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Newsletter no 30 - In the spotlight 2

Monday 10 July 2017, by Manu

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 [1]. 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.

[1Check Nyéléni newsletter no.14 Repression and Rights http://www.nyeleni.org/ccount/click.php?id=44 and Newsletter Volume III No. 4, August 2016 https://focusweb.org/content/newsletter-volume-iii-number-4-august-2016