be to control territory, the sole presence of such forces in a controlling position renders applicable the law protecting the inhabitants. The occupying power cannot avoid its responsibilities as long as a national government is not in a position to carry out its normal tasks."

 

References and Sources: International Committee of the Red Cross

[1] Lieber Code, Article 17 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 17, § 4).

[2] Report of the Commission on Responsibility (ibid., § 5).

[3] Additional Protocol I, Article 54(1) (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 1).

[4] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) (ibid., § 3).

[5] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 9), Australia (ibid., §§ 10–11), Belgium (ibid., § 12), Benin (ibid., § 13), Canada (ibid., § 14), Colombia (ibid., § 15), Croatia (ibid., § 16), France (ibid., §§ 17–18), Germany (ibid., § 19), Hungary (ibid., § 20), Indonesia (ibid., § 21), Israel (ibid., § 22), Kenya (ibid., § 23), Republic of Korea (ibid., § 24), Madagascar (ibid., § 25), Netherlands (ibid., § 26), New Zealand (ibid., § 27), Nigeria (ibid., § 28), Russian Federation (ibid., § 29), Spain (ibid., § 30), Sweden (ibid., § 31), Switzerland (ibid., § 32), Togo (ibid., § 33), United Kingdom (ibid., § 34), United States (ibid., § 35) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 36).

[6] See, e.g., the legislation of Australia (ibid., §§ 37–38), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 39), Belarus (ibid., § 40), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 41), Canada (ibid., § 43), China (ibid., § 44), Congo (ibid., § 45), Côte d'Ivoire (ibid., § 46), Croatia (ibid., § 47), Ethiopia (ibid., § 48), Georgia (ibid., § 49), Germany (ibid., § 50), Ireland (ibid., § 51), Lithuania (ibid., § 52), Mali (ibid., § 53), Netherlands (ibid., §§ 54–55), New Zealand (ibid., § 56), Norway (ibid., § 57), Slovenia (ibid., § 58), United Kingdom (ibid., § 60) and Yugoslavia (ibid., §§ 61–62); see also the draft legislation of Burundi (ibid., § 42) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 59).

[7] See, e.g., the statements of Belgium (ibid., § 67), China (ibid., § 70), Côte d'Ivoire (ibid., § 74), Cuba (ibid., § 75), Finland (ibid., § 77), Germany (ibid., §§ 81–85), Malaysia (ibid., § 92), United Kingdom (ibid., § 99), United States (ibid., § 101), USSR (ibid., § 106) and Yemen (ibid., § 107), the practice of the United States (ibid., § 103) and the reported practice of Belgium (ibid., § 69) and Israel (ibid., § 88).

[8] See, e.g., the military manuals of France (ibid., § 17), Indonesia (ibid., § 21), Israel (ibid., § 22), Kenya (ibid., § 23), United Kingdom (ibid., § 34) and United States (ibid., § 35), the legislation of Azerbaijan (ibid., § 39), China (ibid., § 44), Ethiopia (ibid., § 48) and Netherlands (ibid., § 54), the statements of Malaysia (ibid., § 92), United Kingdom (ibid., § 99) and United States (ibid., § 101) and the reported practice of Israel (ibid., § 88).

[9] See, e.g., the statements of Austria (ibid., § 66), China (ibid., § 70), Côte d'Ivoire (ibid., § 74), Cuba (ibid., § 75), Egypt (ibid., § 76), Finland (ibid., § 77), Germany (ibid., § 81), Islamic Republic of Iran (ibid., § 76), Malaysia (ibid., § 92), Pakistan (ibid., § 76), Saudi Arabia (ibid., § 76), Senegal (ibid., § 76), Turkey (ibid., § 76), United Kingdom (ibid., § 99); Yemen (ibid., § 107) and three States (ibid., §§ 108–110).

[10] Additional Protocol II, Article 14 (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 2).

[11] See, e.g., Memorandum of Understanding on the Application of IHL between Croatia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, § 6 (ibid., § 6); Agreement on the Application of IHL between the Parties to the Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, § 2.5 (ibid., § 7).

[12] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 9), Australia (ibid., §§ 10–11), Benin (ibid., § 13), Canada (ibid., § 14), Colombia (ibid., § 15), Croatia (ibid., § 16), France (ibid., § 18), Germany (ibid., § 19), Hungary (ibid., § 20), Kenya (ibid., § 23), Republic of Korea (ibid., § 24), Madagascar (ibid., § 25), Netherlands (ibid., § 26), New Zealand (ibid., § 27), Nigeria (ibid., § 28), Russian Federation (ibid., § 29), Spain (ibid., § 30), Togo (ibid., § 33) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 36).

[13] See, e.g., the legislation of Azerbaijan (ibid., § 39), Belarus (ibid., § 40), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 41), Croatia (ibid., § 47), Ethiopia (ibid., § 48), Germany (ibid., § 50), Lithuania (ibid., § 52), Slovenia (ibid., § 57) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 61).

[14] Croatia, District Court of Zadar, Perišić and Others case, Judgement (ibid., § 63).

[15] See, e.g., the statements of Belgium (ibid., § 67), Colombia (ibid., § 72), France (ibid., § 78), Germany (ibid., §§ 79–80), Holy See (ibid., § 86), Iraq (ibid., § 87), Nigeria (ibid., § 94), Philippines (ibid., § 96), Sweden (ibid., § 98), United States (ibid., § 102) and USSR (ibid., § 105) and the reported practice of Belgium (ibid., § 69), Malaysia (ibid., § 93) and Rwanda (ibid., § 97).

[16] See, e.g., the statements of Belgium (ibid., § 67) and Germany (ibid., §§ 79–80).

[17] 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. II (ibid., § 118).

[18] 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. I (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 119).

[19] France, LOAC Manual (ibid., § 136); New Zealand, Military Manual (ibid., § 138).

[20] Israel, Manual on the Laws of War (ibid., § 137).

[21] See, e.g., the statements of Albania (ibid., § 142) and Pakistan (ibid., § 144).

[22] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 761 (ibid., § 145), Res. 764 (ibid., § 146) and Res. 859 (ibid., § 147); UN Security Council, Statement by the President (ibid., § 148); UN General Assembly, Res. 48/88, 49/10 and 49/196 (ibid., § 149); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/72 (ibid., § 150); EU, Statement before the UN General Assembly (ibid., § 153); Western European Union, Special Declaration of the Presidential Committee on the situation in the former Yugoslavia ( ibid., § 154).

[23] San Remo Manual, §§ 102–103 (ibid., § 160); military manuals of Australia (ibid., § 162), Canada (ibid., § 163), France (ibid., § 165) and United States (ibid., § 169).

[24] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 174–175); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/74 (ibid., § 176) and Res. 1995/76 (ibid., § 176); OIC, Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Res. 1/7-P (IS) (ibid., § 183).





 

 

Last modified on Saturday, 13 October 2012 20:42

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