People's Stories Justice

Towards a recognition of the Right to Land and other Natural Resources
by Geneva Academy, ESCR-Net, agencies
May 2017 (Geneva Academy News)
Our new research brief The Right to Land and Other Natural Resources, co-authored by Dr Chistophe Golay and Dr Adrianna Bessa, summarizes key findings linked to the recognition of the right to land and other natural resources in the context of the current negotiation of a UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (UN Declaration) at the UN Human Rights Council.
It also presents the protection of this right that exists under international law, addresses its individual and collective dimensions, and describes its core elements.
‘The recognition of this right is of fundamental importance to billions of rural people worldwide’ stress Chistophe Golay and Adrianna Bessa.
This Research Brief will be presented at the 4th session of the intergovernmental working group on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas , which will take place in Geneva from 15 to 19 May 2017. This 4th session will negotiate a new version of the UN Declaration, based on the discussions held in the previous three sessions as well as informal consultations.
Christophe Golay, Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the Geneva Academy, will participate as an expert in this session. He’s been notably asked to provide expert advice in relation to the preamble, article 1 of the UN Declaration (definition of peasants and other people working in rural areas), article 17 (right to land and other natural resources), article 22 (right to social security), article 23 (right to health), and article 27 (responsibility of the UN and of other international organizations).
‘My participation is a great opportunity to present our research, outline the scope and content of the right to land and other natural resources to negotiators, and respond to their questions or concerns’ underlines Christophe Golay.
Peasants and other people working in rural areas, such as small-scale farmers, fisherfolks, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, have always used and managed land and other natural resources (water bodies, marine eco-systems, fisheries, pastures and forests) to ensure the sustainability of their livelihood systems and food supplies, to have a place to live in security, peace and dignity, and to develop their customs, traditions and cultural identities.
‘These customary practices have been acknowledged as individual and collective rights by states’ underline the authors, Christophe Golay and Adriana Bessa.
The right to land and other natural resources has been recognized for rural women and indigenous peoples in international human rights law. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, adopted in 2012 and 2014 recognize similar freedoms and entitlements for all peasants, small-scale fishers and their communities, and other people working in rural areas.
‘In drafting the UN Declaration, negotiators should draw upon these guidelines and other international instruments to define the right of peasants and other people working in rural areas to land and natural resources’ stresses Bessa.
The right to land and other natural resources should be defined as the right to physical and economic access to land and natural resources, which are sufficient in quantity and adequate, so that peasants and other people working in rural areas can enjoy an adequate standard of living, have a place to live in security, peace and dignity, and develop their customs, traditions and cultural identities. This right may be exercised alone, in association with others, or as a community.
‘Negotiators should also define states’ obligations in relation to the right to land and other natural resources, including the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right’ recalls Golay. ‘States must also ensure that the right to land and natural resources is enjoyed without any discrimination, and on the basis of equality between women and men, and that it is implemented in a sustainable way for both present and future generations’ he concludes.
12 May 2017
Zambia’s peasants at risk of becoming squatters on their own land – UN expert warns
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, today cautioned that many Zambian peasants are at risk of becoming squatters on their own land as Zambia is turned into Southern Africa’s food basket.
“The push to turn commercial large-scale agricultural into a driving engine of the Zambian economy, in a situation where the protection of access to land is weak, can risk pushing small-holder farmers and peasants off their land and out of production with severe impacts on the people’s right to food,” Ms. Elver said at the end of her first official visit to the country.
The expert drew special attention to the fact that in the Zambian dual-model of land tenure tenants on state land enjoy the full protection of their property rights. “However,” she noted, “landholders under customary tenure, affecting around 85% of the land, mostly in hands of peasants, are essentially occupants or users of land and their property and land rights remain unprotected.”
“This situation is particularly alarming since small scale farmers represent 60% of Zambians and at the same time produce 85% of the food for the population,” Ms. Elver pointed out. “These people are generally amongst the poorest of the population, 40% of them live in rural areas and suffer from extreme poverty.”
“Many peasants are forced to work as contract farmers for the larger commercial industrial farms in adverse conditions, or are obliged to sell their products at undervalued prices to monopoly type multinationals who buy farmers’ product for export,” the expert explained.
The Special Rapporteur heard testimonies of comparatively successful small-scale farmers who were still forced to sell their animals in order to pay for their children to go to school. Many small-scale farmers have their children working from as early as the age of six to secure their families’ livelihood.
Ms. Elver noted that the growth in the agriculture sector in Zambia in the last decade has not been inclusive but limited to large scale farmers, leaving the small scale farmers behind. “The agricultural sector has failed to make a dent on poverty levels in the rural areas and as such the model for the strengthening of the agricultural sectors need to be altered,” she said.
“It is imperative that national strategies incorporate human rights principles that include the protection of their access to land and other productive resources in order to protect the county’s traditional food system, small holder farmers and their livelihoods,” the Special Rapporteur urged.
