On November 9, 2021, the United States, the world's most vocal supporter of human rights, voted against a United Nations committee's draft on the right to food which passed by 180 votes in favor to 2 against (Israel, United States). The UN committee expressed alarm that in 2020, "the number of people lacking access to adequate food rose by 320 million ‑ to 2.4 billion ‑ amounting to nearly a third of the world’s population, and that between 720 million and 811 million people faced hunger". Currently, the hunger situation in Afghanistan is the most acute with over half the population suffering from extreme levels of hunger. Afghanistan has been subjected to US sanctions since the US loss to the Taliban in 2021.
|UN Vote on Food as Human Right
“Hunger is a violation of human dignity”, Cuba’s delegate said while addressing the UN Committee meeting. Presenting the draft, he voiced concern that the United States has blocked consensus on the text for four years in a row. The United States representative — highlighting conditions in the Lake Chad Basin, Yemen and Somalia ‑ said the draft contains unbalanced and inaccurate positions that her delegation simply cannot support. The concept of food sovereignty could justify food protectionism, negatively impacting food security, she explained, adding that the United States does not recognize the right to food, as it lacks a definition in international law.
Meanwhile, Shelley Thakral, the World Food Program spokesperson for Afghanistan, says more than half the population — some 23 million Afghans — are facing what the WFP calls extreme levels of hunger. Malnutrition is soaring. Food prices have risen. And the WFP's surveys show the overwhelming majority of Afghans, 98% of the population, lack enough food to eat. Many are surviving on limited diets with less fresh vegetables, dairy or meat – or none at all, according to an NPR report.
Afghanistan is not the first example of the US sanctions resulting in mass hunger and starvation. The reality is that the United States' sanctions over the years have denied many people around the world their basic right to food.The sanctions do not just hit the current generation of people experiencing hunger. Sanctions permanently damage the social and economic fabric of the targeted nations. The effects of hunger last multiple generations in terms of their sub-par physical and mental development.
In a recent article published in The Guardian, Nicholas Mulder, author of "The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War" has criticized the use of sanctions. He has said "Promoting economic stimulus at home while enforcing deprivation abroad is a self-defeating way to seek world stability". Here is an except from Mulder's "The Economic Weapon":
"As sanctions have become an accepted tool of liberal international institutions, the threshold for using them has declined. How to respond to the violation of norms remains, ultimately, a political question. In the spring of 1919, Robert Cecil waved away protests against using blockade to overthrow Bolshevism by responding that he saw “no other alternative.” Many of today’s internationalists, too, see few alternatives. This perception has driven some of the most grievously counterproductive uses of sanctions, most prominently against Iraq in the 1990s, when its strangulation at the hands of the UN Security Council cost hundreds of thousands of lives and permanently damaged the country’s social and economic fabric. These humanitarian nightmares are an important reminder of the lethal early twentieth-century origins of sanctions. But most economic sanctions used today are far more mundane in character. In 2015 a UN official estimated that one-third of the world’s population lives in countries that are under some form of economic sanctions. These range from the specific, such as individual travel bans and asset freezes, to more general measures, such as technological and trade restrictions. Today’s omnipresent sanctions have traveled a long way from their interwar purpose of preventing war".
As far back as 1924, famous British economist John Maynard Keynes had argued that aiding our allies is more effective than sanctioning our foes. Mulder reminds the great powers of today, particularly the United States, that Keynes' lesson should be heeded now.
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