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Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food: the COVID-19 Pandemic has Laid Bare the Inequities of the Food System and Accelerated it

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2 March 2021

Independent Expert on the Human Rights of Persons with Albinism Presents Report on Accomplishments by the Mandate as well as Challenges

2 March 2021
AFTERNOON

 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.

Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in reference to COVID-19, noted that the world had been falling behind on fully realizing the right to food even before the current pandemic, which had laid bare the inequities of the food system and accelerated this trend.  There remained no internationally coordinated action responding to the hunger crisis caused by the pandemic, as had been the case with the global public health response.  Many States were reluctant to consider it as a human rights issue, but the hunger crisis was a crisis of care. 

During the interactive dialogue, speakers shared the Special Rapporteur’s assessment on the need for greater cooperation and recommended weaving in the issue of obstacles faced by people under occupation in realizing the right to food during his priority study on armed conflict and protracted crises.  Speakers said that COVID-19 had exacerbated inequalities, which affected access to food.  Concurring with the Special Rapporteur, speakers said the planning of the Food Systems Summit should make more space for human rights and multilateralism. 

Speaking were the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Ecuador on behalf of a group of countries, Russian Federation, United Nations Children’s Fund, Food and Agriculture Organization, Germany, North Macedonia, State of Palestine, Jordan, Malaysia, France, Mauritania, Ecuador, Sovereign Order of Malta, Togo, Armenia, Libya, Iraq, Indonesia, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Venezuela, India, Morocco, Iran, South Africa, Namibia, Norway, Egypt, Cameroon, Switzerland, Nepal, Ghana, China, Angola, Viet Nam, El Salvador, Lebanon, Fiji, Sudan, Cuba, Bangladesh, the World Food Programme, Holy See, Vanuatu, Algeria, Djibouti, Guatemala, Cambodia and Syria.

The following civil society organizations also took floor: Europe-Third World Centre, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Human Rights Advocates Inc., Sikh Human Rights Group, FIAN International e.V., Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Peace Brigades International, Habitat International Coalition, Terra de Direitos, and Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women.

The Council then heard the presentation of reports by the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism on the mandate’s achievements, accomplishments, challenges and the way forward, and on her visit to Brazil.  Brazil took the floor as a concerned country.

Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, said that over the past six years, the mandate’s achievements had included the development and elaboration of a regional action plan on albinism (2017-2021) to address the issue of attacks and extreme human rights violations in the Africa region, and the production of an exponential amount of information from research, country visits and continuous engagement with Member States and civil society.  However, there remained challenges such as resource constraints, the inability to tackle root causes of attacks, the need for stronger political will to address violence, and a very high number of people suffering from skin cancer, among others.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers congratulated the Independent Expert on her valuable work, and noted her collaboration with other human rights mechanisms, particularly with treaty bodies.  Outside of Africa, what were some of the main challenges faced by persons with albinism?  Speakers said some of the mitigation measures taken in response to COVID-19 had heightened the risk for vulnerable groups, including persons with albinism.

Speaking were the European Union, Denmark (on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries), Israel, United Nations Children's Fund, Portugal, Indonesia, Senegal, Venezuela, Malaysia, South Africa, Namibia, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Cameroon, China, Lesotho, Fiji, Botswana, Djibouti, United Republic of Tanzania, UN Women, Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, Panama, United States and Uganda.

Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Armenia and Brazil took the floor in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m.  on Wednesday, 3 March to start an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt.  The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism will conclude at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food
A/HRC/46/33 that outlines the direction that he intends to take during his tenure, including his vision of the areas of concern and priority issues that will inform his future thematic reports

Presentation of the Report
MICHAEL FAKHRI, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, outlined four thematic areas of priority during his mandate: COVID-19 and the hunger crisis, food systems and global governance, seeds and farmers’ rights, and the right to food in armed conflicts and protracted crises.  Focusing on the first two areas, Mr. Fakhri emphasised their urgency due to the ongoing pandemic and the upcoming Food Systems Summit scheduled for October 2021.  In reference to COVID-19, Mr. Fakhri noted that the world had been falling behind on fully realizing the right to food even before the current pandemic, which had laid bare the inequities of the food system and accelerated this trend.  The World Food Programme had estimated that the total number of people suffering from acute hunger would double in 2020 to 265 million.  There remained no internationally coordinated action responding to the hunger crisis caused by the pandemic, as had been the case with the global public health response.  Many States were reluctant to consider it as a human rights issue, but the hunger crisis was a crisis of care. 

