Can Force-Feeding Be Prosecuted as a Criminal Act?


As the International Criminal Court (ICC) begins investigating allegations of detainee abuse by United Kingdom forces in Iraq, it may be tasked with determining whether force-feeding individuals on a hunger strike constitutes a criminal act, according to an article published in the Journal of International Criminal Justice. The paper finds that force-feeding is an act “fundamentally capable” of prosecution as a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the ICC Statute.

“Reports on the manner in which detainees are force-fed characterize it as abusive, with prominent international organizations linking it to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” writes Sumer Dayal, a 6th year student at the University of New South Wales.

Dayal writes that force-feeding, a measure that countries including the United States, Australia and Israel have used in their detention facilities, is gaining popularity as a method to counter hunger strikes by detainees. Accounts of force-feeding methods at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility cited in the article include:

  • “Forcefully pulling the nasogastric tube in and out for each feed…causing pain and bleeding.”
  • “Feeding excessive amounts of liquid at high speed, causing intestinal pain, nausea and vomiting.”
  • “Keeping detainees strapped with bloodied, defecated or vomited upon clothes and unsanitized apparatus for long periods.”

The author suggests that prosecuting force-feeding as a criminal act is complicated by moral and ethical dilemmas, adding that prosecutors “must be able to establish that a case of force-feeding was harmful enough to merit criminal responsibility, even if the act preserved the victim's life.”

The entire article is available for a fee. Read more here.

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