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Declaration on the rights of peasants adopted by UN General Assembly
by OHCHR, La Vía Campesina, FIAN International
11:30am 8th May, 2018
Dec. 2018
As the most basic rights of rural people continue to be trampled on in many parts of the world, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, welcomed the adoption by the UN General Assembly of a new declaration to help safeguard them.
“Globally, peasants feed the world, but their own enjoyment of their human rights is challenged, including their own right to food,” Ms. Bachelet said, as she stressed the importance of the new text.
The document, titled ‘Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas’, was drafted in October by the Third Committee, which handles human rights issues, among others, and adopted this week by the UN General Assembly, in which all 193 Member States are represented.
It aims to protect the rights of rural workers, including fishermen, nomads, indigenous peoples, pastoralists and other agricultural workers, such as peasants, which are defined in the declaration as “any person who engages in small-scale agricultural production”.
“Peasants face dire situations that are aggravated by an imbalance of power in economic relations,” stated the High Commissioner, as she explained that “policies that could promote peasants’ rights are largely absent, and in some cases have suffered due to austerity measures”.
Among the many hardships and rights violations faced by rural workers listed in the declaration, are: the increasing number of forcible evictions they face; their difficulties in accessing courts, police services, prosecutors and lawyers for protection against violence, exploitation and abuse; and the “high incidence of suicide” among peasants “in many countries”. They are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and land degradation.
Ms. Bachelet said that “women are particularly vulnerable, given widespread unlawful discrimination restricting their access to, use of and control of land, as well as unequal payment for their work.”
“I hope this Declaration will serve to enhance States’ commitment at all levels to uphold and protect the rights and dignity of peasants and other people working in rural areas,” she said. “They play a critical role in preserving our culture, environment, livelihood and traditions, and must not be left behind as we implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Ms.Bachelet added.
“This is a victory above all for the peasants themselves, who had been asking for this through their representatives for years, and we welcome this historic recognition by Member States of what peasantry has brought and continues to bring to humanity,” Melik Ozden, the director of CETIM, one of the NGOs engaged in this issue at the UN, told UN News.
“But the work does not end here. The next step is the effective implementation of this declaration, hand in hand with rural populations,” he added.
Sep. 2018
Three quarters vote yes to peasants and rural workers’ rights at UN Human Rights Council
A Declaration recognizing the human rights of peasants and other rural workers was voted on today at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The ideological battle over which idea of human rights will prevail in the future resulted in 33 votes in favor, 3 against and 11 abstentions. Among the states voting against the Declaration were Australia, Hungary, and the United Kingdom. Most of the abstentions came from European Countries, including Germany, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia and Croatia, whilst, Asian, African and Latin American states, with the exception of Brazil, supported the Declaration with a favorable vote.
Arguments to abstain and refrain
On the floor, the European Union and Germany showed their concern over the recognition of the right to seeds, land, biodiversity, as well as to food sovereignty, yet unrecognized by international human rights law. The EU stated that there is no room for the creation of “new rights” in the Declaration, despite these representing the interests and needs of more than 2 billion of people worldwide.
After more than 5 years of negotiations about the text, some states have remained reluctant to recognize the need for a Declaration to ensure the protection, respect and access of the rural world to natural resources. Times of dispossession, poverty, rising hunger figures, increasing inequality worldwide and of serious environmental and climate destruction, necessarily requires that states protect the rights of local communities to land, water, forests, fisheries and pastures.
Next stop: New York
Now the Declaration is ready to make its way to the UN headquarters in New York where it will need to go through the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee in October, before going to the General Assembly for a final vote in December.
“The adoption of this UN Declaration is a turning point for the international human rights system. At a time where the UN risks its legitimacy by a biased promotion of corporate interests, this declaration shows that it is possible to revitalize the original mandate of the UN”, says Sofia Monsalve Suárez, secretary general of FIAN International.
The next step for citizens worldwide is to pressure their governments and for states to finally vote for its ultimate adoption.
* The process for a declaration of peasant rights has been a long journey for the rural world and social movements the world over. The OEIWG was created in September 2012 by Resolution 21/19, as a result of advocacy work by La Via Campesina and a long list of supporting organizations throughout more than 15 years:
May 2018
(The fifth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas took place in April 2018 in Geneva).
April 2018
Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, Opening statement by Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Comissioner OHCHR. (Extract)
These past five years of negotiations, has been a steady journey from what was once a divergence, to now a closer convergence, of views. For this progress, we owe a debt of gratitude to member states – and to civil society, academia, the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council and to others in the UN human rights system including to staff of our Office.
The drafting before you has been built on existing international standards relevant to the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas, including FAO Principles and several of their Voluntary Guidelines. And, after five years of diligent effort, the finishing line is now in sight.
There must now be finalised - and with some sense of urgency – a robust focused declaration that can enable Member States to better address the gap in protection for more than a billion people -- peasants, rural workers, small farmers, fishers and herders, and others of their communities.
