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Yemen spiraling into major food crisis – UN expert warns against deliberate starvation of civilians

GENEVA (11 August 2015) – As Yemen plunges deeper into conflict, the country is now in the midst of a major food crisis, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, has warned today.

“As the conflict continues to escalate, over 12.9 million people in Yemen are now surviving without adequate access to basic food supplies, including six million who are deemed severely food insecure,” Ms. Elver said, expressing her deep concern over the dire humanitarian situation currently ravaging the country.

“The situation facing children in the country is particularly alarming, with reports suggesting that 850,000 Yemeni children face acute malnutrition, a figure that is expected to rise to 1.2 million over the coming weeks, if the conflict persists as its present level,” she stressed.

Sieges in a number of governorates, including Aden, AL Dhali, Lahj and Taiz have been preventing staple food items, such as wheat, from reaching the civilian population, while airstrikes have reportedly targeted local markets and trucks laden with food items.

“The deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict may constitute a war crime, and could also constitute a crime against humanity in the event of deliberate denial of food and also the deprivation of food sources or supplies,” Ms. Elver warned.

“The right to food does not cease in times of conflict, indeed it becomes more crucial as a result of the acute vulnerabilities in which individuals find themselves,” the Special Rapporteur noted. “Parties to the conflict must be reminded of their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure that civilians and prisoners of war have access to adequate food and water during armed conflict.”

The human rights expert explained that “in a country that relies on imports for 80 per cent of its food intake, current restrictions have resulted in steep price hikes, which, combined with increases in the price of diesel by some 47 per cent, are having a devastating impact on food security.”

“An immediate and unconditional humanitarian pause in hostilities must be put in place to allow humanitarian aid and food to reach all people of Yemen,” Ms. Elver said, recalling that the ceasefire that was to take effect on 10 July 2015 until the end of Ramadan in order to ensure that vital food aid and medical supplies reach vulnerable civilians caught up in the conflict was not implemented.

The Special Rapporteur also warned about the shortfall in funds necessary to prevent a deepening national catastrophe in Yemen. “I call on the international community to do everything possible to provide on an emergency basis the necessary funding as well as essential aid,” she said.

Ms. Hilal Elver (Turkey) is a Research Professor, and global distinguished fellow at the UCLA Law School Resnick Food Law and Policy Center. She was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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