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Human Rights Council Advisory Committee discusses Right to Food

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee
MORNING

19 January 2011

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee this morning discussed two studies on the right to food prepared by its drafting group on the right to food. The first study presented today looked at discrimination in the context of the right to food and the second looked at the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

Jean Ziegler, Advisory Committee Expert and Chair of the Advisory Committee working group on the right to food, presenting the study on discrimination in the context of the right to food, said that of all the human rights, the right to food was the one that was probably the most violently and frequently violated around the world. About 1 billion people were permanently and severely malnourished. Every three seconds a child died of lack of food and every four seconds a person became blind from lack of vitamins. However, the world agricultural sector could feed 12 billion individuals around the world. The report dealt with the legal framework of the right to food and contained precise examples of how discrimination functioned in the context of the enjoyment of the right to food and the access to food. It also gave the structural reasons behind the problem. A third part of the study stated possible policies and strategies for States and non-state actors.

Mona Zulficar, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group on the right to food, in additional remarks, said that the study discussed structural discrimination and focused on the groups of people that were suffering the most in the context of the right to food, specifically the peasant farmers, the rural population, the urban poor, rural women, children, refugees and other vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and people suffering from disabilities.

Jose Bengoa Cabello, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group, presenting the preliminary study on the rights of peasants, said that the first section of the document highlighted the importance of the link between the right to food and the rural population. The rural population was the worst affected from malnourishment and the lack of food. The document also mentioned fisher-folks and small-holder farmers. A section was also devoted to landless people and how one could guarantee the right to land. Another important chapter of the study was the one devoted to female farmers and female seasonal workers. The farmers’ world was not the subject of any specific protection in international human rights law. There was a fair and legitimate claim for the establishment of legal instruments that would protect peasants and farmers. The Committee should ask the Human Rights Council to mandate the Committee with the production of a document in which they would include a draft of the rights of peasants. Many countries agreed that this was the logical next step that should be taken.

Ms. Zulficar, speaking on the study on the rights of peasants, said that the paper they were presenting today was a preliminary draft. While the study on discrimination, discussed earlier, had focused on different aspects, the one they were presenting now was looking at how to advance the rights of the rural population. The recommendations made were thus also directed towards the creation of a specific instrument on the rights of peasants. It could be a declaration to be followed by a convention.

Speaking today on the topic of discrimination in the context of the right to food were China, Bolivia, Brazil and Sudan and the Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples (MRAP).

Speaking on the issue of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas were Ecuador, Bolivia, Sudan and La Via Campesina.

The next meeting of the Advisory Committee will be this afternoon at 3 p.m. when the Advisory Committee is scheduled to take up the issues of the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, international solidarity and continue its discussion on the right of peoples to peace.

Study on Discrimination in the Context of the Right to Food

Documentation

The study on discrimination in the context of the right to food, prepared by the drafting group of the Advisory Committee on the right to food (A/HRC/AC/6/CRP.1), in a first part, lays out the international legal framework on the right to food and non-discrimination. In the second part, examples of discrimination in the context of the right to food are put forward by appeal to structural aspects and vulnerable groups. The third part focuses on anti-discriminatory policies and strategies, which are or could be pursued in order to address discrimination. Lastly, the study addresses good practices that are currently being implemented by States and other actors to address discrimination and inequalities.

Presentation of Study

JEAN ZIEGLER, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the Advisory Committee working group on the right to food, said that the working group would present two reports today. The one he was presenting this morning was on discrimination in the context of the right to food. Another one, on the rights of peasants would be presented later. The report he was presenting had been circulated to the Permanent Missions beforehand and the group had received many comments. The right to adequate food was a human right, inherent in all people, to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of people to which the consumer belonged, and which ensured a physical and mental, individual and collective fulfilling and dignified life free of fear. Of all the human rights it was the one that was probably the most violently and frequently violated around the world.

About 1 billion people were permanently and severely malnourished. Every three seconds a child died of lack of food and every four seconds a person became blind from lack of vitamins. However, the world agricultural sector could feed 12 billion individuals around the world; thus there was no objective reason why there was this hunger around the world. It was a problem of access not of production. A child dying from hunger was being assassinated, said Mr. Ziegler.

The present report was the outcome of the discussions the Working Group had had and the consultations it had undertaken. The report was quite dense. The first part of the report dealt with the legal framework of the right to food, the second part of the report contained precise examples of how discrimination functioned in the context of the enjoyment of the right to food and the access to food. The report also gave structural reasons why there was this violation of the right to food. The third part of the study stated possible policies and strategies for States, but also policies and strategies for non-state actors. There were also multinational food companies that had power and could exercise extraordinary influence on the right to food. States were responsible for what multinationals, which had their headquarters on their territory, were doing abroad; States thus had an extra-territorial responsibility, stated Mr. Ziegler.

