In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

The UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Peasants and people living in rural areas, such as small-scale fishers, pastoralists and rural workers, still represent almost half of the world’s population. The great majority of them have to face massive and systematic violations of their rights: they suffer disproportionately from hunger and malnutrition, are being increasingly dispossessed from their lands, water bodies, fisheries, forests, seeds, and are being alienated from their sources of livelihood. They cannot maintain and develop their local economies and earn an income which allows them to live in dignity. They are often arbitrarily detained, harassed, easily criminalized, and even killed for defending their rights. Moreover, rural women carry out a disproportionate share of unpaid work, are often heavily discriminated against in the access to natural and productive resources, financial services, information, employment and social protection, and still face violence in manifold forms.

The international peasant movement La Via Campesina (LVC) has been championing the recognition of the rights of peasants in the international human rights system since 2001. After eight years of internal discussion, LVC presented in 2009 its own declaration on the rights of peasants — women and men— in which they succinctly expressed their aspirations and demands. Shortly after, in 2010, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) mandated its Advisory Committee to elaborate a study on ways and means to further advance the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas [Final study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (on the advancement of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas), UN doc. A/HRC/19/75, 24 February 2012.]. The study recommends “(a) to better implement existing international norms, (b) to address the normative gaps under international human rights law, and (c) to elaborate a new legal instrument on the rights of people working in rural areas” (Par. 63). In September 2012, the HRC passed a resolution establishing an inter-governmental working group with the mandate to elaborate a draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas.

Relevance of the declaration
The former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, has stated that there are “four main reasons for adopting a new international human rights instrument on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas: it is needed in international law; it will improve the fight against hunger; it is a means of protecting small-scale, family-owned farms from the pressure of large, agro-industrial farms; and it will increase access to the means of production in rural areas.” He has also underlined that “the adoption of a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas would increase visibility on the rights that are already recognized in international law, and help to recognize new rights, such as the rights to land, to seeds and to compensation for the losses due to food subsidies given to farmers in other countries”.

Rallying for the rights of peasants, small-scale fishers, pastoralists and other people working in rural areas
In countries like Indonesia or Colombia, peasants have historically faced deep entrenched discrimination and pervasive violence. The call for recognition of the rights of peasants has been able to capture the attention of people on the ground in these countries and has been instrumental in helping them assert their rights. It has also strengthened their organization and mobilization capacities as well as their initiatives towards policies and laws which protect and promote their rights. In recent years, several laws and policies specifically addressing the situation of peasants have been passed in Indonesia. Peasant and rural people’s mobilizations and demands have been at the top of the national agenda in Colombia after decades of disastrous neglect.

Way forward
The inter-governmental working group elaborating the draft declaration held its fourth session in May 2017 [See the joint statement of La Via Campesina together with the World Forum of Fisher People, the International Indian Treaty Council, the International Union of Food Workers and other CSO on the outcome of this session]. Besides the importance of having a UN declaration asserting the rights of peasants and other rural people, the process of drafting bears in itself the potential of becoming a vehicle to:
– deepen the dialogue and alliance among different constituencies and groups of rural people; and
– raise awareness and contribute to capacity and movement building.
The recognition of the rights of rural people goes beyond the UN Human Rights Council. It can be demanded from other UN bodies and more importantly from local, national and regional authorities. It is up to all individuals, groups and organizations to join this struggle in their own creative ways.

In the spotlight 2

The right to resist

Thirty-five Filipino farmers, including 10 women, are facing imprisonment as landowners of a large coconut estate filed 19 criminal cases of theft against them in 2016. The coconut estate is an agrarian hotspot for land distribution under the Philippine agrarian reform program. Now the farmers need to raise more than USD $22,000 as bail money to grant them temporary liberty. Due to poverty and the recent destruction of their crops by a typhoon, they are unable to raise this amount, prompting many of them to hide and doing so preventing their children from going to school this coming term. Criminalization is one of the tools used by landlords and business interests to harass landless peasants and rural communities, and they use the legal system to oppose agrarian reforms that threaten their monopoly of control and ownership of lands. Similar cases can be seen in other countries of the South, where institutions and structures of justice are becoming instruments of repression, and judicial proceedings are manipulated by those with wealth and political power.

The violence surrounding peoples’ struggles for food sovereignty has become appallingly common across the world. This comes in the form of threats, intimidation, physical force and abuse of power by state agencies, elites and non-state actors. From Cambodia to Brazil, rural communities increasingly encounter the danger of violence as they defend their lands, waters, forests, resources, livelihoods and rights from extractivist and destructive projects/policies, often in the name of ‘development.’ Women, youth and children are particularly at risk. The systematic failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice deepens the culture of impunity and constitutes a denial of victims’ rights to justice and redress.

While violence, abuse of power and impunity are not new to much of the rural world, the violation of peoples’ rights and criminalization of rights defenders have expanded and escalated to alarming levels over the last few decades [Check Nyéléni newsletter no.14 Repression and Rights and Newsletter Volume III No. 4, August 2016]. These can be attributed to the powerful nexus of political and business interests, repressive laws, and a model of development that criminalizes those who resist land grabbing, deforestation, mining, dams, and socio-economic injustices. Local communities and peoples’ movements that are practicing and building food sovereignty are primary targets, as food sovereignty directly challenges narratives of economic growth and development based on large-scale investments, industrial agriculture and food systems, privatisation, and extractivism. A convenient and efficient way to undermine food sovereignty is to disable its proponents. Legal and physical violence have become preferred weapons by which corporations, elites and many governments silence dissent and opposition, and prevent people from imagining worlds outside the dominant economic paradigm.

However, communities and peoples’ movements around the world are organizing to end the criminalization of small-scale food providers and the impunity of state and corporate perpetrators even in countries where spaces for genuine democracy are shrinking or absent, for example, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Ecuador, Brazil, etc. These struggles aim to defend human dignity and nature, protect fundamental rights and freedoms, and exact accountability from institutions, structures, and people in power. The unwavering commitment of peoples’ movements to defend food sovereignty stress the importance of strengthening and defending alternatives to neoliberalism and corporate power, as well as articulating well-being and progress from the perspectives of those who have been victims of various forms of injustices, especially women.