What's In Blue

Posted Thu 3 Aug 2023

Presidential Statement on Conflict and Food Insecurity

Earlier today (3 August), the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on conflict and food insecurity at a ministerial-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity. The US circulated the initial draft presidential statement on Friday (21 July). Three expert-level negotiations on the text were held: on 25 July, 28 July, and 1 August, in addition to bilateral negotiations. Yesterday (2 August), the US placed a third updated version of the text under a silence procedure until 8 am today. This was superseded by a further revised version of the draft statement that the US circulated later that evening and put under silence until 9 am. This text passed silence and was adopted at the outset of the open debate.

The presidential statement “reiterates the need to break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity”, noting that last year armed conflict was the most significant driver of acute food insecurity for roughly 117 million people in 19 countries and territories. Echoing resolution 2417 of May 2018 on conflict and hunger, the statement condemns the use of starvation as a method of warfare and the unlawful denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival. It calls on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and reiterates the Council’s commitment to work with the Secretary-General “to pursue all possible avenues to prevent conflict-induced food insecurity, acute malnutrition and threat of famine”. New elements include highlighting the responsibility of regional and subregional organisations “in contributing to international efforts to uphold the Charter and prevent famine, and conflict-induced food insecurity and malnutrition”.

Reaching agreement on the presidential statement required accommodating a range of Council members’ proposals and positions. This included modifying the language on gender as some members felt that there was an overemphasis on gender issues and that the text should keep the focus on food insecurity. The presidential statement still reaffirms “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and peacebuilding” and stresses “the need for humanitarian assistance to be gender- and age-sensitive … including in the prevention of famine”. It also encourages the Secretary-General to provide information disaggregated by sex and age in his country-specific situation analysis when there is a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in armed conflict.

Some delegations also felt that the draft presidential statement could be more action-oriented. This led to the addition of several new paragraphs. One new paragraph, that China proposed and Russia supported, expresses concern about insufficient humanitarian and development assistance and funding, which is limiting efforts to address conflict-induced food insecurity, and calls on member states to make all efforts to increase such assistance.

Ghana suggested three paragraphs, later added to the text, that were drawn from the “Roadmap for Global Food Security–Call to Action” that over 100 UN member states have endorsed since its issuance in May 2022. These include welcoming the role of the multilateral development banks and international financial institutions in, among other things, supporting countries to increase their domestic agricultural production; encouraging UN member states to support vulnerable countries in the sustainable transformation of agriculture and food systems; and encouraging member states to provide in-kind donations and cover necessary associated costs for the benefit of vulnerable countries and donations to humanitarian organisations for transporting and delivering food commodities.

The presidential statement recognises the connection between climate change and food insecurity, following a joint proposal by the Council’s three African members (A3)—Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique—and the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland. This drew from previously agreed Council language that recognises that climate change, environmental degradation, ecological changes, and natural disasters adversely impact food security, water scarcity and livelihoods and stresses the need for long-term strategies to support stability and build resilience.

An agreement on having such a paragraph in the presidential statement was reached after amendments from Brazil and China were included acknowledging the importance of implementing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement. Brazil and China have reservations about the Council pronouncing itself on climate change, in part because they believe that the Council is encroaching on the mandate of the UNFCCC in addressing this issue. Proposals to mention the impact of climate change on food crises in conflict countries in the Council’s last presidential statement on conflict and food insecurity in April 2020 were not ultimately taken up.

Some of Russia’s concerns appear to have been the most challenging to address. During the negotiations, Russia indicated the need for the presidential statement to note the adverse impact of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs) and their overcompliance effects on countries’ agricultural systems and food security resilience. (UCMs usually refer to one state or group of states’ economic measures applied to another state in order to compel changes in its policy). The US, however, did not include any such reference.

The text placed under silence included a new Russian-proposed paragraph that recognises that—in addition to armed conflict—economic downturns, gender inequalities, biodiversity loss, drought and the adverse effects of climate change are among the key factors reversing gains in fighting global hunger. The new language appeared to reflect Russia’s long-standing position that a confluence of factors contributes to food insecurity, which it has previously contended is why the Security Council is not the appropriate body to address conflict and hunger as a thematic issue. A second paragraph that Russia also submitted on financing and debt relief for developing countries, including to mitigate climate change, was not included.

The fourth and final version of the text that the US circulated yesterday evening removed a paragraph that Council members have described as seeking to further mainstream the Secretary-General’s reporting on conflict-induced food insecurity. This now-deleted paragraph would have requested that in his regular written reports on matters of which the Council is seized, the Secretary-General “make recommendations on lines of action to be taken by relevant actors, such as parties to the conflict, other member states, regional and sub-regional organizations, the UN system…that would prevent malnutrition, acute food insecurity, and famine in conflict situations”.

The US has often raised concerns that the UN is not informing the Council sufficiently about conflict-driven food insecurity, especially given the scale of the current problem. Resolution 2417 called on the Secretary-General to report to the Council swiftly when there is a risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity in the context of armed conflict and to update the Council on the resolution’s implementation every 12 months during his annual briefing on the protection of civilians. He has done this primarily through OCHA’s submission of white notes on various conflict-driven food crises. This year’s Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians (POC) also contained, for the first time, a more detailed focus on the impact of armed conflict on hunger. As recently as the Council’s 23 May debate on the POC annual report, the US recalled its view that reporting, especially the use of the white notes, remains inadequate.

Russia, on the other hand, has long maintained that the existing reporting structures are sufficient. The difference in view prevented agreement two years ago on a US-proposed presidential statement that sought to request two annual Secretary-General’s reports on conflict-induced hunger. During this year’s negotiation, Russia called for the request to be removed from the draft. It similarly contended that asking the Secretary-General to include information on conflict induced-food insecurity as part of his regular reporting was duplicative and unnecessary given his existing mandate.

Today’s open debate was chaired by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It is the third consecutive year that the US has organised a ministerial-level open debate on conflict and food insecurity as a signature event of its Council presidency. In addition to the presidential statement, the US has proposed a communiqué that nearly 90 UN member states had signed by this morning, committing to end the use of famine, starvation, and food as weapons of war.

For more information on the open debate, see Security Council Report’s brief on Conflict and Food Insecurity in the August Monthly Forecast.

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