To be clear, today, peasants and others working in rural areas have insufficient recourse in the face of the discrimination they suffer and the other challenges they confront when seeking an adequate standard of living, when subjected to forced displacement and marginalization:
Globally, peasants feed the world, yet their own enjoyment of their right to food is obstructed. According to IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), small farms provide as much as 80% of the food locally consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, as found by the Hunger Task Force of the Millennium Project, close to 80% of the world population who suffer hunger live in rural areas: 50% living in rural small-holding farming households while another 22% are farming households that have no land.
Indeed, in many places peasants’ access to land and other resources is deeply complicated – many have had their lands expropriated, have faced forced evictions and have been displaced from their ancestral homes.
Policies that could protect their rights are missing: such as human rights based agrarian reform and policies for rural development. And, what’s more, when so-called austerity measures take hold, social policies for rural areas often are among the first affected, including through privatization of once public services.
Discrimination takes a harsh toll on peasants and other people working in rural areas broadly, and particularly on women. 60% of those suffering from chronic hunger are women, with rural women particularly affected. Although women are major contributors to agriculture and rural economies, they have relatively less access to resources and services.
For a majority of women, their access to, use and control of land is diminished by unlawful discrimination in marriage, in standards governing legal capacity and inheritance and through more restricted access to financial and other resources. Gender-based discrimination drives greater insecurity of tenure for women. which negatively impacts on their survival and erodes too the well-being of their families and their children. This is particularly evident in situations of divorce, death or remarriage of the spouse.
If social and legal arrangements work against the interests of peasants, economic arrangements compound disadvantage at local, national and even global levels:
Globalization and its associated free trade agreements fail to factor in the costs to rural populations thus deepening food insecurity. Excessive protection by multinational corporations of such as patents over seeds erodes the ability of small scale farmers to use or exchange their own seeds, often indebting peasants by forcing exclusive purchase of those patented seeds.
The global forces of climate change are bringing more floods and longer droughts, imposing extreme weather events and irregular rainfall, driving soil erosion and bio diversity depletion. Globally, these are transforming for the worse the livelihoods and lifestyles of those people directly dependent on the land.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can help. It promises an integrated agenda if delivery for people, peace, prosperity and for the planet. But if its delivery is not grounded in international human rights law, standards, principles and norms that are enshrined in the SDGs, the benefits of implementation will not flow to all.
“Trickle down” rapidly becomes fade away. By the time trickle down reaches the poorest, fade away has become take more away. Reliance on trickle down approaches, in the era of the MDGs, saw the poorest becomes poorer, as the rich became richer.
70 years ago, the international community made a promise. A promise to uphold – without exception - the core humanising ideal on which today’s international community is founded – that born we all are equal in dignity and rights.
The UDHR – which has been affirmed repeatedly in major legal and normative instruments including in the Declaration on the Right to Development – makes clear that those are not optional promises; they are not ideological; not to be exercised at the discretion of power but rather as the obligations of power. Promises that no one is to be left behind by discrimination nor poverty; or left out through marginalization; or forgotten because their truths are inconvenient to the privileged.
Yet, those universal promises have not been upheld. Peasants and other people working in rural areas have been left behind. The only way to bring them in, is to stop leaving them out! And, that is indeed the purpose of the text of the declaration.
Apr. 2018
“Towards the adoption of the UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas” on the occasion of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, statement by the Permanent mission of the State of Bolivia, La Vía Campesina, CETIM and FIAN International:
My name is Zainal Fuat, from the Indonesian Peasant Union (SPI) and from the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of La Vía Campesina. I hereby speak on behalf of La Vía Campesina, which is the largest international peasant movement bringing together millions of peasants, small and medium size peasants, landless people, rural women and youth, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world.
We have been constructively engaged in the process for the elaboration of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, also with organizations representing indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fishers and rural workers from around the globe, as well as CETIM, FIAN International and other human rights organizations. We worked hard in favour of this process from the field, from our workplaces around the world but also here in Geneva.
The process towards this Declaration, with all the exchanges, debates, activities, has made the peasants movement grow stronger. Advocating for our fundamental rights, not only in the field but also in the core of the UN human rights system, contributing to an increase in the knowledge of peasants on the question of human rights and human rights law. This is an important step for the peasants as a whole.
We are happy to see that the ongoing process is advancing and the level of constructive support from the different regions is growing. By this statement we would like to reiterate our willingness to see an even broader support from States to this process, recognizing the crucial rights stipulated in the Draft declaration. For the purpose of defending these rights, we are looking forward to the adoption of a strong UN declaration, capable to recognize and further protect the rights of peasants’ and other people working in rural areas.
After ten years of intense and constructive negotiations, it is time to finalize the process, because in the face of the global economic crisis, climate change and the decrease of our life conditions, we need our rights now, more than ever.
