An interview on the Russia-Ukraine war and its role in food security from the perspective of international law with Professor Said Mahmoudi.

Dr. Mahmoudi, a professor of law from Stockholm, answered our questions on the Russia-Ukraine war and its effects on food security.

Hello Professor, thank you for your time and attention.

 1-My first question is about the origin of the conflict. Regarding the terminology of this issue, Russia insists on calling it a special operation. I know that there is a controversy about the principle of acceptance of pre-emptive operations, and many countries do not accept preventive war, but do you think that the basis of this attack on Ukrainian territory is the same? Does it fit the definition of operation or preventive war or is it fundamentally incompatible with that definition?

In my opinion, the use of special operations was incorrect and clumsy. Because it leaves no room for legal discussion and even sophistry to make an action that is clearly illegal and illegitimate appear legal. This term is completely arbitrary and has no legal basis. As far as I know, Russia has never claimed pre-emptive or preventive operations. Therefore, we cannot raise this issue from the Russian side and discuss its suitability or unsuitability in this particular case. But assuming this issue was raised by Russia, the strength of such an argument is very doubtful. Neither the government of Ukraine nor NATO, as an international treaty, have ever made a promise indicating a possible attack on Russia. Of course, there is no doubt that NATO, led by the United States, has been strongly pursuing this issue and is trying to include all the countries around Russia as members of the organisation, thus putting Russia under complete siege from a political point of view. But this cannot and should not necessarily be considered as a military attack on Russian territory. From a legal point of view, when Russia decided to occupy a part of Ukraine’s territory, it should have at least tried to use the usual arguments within the framework of international law – such as protecting the lives of its nationals or the persecuted Russians in Ukraine – which have been repeated many times before. They were used by America, France and some other countries. Although these arguments have almost always been rejected by jurists or have been seriously doubted, in any case, the guilty country has at least tried to find a legal justification for its action. Special operations have neither political nor legal justification.

2-My second question is about the attack on the water dam and the destruction of the fields and sources of food production in Ukraine. Can these be prosecuted as war crimes, apart from the bombings of houses and schools?

Russia’s military operation in Ukraine against civilian targets is a war crime when it is clearly consistent with the current definitions in customary law related to armed conflicts and of course the Geneva Conventions and related protocols. Therefore, attacking schools, hospitals and residential areas of ordinary people is naturally a war crime. Attacking the fields and sources of food production, water dam and energy production plant may be a war crime and the circumstances of each attack should be considered. If these targets are really used for military purposes (as Israel claims in justifying its attacks against the Palestinians), Russia’s attacks will be justified. Otherwise, especially if these attacks cause serious harm to civilians, they have no justification and can be considered a war crime.

3-My third question to the Professor is about blocking the way of food export ships. Isn’t blocking the export of food illegal in international law? Can’t these sea mines and possible attacks on ships, if they happen, be prosecuted?

بClosing Ukrainian ports and preventing Ukrainian exports should be considered as part of the permitted methods in armed conflict and in my opinion, it is not illegal. However, since I do not consider myself an expert in the law of war (international humanitarian law), perhaps one of the experts in this field can give the exact answer.

4- This question of mine may even have a transnational perspective. Ukraine is one of the largest producers of grains and agricultural inputs and some food items, and one of the largest sellers of grains to humanitarian organisations. The threat to Ukraine is somehow a threat to the food security of the world, and today the lives and food security of hundreds of millions of people around the world are under threat. Is there any way to consider this hostage-taking of food security in the world as a crime against humanity?

Regarding this question, the answer is the same as for the third question. Certainly, the result of Russia’s action creates problems in supplying food to some parts of the world, but a naval blockade is a legal action in the law of war, and two countries that are involved in armed conflict are allowed to use this method.

 And my last question to the Professor is about the people who destroy food production and distribution infrastructures such as warehouses and fields in the bombing of water dams or food silos or maybe in occupied places. Is it possible to prosecute them through the International Criminal Court or the Ukrainian courts themselves


Undoubtedly, such criminals can be punished by domestic criminal courts. In the case of the International Criminal Court, my guess is that if harming internal resources leads to the destruction and eventual death of civilians, such an act should be both a war crime and a crime against humanity – provided all the conditions related to this crime are met. Widespread, systematic crime, caused by the government’s deliberate policy of killing and exterminating ordinary people, can be prosecuted. It should be noted that although the International Criminal Court may have the jurisdiction to deal with these crimes, given the court’s performance in the last decade, it is very unlikely that the perpetrators of such crimes will be tried in that court. In the war in Ukraine, the number of responsible people who have committed major war crimes is high, and at best we can hope that the court will deal with the crimes of a few of them.

Thank you so much, Professor Mahmoudi


Related Articles

Back to top button
error: Content is protected !!