Accountability for Mass Starvation

Testing the Limits of the Law

This project is a collaboration between WPF and Global Rights Compliance




Introduction | Goal | Accountability | Activities | Get Involved | Resources | Events


In 2017, the United Nations (‘UN’) identified four situations of acute food insecurity that threatened or were properly defined as famine — in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. These and other countries are now facing conflict-induced hunger and acute food insecurity, the scale of which is threatening peace and security.

Famine and its nexus to the crime of starvation is not yet properly understood. Deliberate starvation is an atrocity: the result of distinct and often criminally intentional policies that target discrete populations in the pursuit of military or political goals.

Expert analysis can sharpen conceptual contours of root causes of starvation and practical application of the relevant law so that it may be clear, concise, certain and accessible, paving the way for prosecutions to produce a more singular definition of the crime of starvation.

The Goal of the Project

Our collective determination is to make mass starvation unthinkable. We aim to increase the chances that global leaders in a position to inflict or fail to prevent mass starvation, will act to avoid it. This will happen when the public demands nothing less. Addressing conflict-induced hunger demands an infusion of resources, creative strategic thinking, and energy to create and sustain the political will to end the political and military practices that cause mass starvation.

The Project will work towards operationalising UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/2417 (‘UNSC 2417’), through a concerted focus on the legal and factual, demands raised by mass starvation, especially with regard to the direct impact of armed conflict on food security, ensuring that UNSC 2417 delivers more than rhetoric.

 Accounting for Mass Starvation 

Accountability and justice will be both the beginning and the end of this project. As UNSC 2417 states, “[s]tarvation of civilians as a method of warfare may constitute a war crime.” Delineating the elements of the offence, disentangling what is permissible and impermissible in warfare, and understanding the complementary enforcement regimes, will further accountability efforts.

Through the creation of expert tools, training and advocacy, and using UNSC 2417’s recommendations as a springboard, the Project will develop local, regional and international capacity to identify, avoid, prevent and seek accountability for starvation in furtherance of humanitarian protection for millions of women, children and men.

 Project Activities

  1. Widespread consultation with relevant multidisciplinary stakeholders, including with key UN agencies, regional and international bodies and humanitarian actors to enable expert interchange and coordination concerning the variety of existing approaches to the prevention, prohibition and accountability for mass starvation.
  1. The preparation of a comprehensive ‘Analysis and Accountability’ Expert Report on Mass Starvation: containing a detailed analysis of real-life (conflict and economic) case studies designed to provide an authoritative assessment of the available prospects of accountability.
  1. Legal and Analytical Tools and Capacity Building: establishing best practice on how to identify, document and seek accountability for mass starvation.
  1. Engagement of Humanitarian Organisations and Accountability Mechanisms: including the submission of a complaint to the international and regional humanitarian organisations.

  1.  Outreach to Civil Society: to ensure widespread dissemination of the practical steps required for accountability.

How to Get Involved

If you are an individual or organisation and are able to offer expertise; or alternatively are interested in discussing investigations and the secure submission of documentation; or would like to register for the training programme please contact: or visit the website at


Reflections on the high-level side event at the united nations human rights council, Geneva, jointly hosted by the International Bar Association and Global Rights Compliance” (September 12, 2018). This briefing summarizes the keynote by Hilal Elver (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), and presentations by Monique T.G. van Daalen (Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Geneva), Federica D’Alessandra (Executive Director of the Oxford Program on International Peace and Security), Brian Lander (Deputy Director, World Food Program in Geneva), Emanuela-Chiara Gilllard (Research Fellow at the European University Institute) and Wayne Jordash (GRC).

Can we prosecute starvation?” (May 7, 2018) This briefing paper begins to sketch out the possibilities of what it would take to prosecute the crime of famine. Published in partnership with Global Rights Compliance, the paper addresses what law might apply and what evidence would be required to pursue prosecution.

Alex de Waal’s book, Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine (Polity Books, Fall 2017 [UK] Winter 2018 [US]), details how the world almost conquered famine. Available through Polity Books.”  Click the link above for additional resources and information on book lectures.

The Famine Trends dataset (updated 5 April 2017) includes great famines, defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time for which the upper estimates of excess death exceed 100,000, and episodes of mass intentional starvation between 1870 and 2010.  This is a dataset of historic famines and episodes of mass intentional starvation.


Mass Starvation: analysis and accountability for the international crime of starvation,” Side event to the United Nations Human Rights Council 39th Session, September 12, 2018, 1400 – 1500, Room XXV Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland:

  • Introductory remarks by Her Excellency Monique T. G. van Daalen (Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Geneva);
  • Keynote by Hilal Elver (United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food);
  • Panelists: Brian Lander (World Food Program), Wayne Jordash (Global Rights Compliance) and Emanuela Chiara Gillard (European University Institute).

“Criminalizing Starvation” with Alex de Waal (WPF), Catriona Murdoch (Global Rights Compliance), Wayne Jordash (Global Rights Compliance), moderated by Bridget Conley. International Humanitarian Studies Conference, August 28, 2018, The Hague, The Netherlands.


The Kingdom of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds the “Accountability for Mass Starvation: Testing the Limits of the Law” Project implemented by Global Rights Compliance and The World Peace Foundation. The views expressed in it are those of the author(s) and may not coincide with the official position of The Kingdom of the Netherlands.