PHM-Exch> On starvation as a crime against humanity

Claudio Schuftan cschuftan at
Mon Nov 27 21:28:02 PST 2017

 *Operation Starvation, **Alex de Waal on Counter-Humanitarianism and the
Return of Famine as a Weapon of War,  **The Fletcher School of Law and
Diplomacy  Tufts University. *
*This is a more complete version of the essay published in the **London
Review of Books **(39:12, 15 June 2017, pp. 9-12)   EXCERPTS*

In its 1ary use, the verb ‘to starve’ is transitive: Something people do to
one another, like torture or murder.

Mass starvation on account of the weather has all but disappeared: today’s
famines are all caused by political decisions, yet too often, journalists  use
the phrase man-made famine as if it were a surprise.

Over the last half century, famines have become rarer and less lethal. Last
year I wrote in the *New York Times *that they might be abolished for good.
But this year, mass starvation is back and we face the possibility of four
or five simultaneous famines in the world.

*Don’t be fooled by pictures that show hungry people in arid landscapes:
this is entirely a famine crime, and the weather had nothing to do with it.

*There’s nothing natural or inevitable about people dying from hunger when
the rains fail. *

That’s a fact that can never be repeated too often, because it corrects the
most common misconception about famine.

Yet these political famines seem scarcely to register in our collective
imagination. They are strikingly absent from the canon on which theories of
famine and policies for food security have been constructed. Even Amartya
Sen did not take them into account when developing his entitlement theory
of famine causation which correctly overturned explanations of famine based
exclusively on food shortage.

*Faced with the problems of defining the crime and proving culpability,
prosecutors since Nuremberg have pursued charges other than famine crimes. *

Prosecuting starvation as murder (or extermination) faces extraordinary
evidenciary problems.

M*ass starvation is still caused by the same toxic mixture of war,
dictatorship and atrocity. *

The Geneva Convention, Art 54 states outright that starvation of civilians
as a method of warfare is prohibited . It is a bold statement  of
humanitarian law, but its application is limited.
But beware, counter-terrorist operations can be just as inhumane when they
impede aid and harass aid workers.

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