28.09.2018 |

UN Human Rights Council adopts peasant rights declaration

Peasant farmers are the backbone of our food systems (Photo: CC0)

The UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) has passed a resolution adopting a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. On 28 September, 33 countries voted in favour, amongst them all Asian, African and Latin American OHCHR member states with the exception of Brazil. Australia, Hungary and the UK voted against the resolution while 11 countries abstained in the vote, mostly European countries including Germany and Spain. The declaration recognises the rights and special needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including older persons, women, youth and children and takes into account the need to address the multiple forms of discrimination and threats suffered by peasants worldwide. “The adoption of this UN Declaration is a turning point for the international human rights system,” said Sofia Monsalve Suárez, secretary general of FIAN International, one of the organisations campaigning for the peasant rights declaration. “At a time where the UN risks its legitimacy by a biased promotion of corporate interests, this declaration shows that it is possible to revitalize the original mandate of the UN,” she added.

The declaration includes the rights to equal access to land and natural resources; to a safe, clean and healthy environment, to biological diversity and the right to food and food sovereignty. Article 19 says that peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to seeds, including the right to save, use, exchange and sell their farm-saved seeds. Most of what the declaration contains is based on pledges already made elsewhere, whether in international human rights instruments or in intergovernmental fora. However, the European Union countries abstained, voicing their concern over the recognition of the rights to seeds, lands and a clean and healthy environment as well as food sovereignty. Ahead of the vote, a group of researchers and scientists, including the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, urged European states to vote in favour of the resolution. “Should we fear the reference the draft declaration makes to land reform and the right to land?,” they asked in an open letter, pointing out that a binding international treaty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, already emphasises agrarian reform as a means of guaranteeing “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

The development of the declaration on peasant rights has been a long process. After many years of lobbying work, an open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) was established in 2012 with the mandate of negotiating, finalising and submitting a draft declaration. “This has been a long tough path but as peasants, as people who have seen the worst of poverty and neglect, we are tough too and we never give up,” said Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, a global movement of peasants, indigenous people, pastoralists and migrant workers and important driving force behind the declaration. “Today, we are just a step away from acceptance by all member nations of the United Nations,” she added. The declaration now goes before the upcoming 3rd Committee session at the UN General Assembly in New York in October. Then, the declaration will be up for voting and adoption by all UN member states. (ab)

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