Newsletter no 14 – Editorial

Rights and repression

Eleven peasants and six policemen killed. 13 peasants prosecuted, and more than 50 incriminated in the course of one of the most violent land conflicts in Paraguay’s recent history. Fisherwomen, men and children who have been deprived of their access to Lake Victoria in Uganda are threatened with being shot by private security guards if they cross the borders established by investors who claim to have bought the lake. Female workers of big food retailers who are put under surveillance, sexually harassed at their workplace and underpaid in the U.S. Pastoralists who are trying to survive the consequences of the destruction of their habitat due to mining activities in Mongolia… These are but a few of the testimonies of human rights’ violations and abuses that this issue of the Nyéléni Newsletter has collected.

They all demonstrate the increasing criminalization of social movements defending food sovereignty all over the world. We can not know the true scope of this situation, as much abuse and many conflicts and human rights’ violations committed throughout the existing food systems remain invisible and go undetected. However even this sparse and scattered information has been enough for UN monitoring bodies and defenders – such as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights – to state that the second most vulnerable group of human rights’ defenders are those working on land, natural resources and environmental issues. The International Labour Organization has also reported that the incidence of bonded and slave labour is particularly high in certain workplaces in the food chain – such as big plantations, industrial slaughterhouses and trawlers. The increasing criminalization of active practitioners within the food sovereignty movement is one of the major threats that we are currently facing. Depending on the context, the criminalization may be promoted by an authoritarian State that does not allow people to organize autonomously; or by the erosion of the institutions and human rights’ culture of countries that previously had a high degree of protection of human rights; or by non-State actors such as companies and the media who promote laws that impair or make the economic activities of pastoralists, fishing communities, peasants and gatherers illegal; or deprive these groups of access to natural resources; or dismantle labour rights’ protection, and environmental and sanitary regulations.

Our movements and organizations need to develop and improve their strategies to face the threat of increasing criminalization. This Newsletter collects some of our experiences and current strategic initiatives in this regard: We recall how the struggle of Indigenous Peoples for the recognition of their collective rights to their lands and territories, to their traditional knowledge, to free, prior and informed consent and to a self-determined economic, social and cultural development in international and national law has proven to be a forerunner of the food sovereignty movement. Other rural constituencies such as peasants and fishing communities are also reclaiming the recognition of their distinctive rights to natural resources, and to self-determination of their own food systems and economic activities. The current process of drafting a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural
areas and the FAO Guidelines on Small-Scale Fisheries are two initiatives aimed at empowering peasants and fishers, and building legal frameworks that support smallscale food producers and public welfare.

We also need to deepen our alliance with the human rights movement to defend achievements in the field of the human rights, to fill the gaps and further develop and strengthen human rights law so that it really has primacy over commercial and investment law. We also need to continue enlarging our movement and building unity in our cross-constituency alliances: none of our constituencies alone will be able to defend their rights and effectively overcome the threats that lie ahead.

Sofia Monsalve, FIAN International