Interview with Dr. Amir Maghami about the war in Ukraine and the threat to food security

The war in Ukraine has caused a horrific humanitarian crisis and also a global challenge

Hello Professor, if you agree, let’s start the conversation.

How do you identify the bloody event in Ukraine from the perspective of global rights? Can it be called a war or is it a special operation as Kermelin calls it?

It seems that Russia’s action is military aggression and a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In other words, this is an international armed conflict that has been initiated by Russia in violation of international legal rules. Of course, governments like to put whatever name they want on their operations, but these words do not change the legal and ethical nature of Russia’s actions.

Now the situation is such that to pass the ships of food and agricultural products without fear, it is necessary to intervene and urge the United Nations. Is there no legal way to oblige countries to protect the food trade in the world?

As you know, one of the pillars of international law that has no escape or escape is the principle of equal sovereignty of states. Based on this, in principle, one cannot force a state to accept international obligations against its will or to implement these obligations at its expense. The only tools of the nature of international law, and that after the agreement of states, are the creation of legal norms or guarantee mechanisms, but there is almost no international force to intervene and open the way for trade; Unless the UN Security Council makes special arrangements. Creating these arrangements, such as establishing a naval military group or any other form, requires a decision by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter, which means that the Security Council considers such a decision necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Of course, to adopt this decision, it is necessary that none of the permanent members of the Council, including Russia, object

What laws exist to protect the food supply and distribution infrastructure, livestock and agriculture, and food production and storage facilities during the war?

In this regard, and especially during armed conflict, one should mention the prohibition of food blockades. In fact, a blockade with the aim of preventing the access of civilians to food is not a permissible method of war. The Statute of the International Criminal Court considers starving civilians or depriving them of essential materials for survival as an illegal method of war and a crime, and it seems that from the perspective of customary international law, this action can also be said to be criminal. Also, the destruction of buildings, warehouses and factories that are themselves considered non-military targets is a war crime. In addition, within the framework of the definition of crimes against humanity, such actions may also fall into this category of crimes.

In your opinion, if a country or countries try to use the disruption of food, fuel or agricultural needs trade or create inflation in the world as a tool of war to pressure the world during conflicts, are there legal ways to pursue this matter?

Of course, humanitarian international law does not speak of inflation and this is more a topic that is raised in trade negotiations between states. Within the framework of the answer to the previous question and if these actions are carried out in relation to a conflict to deprive people of food needs and as a result weaken the enemy, it may be considered a crime, but in fact we are now facing an international war that Russia and Ukraine are parties to and naturally the side effects of war on other countries or the efforts of the parties to create political pressures on the supporters of the enemy are not subject to humanitarian law. Here we have to look for trade agreements. Of course, it is not surprising if such agreements lead to the exemption of states from their obligations, either relatively or absolutely, in exceptional situations such as armed conflicts. That is, a state that is a party to the conflict or the conflict has affected it, claims that it reduces the supply of food in the global market to protect its vital national interests. This restriction of the vital interests of states seems quite reasonable in such treaties, but to answer your question, I must say that this restriction can be abused. Of course, I did not have enough search about trade agreements that especially Russia and Ukraine are parties to and I am content with these generalities to answer you.

Do you think food security can be a matter of jurisdiction for international criminal courts and the International Court of Justice?

When we talk about a war crime or a crime against humanity, the possibility of applying the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court also arises. Of course, we also know how narrow the conditions for applying the jurisdiction of the court are. In this regard, the Ukrainian government has issued a statement accepting the jurisdiction of the court and the court can deal with these crimes. In relation to the International Court of Justice, there must also be a specific treaty between Russia and Ukraine or any other country that can claim that preventing food trade has violated its contractual obligations.

How has the Ukraine crisis changed the issue of pre-emptive defense? Can this issue have a place in international politics?

Your question seems to me to have two different dimensions. First, we have to deal with the issue of Ukraine’s membership in NATO. According to international law and the UN Charter, states have the right to join collective defence treaties. Therefore, the possibility of Ukraine’s membership in NATO does not legitimize Russia’s attack; rather, it may show how real Ukraine’s concern was. Second, there is an issue that has received less attention in the media. Russia claims that one of the reasons for attacking Ukraine is to defend the Russian minority in Ukraine. Russia says that these citizens are harassed, abused and discriminated against in Ukraine and that this special operation is necessary to prevent the genocide of Russians. Ukraine has challenged this claim in the International Court of Justice. Although the case that Ukraine has raised has some subtleties that make success difficult, we must still note that the claim of preventing genocide does not give any country the right to invade. In fact, the rule of prohibition of the use of force prevents a country from claiming to prevent genocide and ignoring the territorial integrity of another country. If I want to look from an Iranian perspective, I think we still have to be sensitive to the development of exceptions to the rule of prohibition of the use of force and oppose it. This is especially important for countries that may be in a victim position. No tactic requires that the strategy of preventing war and limiting the political and legal space for warmongering and opposing the use of force be set aside, even temporarily.

ترجمه: And my last question from the perspective of international law, how can we separate the issue of food security from dual policies? How can the Ukraine crisis pose a serious threat to the right to life as a human right?

The Ukraine crisis has affected many rights in different parts of the world. From the right to life of the citizens of the conflicting parties to the right to health, the right to health, the right to minimum living facilities and …. As you know, the right to nutrition is mainly defined within the framework of the latter right. But the point is that Russia’s action has indirectly affected these rights. For example, a war between two oil countries may threaten trade, technology and development in many countries. In fact, these are side effects and far from the battlefield and one cannot easily blame the parties to the conflict for creating such a threat from a legal point of view; although the same blame for violating the rights of use of force and violating humanitarian rights is enough to repel violators of international law. I think we can still continue the same approach of the international community in 1945. Based on this approach, resorting to force is considered an illegitimate action but not without rule and law. Therefore, the international community must use its diverse political and commercial capacities to compensate for the consequences of such conflicts, which requires extensive international cooperation. In fact, states are advised to separate two issues. One is the military, political and economic results that they pursue from the conflict and of course, third parties are also partners here and the other is the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. As much as possible they may be inflexible in pursuing their interests, they must be flexible in healing the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. In other words, “Well! Now that you are fighting, at least behave humanely!” The result of this flexibility can be agreements for the continuation of production and trade of food or interventions by the Security Council to improve conditions. In the next step and learning from this crisis, we must create preventive mechanisms for similar cases in the future.

Thank you very much, professor, for the time you gave us.

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