Giving examples, Mr. Ziegler cited that the financial crisis had led to the fall of the stock-market. The hedge-funds had collapsed and the financial market had moved from the hedge-funds to commodities markets. As a result, the prices of basic food products, such as rice, corn and wheat (representing 77 per cent of the annual consumption), exploded in 2007. When prices exploded, hundreds of millions of people were pushed to hunger. A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report indicated that, on average, the speculative gain for the three basic food products had led to the hedge-funds making incredible fortunes. Speculation was responsible for the situation the world was witnessing now where hundreds of millions of peoples were dying because they did not have access to the food they needed.

Turning to another problem, Mr. Ziegler noted that the World Food Programme had had a normal budget of just over US$ 6 billion. It had recently dropped to US$ 3.2 billion. This was due to industrial countries which had had to massively finance their collapsed banking systems. As a result, the World Food Programme had had, for example, to do away with school meals in Bangladesh, directly affecting one million children. Turning to another example, he cited the many illnesses caused by malnourishment. These illnesses could be eradicated with appropriate food and medication.

The working group now asked the Council to accept this report and to commission the Committee with several additional studies on the right to food, including an in-depth study on abject poverty and people living in extreme poverty, one on women living in rural areas, one on noma (the child disease caused by severe malnutrition) and the right to food of hunger refugees.

MONA ZULFICAR, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group on the right to food, in additional remarks, said that the study discussed structural discrimination and focused on the groups of people that were suffering the most in the context of the right to food, specifically the peasant farmers, the rural population, the urban poor, rural women, children, refugees and other vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and people suffering form disabilities. The drafting group had tremendously benefited from comments from various stakeholders. The study represented the collective wisdom of all the stakeholders.

Turning to rural women, Ms. Zulficar noted that these suffered two times more than rural men from hunger. The study further looked at measures that should be taken by States to take a serious look at customs and traditions that gave women last priority to the right to food. Turning to children, she noted that a third of global child mortality was due to malnutrition. The study further looked at best practices and measures that should be taken up by States to address these many problems.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion Advisory Committee Experts welcomed the quality of the report. One issue that was not being addressed in the report however, was malnourishment in places of detentions. In some places, the families of the detained had to bring food to their imprisoned relatives. Even in rich countries, imprisoned people could be undernourished for various reasons. Malnourished children were also meeting problems with regard to learning. In some instances in France, children had been turned away from school restaurants because the parents had not been able to pay for it.

Observer States also took the floor to say that they appreciated the report and the Experts’ independence and professionalism. China said that while extreme poverty had decreased in the country, poverty in the rural area had especially decreased. China had also made active donations to countries and the Food and Agricultural Organization. The Special Rapporteur on the right to food had visited China last year. He said that China had set up a good example for other developing countries.

Bolivia considered that the study contained highly useful information for the Human Rights Council. They shared the vision of the working group. However, climate change and its effect on the right to food had only been touched upon in the report; this should be dealt with deeper. Due to global warming, Bolivia was losing snow in the mountains and the water table was changing, directly affecting fishers and farmers. The Government was trying its best to address this issue but developed countries also had a responsibility in this issue.

Brazil said that an important topic was the issue of the transformation witnessed in the food market. Concerning the drop in the budget of the World Food Programme, they highlighted the developed purchase for progress programme which had been developed by the World Food Programme.
Sudan said that the right to food was a key and fundamental right. Some countries were heading the wrong way with the way they dealt with animal resources, harming the land, rendering it non-fertile and affecting the environment.

Non-governmental organizations also took floor to welcome the quality of the document. Since the beginning of today’s debate, several hundreds of children had already died from hunger. The economic polices of the Bretton Woods system had deprived peasants from meeting their own vital needs. The number of empty seats in the room today represented a missed opportunity. The international community seemed to prefer to devote their time to save financial institutions. The Working Group had made several proposals today and the proposed study on noma was an important work.

JEAN ZIEGLER, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the Advisory Committee working group on the right to food, in concluding remarks said that today’s remarks had been very useful. The link that had not been sufficiently underscored was that between the right to food and the right to education. A recent report of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East indicated that 30 per cent of children could no longer attend the United Nations schools because they were suffering from anemia, due to the Gaza blockade. They were undernourished to the extent that they could no longer attend school. The working group would take the issue of the right to education into account. It was also correct to say that the issue of climate change had not been sufficiently addressed in the study. This was having an immediate devastating effect on the right to food.

