posted on Tue 28 Apr 2020 4:37 PM
Presidential Statement on Conflict-induced Hunger

Tomorrow (29 April) the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on conflict-induced hunger. Negotiations on the draft statement have been ongoing throughout April after the Dominican Republic circulated a draft text at the start of the month, largely based on resolution 2417 of 24 May 2018, the Council’s first resolution on conflict and hunger. Three virtual rounds of negotiations were held ahead of the Council’s 21 April videoconference meeting (VTC) on the protection of civilians from conflict-induced hunger, including a day-long session on 20 April. Russia broke two silence procedures, first on 17 April, apparently followed by comments to the text from other members, and then on 23 April. Last Friday (24 April), the Dominican Republic placed the statement under a new silence procedure, which it passed yesterday.

The negotiations have been difficult. Russia, in particular, does not consider conflict-induced hunger as an appropriate subject for the Security Council. It expressed this view during the 21 April VTC, stating: “We have to repeat our fundamental position that the Security Council is not the right platform to sustainably embrace and address all the socio-economic and other factors which are related to armed conflicts.”

One of the initial prominent sticking points during negotiations was whether to highlight the impact of climate change on food crises in conflict countries. Earlier versions of the draft noted that many food crises around the world, primarily driven by conflict, can also be affected by compounding factors such as extreme weather events, natural disasters and climate change. Russia and China objected to the inclusion of the climate change reference for several reasons, including that it would give disproportionate attention to one issue (climate) among others that contribute to hunger in conflict settings, such as economic shocks. The US also had reservations about accepting the climate change reference, though it apparently accepted mentioning it if were referenced with other compounding factors.

For several members, however, it was important to note the particular impact of climate change as a factor contributing to the vulnerability of many countries in conflict facing food crises. The Global Report on Food Crisis (GRFC) 2020, released on 21 April, observed that weather extremes were a key driver of acute food insecurity last year, affecting some 34 million people in 25 countries. Only conflict was a greater driver of acute food insecurity for 77 million people in 22 countries, while economic shocks were the third leading driver for 24 million people in 8 countries.

A revised draft circulated the night before the briefing no longer included the reference to climate change. The current draft resolution now notes that many food crises driven by conflict “can also be compounded by factors such as economic crises, increasingly frequent and severe weather events and natural disasters”.

When Russia broke the second silence procedure it raised objections to two areas in the text over language on human rights and international humanitarian law. The first of the two objections appeared easier to resolve. Following the addition of a paragraph proposed by China to recognise the need for inclusive development to prevent conflict and enable long-term stability and sustainable peace, language was added at European members’ request to also mention the importance of human rights. Russia was already apparently uncomfortable with the paragraph—it frequently stresses the importance of UN bodies adhering to their mandates that separate responsibility for addressing the UN’s different pillars—and did not like the additional human rights reference. In the current draft statement, the entire paragraph has been removed.

More difficult to reconcile was Russia’s objection to a part of the text calling on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights laws and underlining the importance of safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel. It seems that Russia proposed rewriting this text based on a formulation from resolution 2514 of 12 March on the UN Mission to South Sudan that recalls the need for compliance “with the relevant provisions of international law and respect for the UN guiding principles of humanitarian assistance”. Members, which felt that they had already made significant compromises by ceding the climate change reference, could not accept the proposal, worrying that this formulation would weaken language in resolution 2417, particularly by replacing the term “humanitarian principles” with “UN guiding principles”; the latter terminology gives greater weight to the consent of the country concerned.

The now agreed draft presidential statement adds language to the end of a long paragraph on the link between armed conflict, violence and conflict-induced food insecurity, from resolution 2417, that “underlines the importance of safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to civilians in armed conflict”. A paragraph reaffirming the need to respect “humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence” in the delivery of aid, based on resolution 2417, is maintained.

New to the draft statement, compared to resolution 2417, is a paragraph encouraging member states “to support relevant early warning systems to provide governments and humanitarian actors with timely, reliable, accurate and verifiable information regarding food security and allowing for anticipation and early action to prevent and mitigate the effects of a food crisis in the context of armed conflict”. At China’s prompting, language was included indicating that national ownership of such early warning systems should be respected.

During last week’s VTC, considerable focus was placed on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could nearly double the number of people who may, this year, face crisis levels of hunger or worse, which totaled 135 million people in 55 countries in 2019. “[A]n additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by end of 2020”, according to Executive Director of the World Food Programme David Beasley, who said at the meeting that the economic and health impacts are most worrisome for countries in Africa and the Middle East because the pandemic further threatens lives and livelihoods of people already put at risk by conflict. Beasley warned of the possibility of “multiple famines of biblical proportions within a few short months”.

For further background on last week’s Council VTC on conflict-induced hunger, see our 20 April What’s in Blue story.