In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

Natural resources and food sovereignty

The defense of and the struggle for our rights to land, water, seeds, breeds, fisheries, forests, oceans, and all the natural resources that we need in order to be able to feed ourselves and our communities with dignity are at the core of Food Sovereignty.

But how can we defend and struggle for our rights to resources vis-à-vis powerful national and transnational investors, unfair investment and trade regimes, financialization of natural resources, blatant co-option of states by transnational capital, and militarization, violence and criminalization against those defending their rights to resources? What are the roles for policies and laws in these struggles?

There is no easy answer to these questions. Context matters a lot. What works in one place or situation does not necessarily work in others. Nevertheless, we have some insights that are useful to share, reflect and further develop.
Law is one of the means par excellence of exercising power. Any people’s movement trying to change power relationships cannot avoid dealing with legal issues in order to challenge unjust and illegitimate laws, policies and practices; and in order to build alternative normative and legal orders which are instrumental in creating/consolidating counter-powers. For social movements rallying for food sovereignty, the question is not whether to use legal strategies, but rather which legal strategies to use.

Here the human rights framework plays a prominent role, particularly when it comes to challenging international legal frameworks that work against the rural poor–such as trade, investment environmental and security regimes-or to defending local communities from abuses by international actors. A human right is a right inherent to all human beings without any discrimination based on sex, origin, race, place of residence, religion, or any other status. Human rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated, and seek to protect human dignity. They are derived from the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, express universal ethical and moral values, and empower each human being, their communities and peoples with entitlements and enforceable claims vis-à-vis their own, as well as other governments. To resist oppression is at the very core of human rights. Human rights explicitly address power imbalances and question the legitimacy of the powerful.

Ways of using the human rights framework are highly diverse and depend on contextual factors. Some grassroots groups and social movements use human rights and national laws in defensive strategies to protect their members from major abuses such as persecution, harassment, arbitrary detention, violent forced evictions and destruction of crops, animals and agricultural infrastructure. In such situations,resorting to human rights and/or fundamental rights enshrined in national constitutions can save lives and provide avenues for action that are likely to gather the support of other sectors of society in the face of government repression.

Other groups and movements use human and constitutional rights, and national policies and laws upholding these rights, to raise awareness among their members about their rights, and in doing so to restore self-confidence, dignity and the conviction that resisting oppression is rightful. Raising awareness is crucial to mobilize and organize people to defend their rights. On other occasions, a legal strategy is part of a broader strategy which aims at changing the way conflicts over resources are framed and perceived by society. They combine direct actions and actions of legal disobedience – such as land occupations or hindering the construction of so called development projects – with filling cases before courts or administrative authorities.

Human rights can also be used to challenge illegitimate policies and laws such as the corporate-friendly legal frameworks in many countries and to uphold people’s alternatives proposals for policies and laws opening up spaces for policy dialogue centered on people’s lives.

For sure, human rights treaties, national constitutions, laws and policies upholding people’s rights are not self-executory. They always need to be claimed by people. So far, people’s mobilizations on the ground remain the paramount form of human rights accountability. International human rights soft-law instruments such as the Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests can become effective when social movements appropriate, claim, monitor and implement them on their own. Soft-law instruments can become powerful tools to transmit dissent and resistance to destructive legal regimes (such as trade and investment) and lay the foundations of alternative policy making.

In the spotlight 2

Initiatives for the respect and defense of water

On July 28, 2010 in an unexpected move , the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus the Resolution on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (UN Resolution 64/292). Co-sponsored by 74 states, this highlights the importance of the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. Pushed by the global water justice movements and civil society, its adoption was accelerated by the institutionalization of human right to water and sanitation by some Latin American countries in their constitutions, for e.g. Bolivia, Uruguay and El Salvador.

At least 165 States have signed on to various declarations recognising the right to water, including members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Council of Europe. The creation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water and Sanitation was another positive step towards the respect and defense of water. The first Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque developed various tools for the implementation of this right.
State actors, civil society and communities have also initiated actions to defend, protect and conserve water as a right, a public good and as commons. One example of this is public and community allocation and management of water services to counter commodification and privatization and promote viable, pro-poor and ecologically sustainable options for the world’s populations that lack access to water.

These include Public-Public Partnerships (PuPs), Public-Community Partnerships and Community-Community Partnerships, which are not-for-profit, mutually beneficial partnerships between public sector water operators, local communities, trade unions and other social-economic groups. These democratic partnerships aim “to link up public water operators and different groups on a non-profit basis to strengthen management and technical capacity.” As opposed to public-private partnerships (PPPs), PuPs offer an innovative and practical way of sharing the expertise of public water managers to spread good practices and ideas in water management, such as ensuring water delivery to urban poor communities, respecting workers’ rights, adopting core labour standards and allowing consumers to participate in the determination of water pricing. PuPs also call for providing the social and political support needed for such mutual cooperation.

Another innovative model is the upstream-downstream watershed protection. In the Philippines, civic organisations and public water utilities have allowed local communities to manage and maintain water sources for the cities. The public utilities directly invest in agro-ecological farming practices and in community livelihoods, with the idea that a “good environment will produce good water.” Such models of watershed protection and water service provision are diverse, as they depend on the specific conditions of a particular area. Importantly, these models promote a new vision for water management that re-establish water [For more examples, read Buenaventura Dargantes, Mary Ann Manahan, Daniel Moss and V. Suresh: Water, Commons, Water Citizenship and Water Security here or here.] as commons and make water governance an issue of social and ecological justice and democratization.

Water rights–i.e., how to use, allocate and manage water resources have implications on the realisation of the human right to water and sanitation, and a new vision for water management. Globally, water rights have been used as a political tool in stopping corporate water grabbing, and challenging mining, hydraulic fracking and destructive investments. Citizens’ groups, local governments and affected communities have organised and campaigned to protect their water for drinking, irrigation, agriculture and identity. These include for example: the 2000 Cochabamba Water Wars which expelled Aguas del Turnari (a joint venture involving Bechtel) from Bolivia; Dow Chemical vs Quebec and Lone Pine in Canada, which involves protecting water against pesticides and fracking; El Salvador against Pac Rim and the more recent case of Infinito Gold against Costa Rica; and communities in Plachimada (India) vs. Coca-Cola and Nestle that over-extract and deplete ground water.