In late May 2021, Mark Lowcock, Assistant Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, warned that “there is a serious risk of famine if assistance is not increased in the next two months.” As he assessed: “more than 90% of the harvest was lost due to looting, burning or other destruction, and that 80% of the cattle in the region was looted or slaughtered.” He added that: “Almost all parties to the conflict have been accused of preventing aid from reaching the people who need it most.” In a statement to the UN Security Council, stressed that: “In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, people have been displaced, crops have been destroyed and looted, and food and other aid have been blocked.”
The situation is expected to turn into one of the worst famines in recent years.
A few days earlier, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, emphasized that “the blockades by the military forces in recent days have seriously impeded access to rural areas where humanitarian needs are most serious.” He added that: “Of the 3 million people who signed up to receive emergency shelter and non-food items, only 347,000 people, that is, around 12%, were treated since May 3.” This is very worrying because an estimated 5.2 million people in Tigray, more than 87% of the population, are in need of food assistance.
The question then is: are we talking here about the crime of starvation that is perpetrated in Tigray?
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) previously prohibited hunger only when it arose in international armed conflicts. At the 18th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, by way of amendment, the parties voted unanimously to broaden the scope of the Statute and make hunger a war crime in non-international armed conflicts. The 2019 amendment means that the crime of starvation can be applied in the context of civil wars. Hunger can arise as an involuntary consequence of an armed conflict or as a consequence of a terrible political or economic situation in the country. However, hunger can and is often used deliberately to promote political or ethnic ideologies.
What’s in Tigray?
The evidence suggests that while it may be a mixture of both, the deliberate use of starvation is clearly supported by the evidence.
On April 6, 2021, the World Peace Foundation published a new report on the subject of famine in Tigray. The report concludes that “the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are starving the people of Tigray. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this is intentional, systematic and widespread. “The report further states that:” In a situation of severe food insecurity, any interference with the population’s access to humanitarian assistance is an obstacle to access [objects indispensable to survival] and it is a component of the use of hunger as a weapon of war. ”Such interference can include the looting of aid, but also hinder the needs assessment, restrict the freedom of movement of humanitarian actors and the civilian population, and intervene in the carrying out humanitarian activities.
Furthermore, as Mark Lowcock noted, “despite improvements in March and the cooperation of authorities at the local level, humanitarian access has generally deteriorated recently.” He adds: “Humanitarian operations are being attacked, obstructed or delayed in the delivery of life-saving assistance. Eight aid workers have been killed in Tigray in the last six months. ”This would suggest that starvation is used deliberately.
The growing body of evidence suggesting that starvation in Tigray is used as a weapon of war requires urgent consideration and comprehensive responses to protect target communities.