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Security Council to adopt a resolution on hunger in armed conflict

Tomorrow (24 May), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution on the link between armed conflict and violence, and conflict-induced food insecurity, including the threat of famine. This adoption follows the 23 March Council briefing on this issue organised by the Netherlands. Earlier this month, a core group—comprised of Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Sweden—circulated a preliminary draft. Following three meetings of Council members on the draft, and additional discussions among some members, the draft resolution is now in blue.

The draft resolution seeks to highlight the link between conflict and hunger, and a rise in food insecurity in recent years which has been largely tied to armed conflicts. According to the draft resolution, armed conflicts cause people to be displaced from land, livestock grazing areas, and fishing grounds, as well as the destruction of food stocks and agricultural assets. The draft also notes that conflicts disrupt food systems and markets causing food prices to rise, or a decrease in purchasing power, as well as decreased access to supplies for preparing food including water and fuel.

In light of concerns over how the conduct of hostilities has driven food insecurity in many of today’s conflicts, the draft resolution reaffirms warring parties’ obligations under international humanitarian law. It calls on all parties to armed conflict to protect civilians and civilian objects, including objects necessary for food production and distribution, such as farms, markets, water systems, and means for transporting food. It further calls on parties to conflict to refrain from attacking, destroying, or removing objects that are indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops or livestock, among other assets.

The draft resolution strongly condemns the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access, and urges all parties to protect civilian infrastructure critical to the delivery of aid and to ensure the proper functioning of food systems. The draft also recalls that the Council has adopted and can consider adopting sanctions for obstructing the delivery or distribution of humanitarian assistance.

At the start of the negotiations, it seems that China, Ethiopia and Russia pushed back on the language in the draft text. Russia had stated at the March briefing its concerns about the Council discussing as a thematic issue food insecurity and hunger, which can have numerous causes. It noted that the Council already addresses the issue when it arises in country situations under discussion. Ethiopia, which stated at the briefing that the General Assembly and ECOSOC are usually more appropriate venues to consider food insecurity, contended during negotiations that as a Council issue, this should fall under the thematic discussion on protection of civilians, and is already being reported on by the Secretary-General as part of this annual report and briefing.

Some of these concerns were addressed by the core group taking steps to accommodate comments on the text, and further demonstrating that their objective with the resolution was to address only conflict-induced food insecurity. An initial proposal for semi-annual Secretary-General’s reports and briefings was reduced to requesting an annual briefing that seemed to help further alleviate Russia's concerns.

Ethiopia appeared the most sensitive among Council members about making sure that the draft resolution only applied to conflict situations. Responding to its concerns, efforts were made to specify the focus of the resolution as precisely as possible, such as adding additional references throughout the draft to “armed” conflict and “conflict-induced food insecurity”.

Following negotiations of Council members on Friday (18 May), and further bilateral discussions, the Netherlands, which led the negotiations for the core group, put the draft under silence on 21 May. Ethiopia broke silence yesterday over the proposal requesting the Secretary-General to brief the Council every twelve months on the draft resolution’s implementation. This was supported by Bolivia and China.

The compromise reached with Ethiopia, which has now expressed its support for the draft resolution, is that the Secretary-General should brief the Security Council every twelve months on the resolution’s implementation in the context of his annual briefing on the protection of civilians. Language calling for the Council to remain seized of the matter was also removed.

As part of ensuring attention to the issue at the country-specific level, the resolution requests the Secretary-General to report swiftly to the Council when there is a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in the context of armed conflict.

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