Merkley, Young, Booker, Thune, Menendez, and Risch Announce Bipartisan Senate Resolution Condemning Starvation as an Act of War

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley teamed up with Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Thune (R-SD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and James Risch (R-ID) to announce a bipartisan Senate Resolution condemning the use of hunger as a weapon of war as well as recognizing the effect of conflict on global food security and famine. 

Menendez serves as the Chair, Risch serves as the Ranking Member and Merkley, Booker, and Young serve as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Thune and Booker both serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee. The resolution comes as Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has put millions around the globe at risk of famine, by disrupting Ukraine’s planting seasons and substantial food exports and by reportedly stealing vast quantities of grain from Ukraine back to Russia.   

“Protecting civilians in conflict is a cornerstone of international law,” said Senator Merkley. “Unfortunately, from Ukraine to Syria to Ethiopia, there are bad actors who destroy agriculture, deny humanitarian access, and disrupt market systems in a twisted effort to achieve their geopolitical aims through starvation. Today’s resolution calls out these atrocities and urges the Senate to condemn all forms of starvation as a weapon of war.” 

“Innocent civilians often suffer the most in any armed conflict. With this resolution, we are making it clear that deliberately worsening conditions by targeting vital food supplies is unacceptable. We must use all the tools we have to hold those who commit such actions accountable,” said Senator Young.

“From the unjustified invasion of Ukraine, to the ongoing war in Yemen, to the brutal violence in parts of the Horn of Africa, worldwide conflicts are exacerbating a global food insecurity crisis and causing millions of vulnerable people around the world to go hungry,” said Senator Booker. “This bipartisan resolution condemns those who cruelly use starvation as a weapon of war against civilian populations and calls on the United States to hold them accountable for these atrocities. It also urges our nation to pursue robust diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to strengthen the global food supply and ensure it is resilient to future supply shocks.”

“Hunger and famine must not become weapons of war,” said Senator Thune. “The United States and its partners must work together to restore global stability and hold individuals and governments accountable for conflicts that drive global hunger and jeopardize food security.”

“Purposefully starving civilians as a weapon of warfare is a war crime. Period,” said Chairman Menendez. “As Putin continues to show the world his depravity by cutting off Ukraine’s ports and disrupting farming in an attempt to starve those Ukrainians who have survived his indiscriminate bombings, I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this resolution to reaffirm our commitment to support humanitarian and crisis response efforts, confront global supply chain challenges, and hold accountable any despot who insists on using hunger as a weapon of war.”

“Every human being needs food to survive. Yet, in too many places, like Yemen, Syria, and Ethiopia, deliberate deprivation of food is being used as a weapon against civilian populations,” said Senator Risch. “It is critical we use every tool at our disposal to ensure food assistance is not being manipulated or used against the civilians that so desperately need it. This bipartisan resolution affirms the Senate’s condemnation of using starvation as a weapon of war and encourages the administration to prioritize efforts to address food insecurity.”

In 2020, 155,000,000 people experienced crisis levels of food insecurity—acutely impacting women and children, refugees, individuals with disabilities, and internally displaced persons—with nearly 100,000,000 of those individuals living in areas where conflict was the main driver of the crisis; the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened rising levels of global food insecurity.  

The resolution notes the United States has the tools and resources to fight global hunger, protect lifesaving assistance, and promote the prevention of conflict through the Global Fragility Act of 2019, the Global Food Security Act of 2016, and the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The U.S. also has the potential to hold those using hunger as a weapon in conflict accountable through the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. 

The resolution calls on the United States government to prioritize diplomatic efforts to call out and address instances where hunger and intentional deprivation of food is being utilized as a weapon of war; continue to address severe food insecurity through humanitarian response efforts; ensure existing interagency strategies, crisis response efforts, and ongoing programs consider, integrate, and adapt to address conflict; and ensure that the use of hunger as a weapon of war is taken into account when the United States is considering tools to hold individuals, governments, militias, or entities responsible. 

“Children are the most vulnerable victims of conflict,” said Margaret Schuler, World Vision’s Senior Vice President of International Programs. “When hunger is used as a weapon, families are driven from their homes, crops and livestock go unattended, and children are forced out of school. It is critical for U.S. Government leaders to recognize the effects of conflict on hunger and continue to support humanitarian assistance for children trapped by conflict.” 

“The war in Ukraine is a clear example of the devastating link between conflict and hunger — disrupting farming and making it impossible to export essential food items to countries at risk worldwide. Ukraine’s inability to export its grain has led to scarcity, global food prices hikes, and hunger, particularly in places where people were already on the brink of starvation. This situation is not unique — the interruption of farming, destruction of food production assets, and plummeting availability of food are often byproducts of war. Worse, parties to conflict often intentionally target food production and distribution knowing the damage it will wreak — using economic destruction and starvation as weapons of war,” said Kate Phillips-Barrasso, Mercy Corps Vice President for Global Policy and Advocacy. “This resolution condemns this devastating trend, calls for forward-leaning U.S. diplomatic efforts, and urges robust humanitarian leadership in addressing situations in which hunger and food deprivation are being weaponized.” 

A bipartisan House version led by Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Peter Meijer (R-MI), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), and Tracey Mann (R-KS) was introduced earlier this year. 

This resolution is endorsed by the following organizations: 1,000 Days, Action Against Hunger, Alliance for Peacebuilding, Bread for the World, Caux Scholars Program, Center for Policy Analysis of Horn of Africa, Charity & Security Network , Concern Worldwide US, EIHR: The Educators’ Institute for Human Rights, Food for the Hungry US, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Ghais Mediation & Facilitation, LLC, Islamic Relief USA, Medical Teams International, Mercy Corps, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Norwegian Refugee Council USA, Oxfam America, PartnersGlobal, Refugees International, Save the Children, The HALO Trust (USA), The Hunger Project, UNICEF USA, World Food Program USA, World Vision, and Young Adult Empowerment Initiatives.

Full text of the resolution can be found here.