This study analyses the normative content of the right to adequate food in emergency situations, examining the provisions of human rights law as well as those of other relevant branches of international law, including international humanitarian law, refugee law, criminal law, economic law and environmental law.
Under international human rights law, every human being has a right to adequate food. In the words of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, this means that every man, woman or child, alone or in community with others, has the right to have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or to the means for its procurement (General Comment No. 12, 1999). Each State has a legal obligation to take steps in order to progressively realize this right, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, and to the maximum of its available resources. As a fundamental human right, the right to adequate food applies in emergency situations. These are defined here as including both natural disasters (droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) and man-made disasters (international and internal armed conflicts).
In armed conflicts, the protection granted by human rights law is supplemented by international humanitarian law, mainly consisting of the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and the two 1977 Additional Protocols. Many provision of international humanitarian law are aimed at ensuring that persons or groups not (or no longer) taking part in the hostilities are not denied food or access to food, by prescribing certain conduct (e.g. with regard to permitting and facilitating access by humanitarian agencies) and prohibiting certain behaviour (e.g. the use of starvation as a method of warfare). Serious violations of these norms are crimes punishable under international law.
Moreover, other branches of international law (refugee law, economic law, environmental law) contain norms that are relevant for the right to adequate food within both natural and man-made disasters. For instance, international economic law contains norms on food aid, both within the framework of the World Trade Organization and within international commodity agreements (Food Aid Convention). Further food standards are developed and harmonized by the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.
The study also refers to principles and standards embodied in non-binding, internationally recognized codes of conduct. Although these are not part of international law, they are referred to here because they may provide insights on the interpretation and operationalization of the right to adequate food in emergency situations.
Given its focus on emergency situations, and given the importance of aid in these contexts, the study deals at length with food and food-related aid. Food-related aid refers to the forms of humanitarian assistance that are directly instrumental to producing food (particularly with regard to the provision of agricultural inputs, e.g. seeds). In any case, it should be remembered that the right to adequate food per se is not centred on aid, as it is to be primarily realized by right-holders themselves through their economic and other activities.
The study uses the analytical framework classifying the obligations relating to the right to adequate food in obligation to respect, obligation to protect and obligation to fulfil. Although this classification has been elaborated with regard to State obligations under human rights law, it provides a useful framework to analyse also principles, rules and standards embodied in other bodies of law.
The study is organized in three chapters. The first chapter identifies and reviews applicable principles, rules and standards. The second chapter examines the obligations of States and of non-State actors in realizing the right to adequate food in emergency situations. The third chapter analyses the principles and standards applicable to food and food-related aid programmes.