The Special Rapporteur said that it would not be too difficult to develop an international plan based on human rights that would help overcome this crisis.  It must be recognized that it was rooted in international conditions that made it impossible for governments to meet their obligations - much of the crisis was caused by the fact that nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion workforce were at risk of losing their livelihoods.  The resulting deepening inequality meant that power would be wielded by an even smaller elite.  The Special Rapporteur said that in his report, he called upon the Committee on World Food Security and the International Labour Office to form an alliance to tackle the looming hunger crisis, adding that the Human Rights Council could consider mandating the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to help bring them together.  Regarding the Food Systems Summit, Mr. Fakhri saw that it prioritised questions around scientific and market-based solutions, and he called on everyone to make human rights central to their work.  It was important to note that organizations representing millions of people had been protesting against the Summit because human rights were initially excluded from its agenda; he welcomed this reversal.  Mr. Fakhri concluded by stating that people would be empowered to regain control over their own food system only when they had a better understanding of how food was governed. 

Interactive Discussion

Speakers shared the Special Rapporteur’s assessment on the need for greater cooperation and recommended weaving-in the issue of obstacles faced by people under occupation in realizing the right to food during his priority study on armed conflict and protracted crises.  COVID-19 had exacerbated inequalities, which affected access to food.  Concurring with the Special Rapporteur, speakers said the planning of the Food Systems Summit should make more space for human rights and multilateralism.  Others, urging respect for the division of labour at the United Nations, said the Summit dealt with technical issues and should not have human rights at the centre of its discussions.  The world was not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030, and the number of hungry people had risen, some speakers stressed.  Speakers enquired about the Special Rapporteur’s views on human rights abuses in food industries, including fishing, and urged him to consider the diversion of food aid.

Interim Remarks

MICHAEL FAKHRI, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said the difficulty of COVID-19 and the hunger crisis was that it required cooperation, coordination and acting in solidarity, beyond each country’s domestic responsibility.  The Council should encourage the Committee on World Food Security and the International Labour Organization to work together with a focus on action.  Recalling that certain countries were more vulnerable than others in the face of the crisis, Mr. Fakhri urged addressing inequalities between countries.  Agroecology and human rights went hand in hand and should be at the core of each element of the Food Systems Summit, rather than considered as silos.  He said he would welcome an opportunity to meet with stakeholders to address the issue of fisheries.  Regarding matters related to trade and supply chains, an approach based on human rights was required.

Interactive Discussion

The critical voice of the Special Rapporteur was welcomed by some speakers, who agreed that agroecology must be taken into account by the Food Systems Summit.  More equitable agrarian systems must be facilitated by States, as speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the Summit ignored community-based proposals in favour of scientific approaches promoted by corporations, calling for a re-orientation of priorities.  States that shared transboundary water sources were increasingly in conflict over them, and the situation would only escalate as a result of climate change.  Speakers noted the regrettable lack of social protection of workers in the food and agriculture sector as well as migrant workers throughout the pandemic.  Condemning the use of hunger as a weapon during conflict, either directly or indirectly, speakers also denounced the impact of unilateral coercive economic measures on food security and reiterated that the climate crisis and food security were intertwined and interrelated.  Speakers expressed deep concern over the fact that many States dismissed their existing obligations, rejecting the inclusion of people under occupation as an affected group in humanitarian contexts. 

Concluding Remarks

MICHAEL FAKHRI, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, noted that the issue of the Food Systems Summit that was raised by many speakers was about the priorities.  It was never clear how the human rights problems were to be framed, and there was an opportunity to now triple the efforts to include human rights into every aspect of the Summit.  Unilateral actions and embargoes, especially during COVID-19, were deeply concerning and brutal.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas provided a systemic perspective, and the power to governments to transform their food systems.  Regarding climate change, Mr. Fakhri noted that many countries had begun involving the right to food when discussing climate change, and identified an opportunity to put food security on the agenda at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism 

Reports 

The Council has before it the report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism A/HRC/46/32 on Achievements, accomplishments, challenges and the way forward: an overview of work on the mandate, and A/HRC/46/32/Add.1 on the visit to Brazil 

Presentation of Reports

IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, pointing out that the report summarized the accomplishments of this mandate over the past six years, said achievements included the development and elaboration of a regional action plan on albinism (2017-2021) to address the issue of attacks and extreme human rights violations against persons with albinism in the Africa region, and the production of an exponential amount of information from research, country visits and continuous engagement with Member States and civil society.  Through this mandate, significant strides were also made in resource mobilization which enabled the carrying out of numerous activities on the mandate.  However, there remained challenges such as resource constraints, the inability to tackle root causes of attacks, the insufficient capacity in a majority of civil society working on this issue, and the need for stronger political will to address the issues faced by persons with albinism, including violence and a very high number of people suffering from skin cancer, among others. 