MONA ZULFICAR, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group on the right to food, thanked the speakers for their constructive comments. The working group’s study in fact also touched upon the World Food Programme’s purchase for progress programme, as well as other successful programmes and best practices going on. She encouraged all stakeholders to look at the section on good practices, which included very useful references.

Preliminary Study on Advancement of the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas

Documentation

The preliminary study on the advancement of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, prepared by the drafting group of the Advisory Committee on the right to food (A/HRC/AC/6/CRP.2) begins with the identification of the most discriminated and vulnerable groups working in rural areas. It then describes the causes of their vulnerability and reviews the existing protection of their rights under international human rights law. In the final part, it puts forward ways and means to further advance the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

Presentation of Study

JOSE BENGOA CABELLO, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group, presenting the preliminary study, said that the first section of the document highlighted the importance of the link between the right to food and the rural population. In fact, the global urban population had only recently become larger than the rural population. The rural population was the worst affected from malnourishment and the lack of food. The document also mentioned fisher-folks and small-holder farmers. There was a trend towards the concentration of land in Latin America. Land was being taken away from small-holder farmers and large-scale crops were being grown with fewer land owners. As a result, small farmers were increasingly forced to move to cities.

Mr. Bengoa said that a section was also devoted to landless people and how one could guarantee the right to land. At the same time, some people said that what was important was production of food and insisted on large-scale production. The working group was however in favour of scaling-up the agricultural production of small-holder farmers and clean agriculture.

Mr. Bengoa said that an important chapter of the study was the one devoted to female farmers and female seasonal workers. There were issues such as congenital malformation in children of women who had worked in toxic environments that needed to be looked at. They should collaborate with the International Labour Organization on such issues. The report further raised issues linked to water and that of the selling of genetically modified seeds by multinational companies.

An important paragraph was the one on the protection of the rights of peasants. The farmers’ world was not the subject of any specific protection in international human rights law, noted Mr. Bengoa. This was a very important point. There was a fair and legitimate claim for the establishment of legal instruments that would protect the peasants and farmers. This was at the heart of the question put to the Advisory Committee by the Human Rights Council. Important signals were emanating from the civil society on this issue and one of the instruments that could be developed to address the situation would be one that gave rights to the agricultural workers. The World Social Forum that would come together in Dakar this July would also discuss this issue. The Committee should listen to the civil society’s voices and ask the Council to mandate the Committee with the production of a document in which they would include a draft of the rights of peasants. Many countries agreed that this was the logical next step that should be taken.

MONA ZULFICAR, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group on the right to food, said that the paper they were presenting today was a preliminary draft. While the study on discrimination, discussed earlier, had focused on different aspects, the one they were presenting now was looking at how to advance the rights of the rural population. The recommendations made were thus also directed towards the creation of a specific instrument on the rights of peasants. It could be a declaration to be followed by a convention.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts said that they were impressed with the extent and quality of the paper. One Expert wondered if they could not take aboard more of the experience accumulated by treaty bodies and the International Labour Organization on this issue than the few paragraphs that were already included in the document. Turning to the recommendations, an Expert felt that a new convention would take time to draft and wondered whether sufficient consideration had been given to the use of existing treaty bodies and conventions in order to further the right of peasants as an immediate step. Experts also discussed whether the Committee should seek a declaration or rather a convention. What was important was to propose a document that would push the rights of peasants and agricultural workers forward. Another Expert touched upon the expropriation of millions of arable land by hedge-funds in developing countries.

Observer States expressed their thanks for the excellent study produced by the working group. They supported the proposition to develop an instrument to protect this group of people. The working group should more closely study the right to water.

Non-governmental organizations also took the floor to congratulate the working group for the two studies that were presented today. These had set standards of anti-discriminatory policies and strategies for peasants, particularly women and other people working in rural areas. These studies could be a way to sustain further efforts in responding to the current food crisis. The recognition and the protection of the human rights of peasants and people working in rural areas was one unavoidable condition.

JOSE BENGOA CABELLO, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the working group, concluding the discussion, said that the criminalization of the farmers’ movements was a very important issue. If an instrument gave a sort of protection to rural movement organizations, this would already constitute a major step. Concerning the experience of treaty bodies and the International Labour Organization, since the 1960’s the International Labour Organization had been less concerned about the issue of peasants. He thanked the countries which had expressed support today for an instrument on peasants’ rights.

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For use of the information media; not an official record