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Food and the Geneva Conventions

[JURIST] The British Overseas Agencies Group - representing Save the Children UK, Oxfam, Christian Aid and other UK-based humanitarian agencies - released a statement Thursday calling for immediate action, in accordance with international humanitarian law, to avert critical food shortages in Iraq:

The Geneva Conventions stipulate that the UK government and other warring parties must ensure the provision of food and other essential items such as medicines, water, and shelter to all those who need them, both during and after a conflict, including those whose supplies are cut off as a result of military action. 14 - 16 million Iraqis - two thirds of the entire population - currently depend on food rations provided through the UN's Oil for Food (OFF) programme and distributed by 45,000 food agents. It is essential that these supply and distribution systems continue to function during the conflict. The longer and more widespread the war, the less likely it is that this will happen, causing hunger to those who depend on this programme. The World Food Programme estimates that between 5 and 10 million people would become immediately vulnerable if OFF supplies are cut off. Therefore, as a matter of urgency, a new UN Security Council resolution is needed to establish alternative food distribution systems in the event of a breakdown of OFF distribution systems.
In the same statement, the BOAG reminded the warring parties of their general legal responsibilities in the conduct of war itself:
[W]arring parties, including the UK government...have a legal obligation to take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian loss of life, under the Geneva Conventions. In accordance with International Humanitarian Law, civilians and installations essential to the survival of civilians, such as water and sanitation infrastructure, must not be targeted. Disproportionate harm to civilians through damage to dual-use infrastructure, such as roads and electricity supply, must also be avoided. Iraq's largely urban population relies on water pumping and treatment stations for its water and sanitation requirements. These stations in turn rely on electricity to function and could cease to operate without electricity. Attacks that do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants are prohibited in international law. By their very nature, cluster bombs, fuel air bombs, landmines, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons can only be indiscriminate, in our opinion. There is a high potential for civilians to be trapped in cities throughout Iraq during this conflict. Even if Iraq deploys human shields close to military targets, forces attacking Iraq still have a responsibility to avoid disproportionate civilian casualties.
Read the complete statement by BOAG.

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