Rule 53. Starvation as a Method of Warfare
Rule 53. The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited.
Summary
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
International armed conflicts
While in 1863 the Lieber Code still stated that “it is lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed, so that it leads to the speedier subjection of the enemy”,[1]  by 1919 the Report of the Commission on Responsibility set up after the First World War listed “deliberate starvation of civilians” as a violation of the laws and customs of war subject to criminal prosecution.[2]  The prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare is codified in Article 54(1) of Additional Protocol I.[3]  This provision was generally considered new at the time of the adoption of Additional Protocol I but since then has hardened into a rule of customary international law. Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” is a war crime in international armed conflicts.[4] 
The prohibition of starvation is set forth in numerous military manuals.[5]  Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is an offence under the legislation of many States.[6]  This rule is also supported by official statements and other practice.[7]  This practice includes that of States not, or not at the time, party to Additional Protocol I.[8]  Contrary practice has been generally condemned or has been denied by the accused party.[9] 
Non-international armed conflicts
The prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare is contained in Additional Protocol II.[10]  In addition, this rule is contained in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.[11] 
The prohibition of starvation is included in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[12]  Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare constitutes a war crime in any armed conflict under the legislation of several States.[13]  The prohibition of starvation was applied by the District Court of Zadar in the Perišić and Others case in 1997.[14]  It is further supported by official statements and reported practice in the context of non-international armed conflicts.[15]  States have generally denounced alleged instances of the use of starvation as a method of warfare in non-international armed conflicts, for example, in the civil wars in Nigeria and Sudan.[16] 
The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1995 strongly condemned “attempts to starve civilian populations in armed conflicts” and stressed “the prohibition on using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”.[17]  This prohibition was also emphasized in the Plan of Action for the years 2000–2003, adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999.[18] 
Rules 54–56 are a corollary to the prohibition of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. This means that attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population (see Rule 54) and denying access of humanitarian aid intended for civilians in need, including deliberately impeding humanitarian aid (see Rule 55) or restricting the freedom of movement of humanitarian relief personnel (see Rule 56) may constitute violations of the prohibition of starvation. Practice in respect of Rules 54–56 further reinforces this rule’s status as a norm of customary international law.
Sieges that cause starvation
The prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare does not prohibit siege warfare as long as the purpose is to achieve a military objective and not to starve a civilian population. This is stated in the military manuals of France and New Zealand.[19]  Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War explains that the prohibition of starvation “clearly implies that the city’s inhabitants must be allowed to leave the city during a siege”.[20]  Alternatively, the besieging party must allow the free passage of foodstuffs and other essential supplies, in accordance with Rule 55. States denounced the use of siege warfare in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[21]  It was also condemned by international organizations.[22] 
Blockades and embargoes that cause starvation
Likewise, the prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare does not prohibit the imposition of a naval blockade as long as the purpose is to achieve a military objective and not to starve a civilian population. This principle is set forth in the San Remo Manual on Naval Warfare and in several military manuals which further specify that if the civilian population is inadequately provided for, the blockading party must provide for free passage of humanitarian relief supplies.[23]  Blockades and embargoes of cities and regions have been condemned by the United Nations and other international organizations, for example, with respect to the conflicts in Afghanistan and the territories occupied by Israel.[24]  Embargoes imposed by the United Nations itself must also comply with this rule.

[1] Lieber Code, Article 17 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 17, § 4).
[2] Report of the Commission on Responsibility (ibid., § 5).
[3] Additional Protocol I, Article 54(1) (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 1).
[4] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) (ibid., § 3).
[5] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 9), Australia (ibid., §§ 10–11), Belgium (ibid., § 12), Benin (ibid., § 13), Canada (ibid., § 14), Colombia (ibid., § 15), Croatia (ibid., § 16), France (ibid., §§ 17–18), Germany (ibid., § 19), Hungary (ibid., § 20), Indonesia (ibid., § 21), Israel (ibid., § 22), Kenya (ibid., § 23), Republic of Korea (ibid., § 24), Madagascar (ibid., § 25), Netherlands (ibid., § 26), New Zealand (ibid., § 27), Nigeria (ibid., § 28), Russian Federation (ibid., § 29), Spain (ibid., § 30), Sweden (ibid., § 31), Switzerland (ibid., § 32), Togo (ibid., § 33), United Kingdom (ibid., § 34), United States (ibid., § 35) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 36).
[6] See, e.g., the legislation of Australia (ibid., §§ 37–38), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 39), Belarus (ibid., § 40), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 41), Canada (ibid., § 43), China (ibid., § 44), Congo (ibid., § 45), Côte d'Ivoire (ibid., § 46), Croatia (ibid., § 47), Ethiopia (ibid., § 48), Georgia (ibid., § 49), Germany (ibid., § 50), Ireland (ibid., § 51), Lithuania (ibid., § 52), Mali (ibid., § 53), Netherlands (ibid., §§ 54–55), New Zealand (ibid., § 56), Norway (ibid., § 57), Slovenia (ibid., § 58), United Kingdom (ibid., § 60) and Yugoslavia (ibid., §§ 61–62); see also the draft legislation of Burundi (ibid., § 42) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 59).
