From the podium

From the podium


Mr Olivier Coutau (Diplomatic Adviser, International Committee of the Red Cross - ICRC)

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. During the last few days numerous distinguished speakers reminded us that armed conflict is a key reason for lack of food. In fact, war disrupts all stages of human nutrition: the production, procurement, preparation, allocation and consumption of food. It may therefore lead to severe malnutrition or famine, which, nowadays, is one of the main causes of disease or death in situations of armed conflict.

Yet, means to prevent the correlation between war and malnutrition do exist. There are laws intended to ensure food in armed conflict situations and in this respect international humanitarian law is a main body of applicable rules.

Mr Chairman, international humanitarian law expressly prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of combat. This prohibition is violated not only when the lack of food or denial of access to it causes death, but also when the population suffers hunger because of deprivation of food sources or supplies.

In elaboration of the prohibition of starvation, international humanitarian law specifically prohibits attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Such objects include foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations, drinking water supplies and irrigation works. It is fairly obvious that population displacement is a major cause of anger in war. International humanitarian law prohibits the forced displacement of civilians, unless their security or imperative military reasons so demand.

Last, but by no means least, international humanitarian law contains specific rules on assistance to civilian populations in armed conflict situations. Parties to armed conflicts must allow humanitarian and impartial relief operations including those aimed at providing food.

Mr Chairman, the provision of food is a major component of International Committee of the Red Cross' operations. Each month, often with the support of the worldwide network of Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, the ICRC assists 500 000 persons with food rations.

The ICRC will continue to provide assistance in conformity with its principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. But, Mr Chairman, humanitarian organizations cannot prevent new assistance needs. States have a specific role to play in this regard. In particular, it is their responsibility to respect and ensure respect for the provisions of international humanitarian law, meant to preserve human life, health and dignity during armed conflicts.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is therefore pleased that the World Food Summit: five years later reaffirms in its Declaration the importance of strengthening the respect for international humanitarian law.

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