November 13, 2005
UNITED NATIONS - Jean Ziegler, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, made waves last month when he accused U.S. and British forces of using food and water as weapons of war in besieged cities in Iraq.
Speaking to IPS this week, Ziegler said that a draft resolution issued in response to his critical report to the U.N. General Assembly is a "good sign" to eventually achieve condemnation of this tactic by U.N. member states.
The resolution says that "food should not be used as an instrument of political or economic pressure", and reaffirms "the importance of international cooperation and solidarity, as well as the necessity of refraining from unilateral measures that are not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations and that endanger food security."
While Ziegler says the "draft resolution is very positive about my work", he added that "it is too soon to say if member states will condemn the strategy of the Coalition forces", as the resolution has yet to be adopted.
Ziegler presented his report to the General Assembly in October. He told IPS that "the report was very well received" and that "after my presentation, 14 member states made interventions to congratulate me for my work in general and my report in particular".
"Only the United States of America and the United Kingdom intervened to oppose my position on the violations of the rights to food and water in Iraq," Ziegler told IPS.
"The United States and the United Kingdom argued that their forces in Iraq were taking care of the needs of the Iraqi civilian population, including their access to food and water," he said. "But the other states did not follow them: many supported my work and the others were silent."
Ziegler called the withholding of food and water in Iraq "a clear violation of international law".
The U.S. military has denied the allegations. But the special rapporteur said evidence of the problem was brought to his attention by a number of sources, including non-governmental organisations.
He said that the U.S.-led Coalition forces and the Iraqi Army use the military strategy of cutting off food and water supplies to cities under attack by insurgents, which frequently use the civilian population as human shields. The objective is to encourage civilians to flee before the attack.
Ziegler was nominated by the U.N. Commission of Human Rights to be the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in September 2000. His job is to ensure that governments are meeting their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food of all people.
The special rapporteur issues an annual report to the General Assembly in October and another one to the Human Rights Commission in March explaining activities during the year as well as themes identified and studies undertaken.
During his recent presentation to the General Assembly, Ziegler said that while it is clear that "the strategy of restricting access to food and water might be understood as effective military strategies, they are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian law", such as the Geneva Protocol.
Two 1977 protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which lay down rules of conduct in armed conflicts, ban using deprivation of food or water as a weapon of war. They also prohibit destruction of food stocks or interruption of food supply lines.
In a press conference following the presentation, Ziegler said that this strategy in Iraq "has to stop". He argued that "most of the people do not leave the cities because they are afraid of leaving their properties" and that as a result, "people are dying of diarrhea, poisoned water and lack of food".
This strategy was reportedly used in Falluja, Najaf, Samarra, and in September in the city of Tal Afar, where Iraqi and Coalition forces restricted delivery of food in order to encourage residents to flee and relocate to tent camps outside the city.
Iraq is not an isolated situation. For example in Darfur, Sudan, there are reports of continued violations of the right to food by militias with alleged links to the government, included destroying, damaging and looting crops, livestock and drinking water facilities.
Another example of using food for political or military purposes involves the U.S. and North Korea. In 1999, North Korea agreed to allow the U.S. to conduct ongoing inspections of a suspected nuclear development site. In exchange, the U.S. promised to increase food aid and initiate a programme to grow potatoes in the country.
In his report, Ziegler warns that although important progress has been made in some countries, the overall trend is one of regression. He says he is "gravely concerned that global hunger again has increased in 2004, to 852 million undernourished people" -- up by 10 million people since 2003.
His report also highlights the urgent situation in Africa, particularly in Niger, where it says "the response of the international community has been extremely slow, despite numerous appeals by the government and the U.N. agencies since November 2004."
Ziegler said that "today, the food aid is beginning to arrive in Niger", but now it may be "too late and may even cause a new catastrophe".
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world already produces enough food to adequately nourish 12 billion people. Ziegler argues that "every child that dies of hunger today is assassinated" because "there is absolutely no fatality in this daily massacre of human beings by hunger and malnutrition in this planet".
Ziegler complained that "there is a sort of indifference from the powerful states of the world to this tragedy of hunger, specifically in Africa". He said that "world has to take consciousness of what happens today in Africa, because this continent has the right to the solidarity of the international community".
The special rapporteur also focused on two emerging issues: the right to food of indigenous people and the responsibilities of major international institutions.
Concerning indigenous people, the report states that their right to food is "frequently denied or violated, often as a result of systematic discrimination or the widespread lack of recognition of indigenous rights over the land or other resources".
Ziegler also wants to attract attention to examine the issue of the human rights responsibilities of international organisations. He said that "intergovernmental institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, have long denied that they have direct obligations to respect international human rights law and that it is now time to that they recognise their responsibilities".