[7] See, e.g., the statements of Belgium (ibid., § 67), China (ibid., § 70), Côte d'Ivoire (ibid., § 74), Cuba (ibid., § 75), Finland (ibid., § 77), Germany (ibid., §§ 81–85), Malaysia (ibid., § 92), United Kingdom (ibid., § 99), United States (ibid., § 101), USSR (ibid., § 106) and Yemen (ibid., § 107), the practice of the United States (ibid., § 103) and the reported practice of Belgium (ibid., § 69) and Israel (ibid., § 88).
[8] See, e.g., the military manuals of France (ibid., § 17), Indonesia (ibid., § 21), Israel (ibid., § 22), Kenya (ibid., § 23), United Kingdom (ibid., § 34) and United States (ibid., § 35), the legislation of Azerbaijan (ibid., § 39), China (ibid., § 44), Ethiopia (ibid., § 48) and Netherlands (ibid., § 54), the statements of Malaysia (ibid., § 92), United Kingdom (ibid., § 99) and United States (ibid., § 101) and the reported practice of Israel (ibid., § 88).
[9] See, e.g., the statements of Austria (ibid., § 66), China (ibid., § 70), Côte d'Ivoire (ibid., § 74), Cuba (ibid., § 75), Egypt (ibid., § 76), Finland (ibid., § 77), Germany (ibid., § 81), Islamic Republic of Iran (ibid., § 76), Malaysia (ibid., § 92), Pakistan (ibid., § 76), Saudi Arabia (ibid., § 76), Senegal (ibid., § 76), Turkey (ibid., § 76), United Kingdom (ibid., § 99); Yemen (ibid., § 107) and three States (ibid., §§ 108–110).
[10] Additional Protocol II, Article 14 (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 2).
[11] See, e.g., Memorandum of Understanding on the Application of IHL between Croatia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, § 6 (ibid., § 6); Agreement on the Application of IHL between the Parties to the Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, § 2.5 (ibid., § 7).
[12] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 9), Australia (ibid., §§ 10–11), Benin (ibid., § 13), Canada (ibid., § 14), Colombia (ibid., § 15), Croatia (ibid., § 16), France (ibid., § 18), Germany (ibid., § 19), Hungary (ibid., § 20), Kenya (ibid., § 23), Republic of Korea (ibid., § 24), Madagascar (ibid., § 25), Netherlands (ibid., § 26), New Zealand (ibid., § 27), Nigeria (ibid., § 28), Russian Federation (ibid., § 29), Spain (ibid., § 30), Togo (ibid., § 33) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 36).
[13] See, e.g., the legislation of Azerbaijan (ibid., § 39), Belarus (ibid., § 40), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 41), Croatia (ibid., § 47), Ethiopia (ibid., § 48), Germany (ibid., § 50), Lithuania (ibid., § 52), Slovenia (ibid., § 57) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 61).
[14] Croatia, District Court of Zadar, Perišić and Others case, Judgment (ibid., § 63).
[15] See, e.g., the statements of Belgium (ibid., § 67), Colombia (ibid., § 72), France (ibid., § 78), Germany (ibid., §§ 79–80), Holy See (ibid., § 86), Iraq (ibid., § 87), Nigeria (ibid., § 94), Philippines (ibid., § 96), Sweden (ibid., § 98), United States (ibid., § 102) and USSR (ibid., § 105) and the reported practice of Belgium (ibid., § 69), Malaysia (ibid., § 93) and Rwanda (ibid., § 97).
[16] See, e.g., the statements of Belgium (ibid., § 67) and Germany (ibid., §§ 79–80).
[17] 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. II (ibid., § 118).
[18] 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. I (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 119).
[19] France, LOAC Manual (ibid., § 136); New Zealand, Military Manual (ibid., § 138).
[20] Israel, Manual on the Laws of War (ibid., § 137).
[21] See, e.g., the statements of Albania (ibid., § 142) and Pakistan (ibid., § 144).
[22] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 761 ( ibid., § 145), Res. 764 (ibid., § 146) and Res. 859 (ibid., § 147); UN Security Council, Statement by the President (ibid., § 148); UN General Assembly, Res. 48/88, 49/10 and 49/196 (ibid., § 149); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/72 (ibid., § 150); EU, Statement before the UN General Assembly (ibid., § 153); Western European Union, Special Declaration of the Presidential Committee on the situation in the former Yugoslavia (ibid., § 154).
[23] San Remo Manual, §§ 102–103 (ibid., § 160); military manuals of Australia (ibid., § 162), Canada (ibid., § 163), France (ibid., § 165) and United States (ibid., § 169).
[24] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 174–175); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/74 (ibid., § 176) and Res. 1995/76 (ibid., § 176); OIC, Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Res. 1/7-P (IS) (ibid., § 183).