There is a global necessity of feeding a more and more growing population. For this we have to focus on the crucial role of peasants and people living in rural areas, which are the main actors in this field and main providers of food. As a FAO report says, peasantry has a great development potential and is essential for the future of humanity. Moreover, better protection of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas will contribute to avoid the migration from rural areas and rural countries to the cities.
What is crucial to understand is that the positives repercussions of this Declaration will be felt not only by peasants and other people working in rural areas, but by humanity as a whole.
For all these reasons, we expect that the negotiations will be concluded during the 5th session of the Working group in April 2018 and that the Declaration will be adopted by the Human Rights Council this year.
We, the peasants, are ready to work hard and take up our responsibilities. We look forward to a more close cooperation among peasants organizations, organizations working for peasants and rural population, UN agencies and mechanisms, representatives of the governments and other institutions. We reiterate our call to work hand-in-hand, all together, for the adoption of the Declaration this year.
Geneva 15 May 2017
Statement by Ms. Lene Wendland, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the 4th session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.
''It is a great pleasure for me to join you at the opening of the fourth session of the Open-ended intergovernmental Working Group on the Rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. This working group has been entrusted with an important role: the protection and the promotion of rights of millions of people around the world that often face tremendous difficulties accessing an adequate standard of living, and are subject to displacement, discrimination and marginalization.
Since the last session of the Working Group in May 2016, a large number of comments and suggestions have been received from States, national and international civil society organizations, international organizations, and from peasants and other people working in rural areas themselves for whom this draft declaration is intended.
Moving ahead with this declaration will also enable a better delivery on the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We are already two years into the implementation of this transformative Agenda, and only 13 years are left before the deadline to meet the goals and targets set out, many of which are directly relevant to the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.
For instance target 1.4 states that “by 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.”
Land and natural resources is a critical element for the enjoyment of human rights of all individuals, families and communities, but even more so for peasants and other people working in rural areas, given their role in food production.
Despite the fact that peasants are the main people feeding the world, the Human Rights Council itself recognizes that “80 per cent of hungry people live in rural areas, and 50 per cent are small-scale farm-holders, and that these people are especially vulnerable to food insecurity” and that “access to land, water, seeds and other natural resources is an increasing challenge for poor producers”. This is one of many critical issues this declaration seeks to address.
Another issue relates to gender discrimination. For a majority of women in the world, discrimination in marriage, inheritance, legal capacity or access to financial and other resources are some of the main obstacles to access, use and control land. Poor rural women are among the most marginalized.
Their lack of secure tenure, due to discrimination based on gender, impacts on their own survival as well as on the well-being of their family and children, particularly after a divorce, death or remarriage of the spouse. The UN human rights treaty bodies have repeatedly affirmed women’s equal rights in relation to their access to, use of and control over land:
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its General Comment No. 16 (the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights), reaffirms that “women have a right to own, use or otherwise control housing, land and property on an equal basis with men, and to access necessary resources to do so”.
The CEDAW General Recommendation No. 21 on equality in marriage and family relations underlines that “when a woman cannot enter into a contract at all, or have access to financial credit, or can do so only with her husband’s or a male relative’s concurrence or guarantee, she is denied legal autonomy. Any such restriction prevents her from holding property as the sole owner. Such restrictions seriously limit the woman’s ability to provide for herself and her dependants”.
Last year’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation No. 34 provides further guidance on land as a crucial element for the protection and promotion of the rights of rural women which I believe is reflected in the current draft declaration.
Discrimination against women regarding land and security of tenure has been a long-standing concern of the Council and its former Commission on Human Rights for almost two decades. Sincer the establishment of the Human Rights Council no resolution on this topic was adopted. This declaration is an excellent opportunity of addressing these world wide challenges faced by women, particularly those living and working in rural areas.
Every year, millions of persons are subject to forced evictions and displacement and land is at the center of this phenomenon. Lack of secure tenure; development projects; mining, extractive and other industrial activities; large-scale land acquisitions and leases and land grabbing are some of the drivers displacing peasants and people working in rural areas, putting them in destitution and forcing them to seek livelihood in cities where they add up to millions already in informal settlements and slums.
Access to, use of, and control over land directly affect the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights. Disputes over land are also often the cause of human rights violations, conflicts and violence, especially in rural areas.
Importantly, the human rights dimensions of land management are directly linked to most aspects of social development, peacebuilding and humanitarian assistance, as well as disaster prevention and recovery.
In view of the growing importance of the issue, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is developing its work to address the challenges concerning land and human rights. We are looking forward for the normative guidance that this declaration will provide concerning this question.
There is urgency in addressing the situation of peasants, small-scale food producers and other people working in rural areas. Many are hoping that the discussions in the working group will promptly finalize a robust and consensual declaration that will address the protection gap''.

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