Turning to her visit to Brazil, Ms. Ero said she had learned that albinism was present in many parts of the country but particularly prevalent among Afro-Brazilians and Indigenous Brazilians.  Some of the key issues faced by this people group included marginalization and discrimination based on their appearance which impacted access to work; difficulty accessing services for persons with low vision which many of them had; and difficulty accessing sunscreen as a health measure.  Persons with albinism in Brazil were reportedly about 1,000 times more likely to contract skin cancer and die early from it than the average Brazilian without albinism.  She called on the Government to adopt draft bill (7762/2014) which had been tabled since 2012 and would make a difference in the enjoyment of the right to health, legal visibility and the social standing of persons with albinism in Brazil.  It had been a pleasure to work with the Government on these issues because of their openness and collaboration. 

Statement by Concerned Country 

Brazil, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Independent Expert for her visit in 2019 and the detailed report.  A financial incentive to strengthen access and care in primary health care with a focus on persons with albinism was exceptionally instituted by the Ministry of Health.  Some of the successful local experiences highlighted in the report were now on track to become national policies, such as the agreement between the federal government and the Pro-Albino Programme of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia of São Paulo/SP.  The campaign "Visibility of Persons with Albinism in Brazil" would be launched shortly, aiming to make this population more visible, and to combat stigmas and any form of discrimination.  The Government was also creating a registry of people with albinism to provide health kits, sunscreen, sunglasses with protection against UVA and UVB rays, clothes made with sun protective fabric, caps and hats. 

Interactive Discussion

Speakers asked how COVID-19 had affected the human rights of persons with albinism and what measures States could adopt to mitigate such negative effects.  Some speakers congratulated the Independent Expert on her valuable work and noted her collaboration with other human rights mechanisms, particularly the treaty bodies.  Outside of Africa, what were some of the main challenges faced by persons with albinism?  Speakers said some of the mitigation measures taken in response to COVID-19 had heightened the risk for vulnerable groups, including persons with albinism.  Some speakers outlined programmes created by their governments, such as holding public hearings to hear the concerns of persons with albinism, and said they had benefitted from past visits by the Independent Expert.  Her work had also led to the adoption of a regional action plan by the African Union in July 2019, they pointed out.  Governments, medical organizations, civil society groups, the media and individuals should help persons with albinism achieve their aspirations while taking into consideration their challenges in terms of health (skin and vision) as well as the general stigma they experienced.

Interim Remarks

IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, said the lack of political will and knowledge remained challenges.  Some countries, such as Malawi and Mozambique, had adopted national plans.  Whenever there was a crisis, harmful practices increased.  That had been the case with the COVID-19 pandemic too.  She had received reports that the colour of people with albinism had been associated with the coronavirus, leading, inter alia, to their banishment from communities.  A good practice was to include people with albinism in efforts to tackle the pandemic, as this could contribute to countering their isolation.  The world was witnessing hate crimes in slow-motion.  Because there were relatively few people with albinism, people were not up in arms, unfortunately.  Ms. Ero called for additional protection measures, better training of law enforcement officers, and the adoption of national action plans paired with budgets, like that of Kenya.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers appreciated the regional approach of the Independent Expert, noting that the role of local rituals and myths remained a complicating factor that had led to increased attacks during the pandemic.  Some speakers suggested that persons with albinism should be appointed to high-ranking positions in governments, and lead the response to these attacks, which should be people-centered.  Many speakers expressed their support for the proposed resolution by the Africa Group to extend the mandate of the Independent Expert.  It was important to build on existing achievements, as speakers asked if any States had included measures to protect persons with albinism in their COVID-19 response.  Services for women and girls with albinism who suffered violence during the pandemic must be treated as essential and prioritized, expanded and adapted to the current context.  Speakers asked the Expert’s opinion about the three main priorities to continue fighting ongoing violations and abuses committed against persons with albinism.  Some aspects of the regional action plan on albinism in Africa remained unimplemented.  It was important to sustain the funding of this mandate.


Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/afternoon-special-rapporteur-right-food-covid-19-pandemic-has

 

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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