A Pandemic of Hunger Symposium: Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2417

A Pandemic of Hunger Symposium: Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2417

[Global Rights Compliance (GRC) is a niche organisation that specialises in legal services associated with violations of international law. For more on GRC’s work on conflict and hunger, see here. For more on GRC’s accountability work, click here.]

The looming famines in up to three dozen countries have two things in common, “they are primarily driven by conflict, and they are entirely preventable.”

World Food Programme


24 May marks the third anniversary of the UN Security Council unanimously adopting Resolution 2417 (UNSC 2417) recognising the link between conflict and hunger and condemning the use of starvation as a method of warfare. On the occasion of this important anniversary, Global Rights Compliance (GRC) is privileged to host with Opinio Juris a digital symposium on the implementation of UNSC 2417. This will coincide with an expert webinar  on 19 May 2021.

Following an unprecedented year, conflict and hunger have been gravely exacerbated by COVID-19. There are more than 34 million people globally in IPC Phase 4 (Integrated Food Insecurity Phase Classification) who currently require urgent life-saving action and a further 270 million assessed as acutely food insecure. As the World Food Programme (WFP) has noted, we stand on the “brink of a hunger pandemic”.

Deliberate starvation and violations of the right to food feature across a range of conflicts: in Syria, “kneel or starve” tactics have been used against besieged civilians; blockades have impeded humanitarian relief and agricultural areas have been targeted in Yemen; in South Sudan,  starvation has been identified as a policy of warfare, and sometimes as an instrument to punish non-aligned communities; in Northeast Nigeria, insurgents destroyed hospitals, health centres, water points and systems as well as infrastructure vital to people’s livelihoods; in Myanmar, according to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (para. 175), and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (here, para. 71; and here, paras. 104, 131) starvation has been used as part of the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya; and most recently in Tigray in Ethiopia humanitarian access violations are coupled with pillage, destruction of objects indispensable to survival and a communications blackout (as explored by Alex de Waal in this Symposium and here).

Through UNSC 2417 the issue of starvation in armed conflicts was given the pre-eminence it demands, moving it into the arena of peace and security and away from a solely humanitarian silo. Over the last three years we have seen the language of humanitarian access, protection of objects indispensable to survival and associated violations creeping into other resolutions, mandates and investigations ensuring that conflict and hunger remains a high-level priority. Whilst it is important to recognise UNSC 2417’s utility to date, it is also critical at this juncture to strengthen its preventative, prohibitive and accountability powers and reflect on its successes and weaknesses.

Collectively this symposium will bring together distinguished academics and practitioners to reflect on the significance and implementation of UNSC 2417 and seek to identify concrete actions different stakeholders can take to support the objectives of UNSC 2417. With field perspectives from: the UN WFP – Nobel Prize Laureate; Mwatana for Human Rights’ investigators working on the ground in Yemen – also jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; renowned expertise on the situation in Tigray from Alex de Waal; insight on patterns of starvation violations in South Sudan and Syria from Chris Newton (WFP and Tufts University) and the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan’s Yousuf Syed Khan; perspectives on humanitarian access in North East Nigeria by Jared Miller; and IHL expertise on sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and the rules regulating relief operations from Emanuela-Chiara Gillard. GRC will conclude with some lessons learned over the last three years and recommendations of how to implement more effectively UNSC 2417.

Through its dedicated starvation portfolio established in 2017 and global expertise on the crime of starvation and right to food violations, GRC’s long-term goal in this space is to render starvation morally toxic. Phase II of GRC’s project “Accountability for Mass Starvation: UNSC 2417 Implementation Mechanisms” generously supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aims to engage not only at the international level, but also across regional, national and local levels, to develop capacities to identify, avoid, prevent and seek accountability for deliberate starvation. 

We hope the contributions across this symposium will help catalyse the discussion on UNSC 2417 and form part of a broader response to break the cycle of conflict-induced hunger.

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