What's In Blue

Posted Thu 18 Mar 2021

Negotiations on Conflict and Food Security Draft Presidential Statement

Negotiations on a draft presidential statement on conflict-induced food insecurity and famine concluded earlier this week without Security Council members reaching an agreement. The US proposed the statement ahead of the 11 March Council open debate on conflict and food security. It circulated the draft text to the full Council membership on 8 March, and organised expert level negotiations on 9 and 10 March. Silence procedure, initially set to expire at 3 pm on 11 March, was extended twice, until Monday morning, 15 March. Despite the US making further amendments to the draft statement, Russia, followed by India, and then China, broke silence. The UK also indicated that it wished to propose changes if the text were to be re-opened. Later that day, however, the US informed members that it had decided not to move forward with the draft statement.

A key issue preventing agreement was the new proposed reporting requirements of the Secretary-General. Given the growing threat of acute hunger and famine in conflict situations, the draft presidential statement initially requested the Secretary-General to provide two reports annually on new and emerging areas where the risk of conflict-induced food insecurity occurs. China, India and Russia raised initial concerns about having the biannual reports, considering as sufficient the existing reporting mechanisms set out in resolution 2417, which include that the Secretary-General should report swiftly on the risk of widespread hunger and famine caused by conflict and that he brief on the resolution’s implementation in his annual Council briefing on the protection of civilians.

In expressing its objections to the proposed biannual reports at last week’s open debate, Russia further reiterated its long-standing position against the Council considering conflict-induced hunger as a thematic issue. It cautioned against the Council intervening in the work of other UN organs that can better address hunger, which has multiple causes, and, among other points, raised concerns that making this an agenda item could allow interference in countries’ internal affairs.

In final amendments to the draft statement, the US revised it to specify that the Secretary-General should report four times during 2021 and 2022, removing the open-ended nature of the reporting request. Language was also removed urging the Secretary-General to provide follow-up briefings on situations of concern, one of the draft’s several calls related to reporting. But it seems the changes were not sufficient to enable Russia’s concurrence.

Another issue was over referring to climate change, on which China, India and Russia are wary of Council engagement. Other members maintained that the Council cannot consider hunger without recognising the impact of climate change. The latest version of the draft statement had a concise single-sentence paragraph expressing concern with the impacts of climate change in countries with conflict-induced food insecurity.

The issues of reporting by the Secretary-General and climate change language have divided Council members previously on other products on conflict and hunger. A proposal for an annual Secretary-General’s report on conflict and hunger during the 2018 negotiations on resolution 2417 was also blocked, and a proposed reference to climate change was not included in last year’s April 2020 Council presidential statement on conflict-induced hunger.

During the negotiations, another area of difference was over referring to “humanitarian principles” or “UN guiding principles” for humanitarian assistance. Russia has increasingly pushed the latter formulation in Council products, which is viewed as giving greater weight to state sovereignty and the consent of the country concerned. The approach of the penholder was to mention neither “UN guiding principles”, nor “humanitarian principles”, which other delegations wanted to include in the text.

The US had included specific country situations in the draft presidential statement.  However, such references were omitted before the text was presented to the full membership, following consultations with several members, including the “A3 plus one”—Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—who apparently could not accept referring to the situation in Tigray, concerned that consideration of humanitarian crises could be used as a pretext to add conflict situations in Africa to the Council agenda.

Much of India’s concern during the negotiation appeared to be about contextualising the draft statement to make it clear that it focused on food insecurity caused by armed conflict. At the open debate, it stressed that the Council should only consider conflict-driven hunger in specific country contexts where it may threaten international peace and security. Reflecting the concerns of some Council members, including China, that the focus on conflict was ignoring structural causes of food insecurity that can make conflict-affected countries even more vulnerable to acute hunger, language was added related to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and eradicating poverty.

The draft presidential statement recalled various provisions from resolution 2417. It reaffirmed previous requests to the Secretary-General to report on country-specific situations and to provide early warning when a conflict is having devastating humanitarian consequences and hindering humanitarian responses in ways that risk creating famine. The draft statement further underlined that the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare may constitute a war crime; underscored the necessity of full, safe, rapid and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to civilians in armed conflicts; and strongly condemned any unlawful denial of humanitarian assistance.

There was also language in the aborted statement about the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to a sharp rise in food insecurity. The draft presidential statement expressed alarm about the pandemic’s compounding effect on countries and regions with conflict-induced food insecurity and called upon conflict parties to take steps for a more effective humanitarian response and to facilitate distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The proposed statement also raised concern about insufficient humanitarian funding to address conflict-induced hunger and threats of famine, calling on member states to make all efforts to increase funding for food assistance and humanitarian needs. It further urged States to investigate violations of international humanitarian law related to the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, and, where appropriate, to take action against those responsible in accordance with domestic and international law.