Practice Relating to Rule 53. Starvation as a Method of Warfare
Côte d’Ivoire’s Teaching Manual (2007) provides in Book III, Volume 2 (Instruction of second-year trainee officers):
II.2.5. Protection of goods indispensable for the survival of the population
It is prohibited to use starvation as a method of warfare against the civilian population, i.e. to resort to the former concept of siege. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.
In Book IV (Instruction of heads of division and company commanders), the Teaching Manual provides:
I.2.9. Recourse to the starvation of the civilian population
Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited. Consequently, it is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, whatever the motive.
Under Côte d’Ivoire’s Penal Code (1981), as amended in 1998, organizing, ordering or carrying out, in time of war or occupation, the “intentional reduction to starvation, destitution or ruination” of the civilian population constitutes a “crime against the civilian population”.
Côte d’Ivoire’s Penal Code (1981), as amended in 2015, states:
Whoever commits a war crime is punished with life imprisonment.
War crimes are:
2 - other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts:
- intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supplies as provided for under the Geneva Conventions[.]
In 1990, in the UN Sanctions Committee on Iraq, Côte d’Ivoire stated that “no one wanted a famine in the area. Citizens should not be made to pay for the misdeeds of their Governments.”
Côte d’Ivoire’s Teaching Manual (2007) provides in Book III, Volume 1 (Instruction of first-year trainee officers):
IV.3. During a siege operation
… The law which applies to siege operations is essentially only a combination of elements already addressed. Thus, in case of attack, the rules governing offensive operations apply. In the case of defence, the rules covering defensive operations apply.
The key aspects are described below.
IV.3.2. The civilian population staying
If the civilians do not leave the town under siege, this does not signify that the commander who directs the attack is dispensed from his duties to take all the usual precautions listed above. For all these reasons, a ceasefire allowing for evacuation seems to constitute a logical solution. Sure, violators could consider that it is in their interest to hold back the civilian population, or parts of that population, to serve as human shields, or to elicit the sympathy of international opinion regarding the humanitarian situation of the population and thereby to discredit the enemy. Nevertheless, the force leading the attack can easily thwart these proceedings by respecting the law, giving warnings, giving time for an evacuation in the form of a ceasefire, and by ensuring that the civilians are granted passage in safe conditions towards a protected zone or place.
The general prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare against the civilian population implies that consignments of food and medical supplies, drinking water and other objects indispensable for its survival are not impeded, under the condition that they are distributed only to the civilian population of the town under siege and not to armed forces defending it. This rule completely prohibits the strategies traditionally employed in sieges, because the besieger often starved the population of enemy towns.