Access to adequate and nutritious food continues to be a challenge across most of the country, with women and children in the rural area faring worst. Many children and their families only eat only one meal of not necessarily nutritious food per day.
A recent study has found that severe acute malnutrition in Zambia comes with a 40% mortality rate, five times the global average due to lack in access to adequate health services as well as to therapeutic foods.
The expert was alarmed to find out that around 40% of children under five are stunted with this figure reaching above 50% in some of the rural provinces, and even higher in refugee camps and the most marginalized rural areas, while the country was enjoying impressive economic growth rates of over 6 per cent per year.
“This is not tolerable since the effects of under-nutrition are irreversible, and lack of access to adequate and nutritious food is having a detrimental effect on future generations and must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” she stressed.
The country’s agricultural development model based on intensive commercial farming has increased rates of deforestation and to bio-diversity loss. It has also increased the use of agro chemicals, including glyphosate, which have a scientifically proven adverse impact on human health, in particular on children.
“It is vital that development plans and policies take into account the true cost of industrial farming methods primarily for its people, but also on soil and water resources, as well as the social and economic impact on people rather than focusing only on short term profitability and economic growth,” Ms. Elver said.

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Killed for their bones - On the trail of the trade in human body parts
by Azad Essa, Sorin Furcoi, Suzgo Chitete
Al Jazeera Media Network
In Malawi, people with albinism are being killed and their bodies harvested; children and adults hacked to death with machetes and kitchen knives. More than 115 people have been attacked in the past two years, at least 20, fatally. Those who have survived have been left with deep physical and psychological scars, and remain fearful that those who hunt them will return.
But why is this happening? Ask and most people will talk about an elusive market for these body parts, people who are prepared to pay large sums of money for them and witch doctors who use them in potions to cure everything from disease to bad luck. But few seem to know where this trade actually takes place or to be able to point to an instance of money changing hands.
So, does this market of human body parts really exist, or is it a myth that is driving murder? We went in search of the market and found a toxic mix of witchcraft, poverty and desperation.
Here are the stories of the victims, the survivors and the perpetrators.
The condition that makes me black without black, white but not white. That is how it was, and I will tell you all about it. - Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory
David’s story: Village of Nambilikira, Dedza district, eastern Malawi
It was a Sunday in April 2016. A warm, dry day. Seventeen-year-old David Fletcher was being moody and withdrawn. He wanted to watch a football match at the local school instead of helping his family gather maize in the fields. His parents eventually relented and let him go.
When he didn’t return later that day, they searched the village, but couldn’t find David.
The next day, they walked to the nearest police station to report him missing. Then they waited.
A week later, the local police chief came to their home to deliver the news: David’s dismembered body had been found, 80km away, in neighbouring Mozambique. It was badly decomposed, he told them. It couldn’t be brought to the village for burial, but he could bring the arms and legs, if they wished. And if the family could afford the journey, they could visit it where it was found.
“He was dead. What benefit was there to see his dead body?” Fletcher Machinjiri, David’s 65-year-old father, asks, dismissively. “It was too expensive for us.”
Fletcher is sitting outside his house. His 53-year-old wife, Namvaleni Lokechi, sits beside him. Her face is expressionless. Their 32-year-old daughter Mudelanji and 21-year-old son Manchinjiri sit on the hard earth a few metres away. They listen as though it is the first time they have heard the story.
“He was killed like a goat at a market,” Lokechi says, staring into the distance. “His arms and legs had been chopped off. They broke off some of his bones. His skin was hanging. And they buried him in a shallow grave.”
She makes chopping motions with her hands as she speaks.
“We cry every day,” Fletcher says. “To us, he was a ray of hope. We believed in his future. We thought he would lift our hand because he was good at school.”
“We still battle to eat without him.”
‘A war against people with albinism’
Born in 1999, David was the fourth of five siblings - and the only one to have been born with albinism.
“I wasn’t surprised when he was born,” David''s mother says softly. “I was more than happy with his complexion.”
Her tiny frame stiffens when she talks about her son.
She had an aunt in Blantyre with the same congenital disorder that results in a partial absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, she explains.
“I’ve always felt that this group of people were lucky in life,” she says slowly.
David was a star pupil at the local school in the neighbouring village of Kachule.
His teacher, Clement Gweza, recalls feeling mildly concerned when he didn’t turn up for school that Monday.
“I thought maybe there were no groceries at home, or maybe he was unwell,” Clement says, sitting inside his empty classroom. “But the second day [he didn’t turn up] … then I got worried.”
When he learned what had happened to David, he says, he was shocked. “It meant I was next,” he says, placing his hands on his chest.
For Clement also has albinism.
So, too, does 14-year-old Latida Macho, another pupil at the school. She is one of five siblings with the condition. After David’s murder, her family refused to send her to school for three weeks.
“If this is war against people with albinism, then it means I’m second in line,” Clement reflects.
He says he knew that people with albinism were being murdered, but “for it to happen in the district, but also in my class, it was unreal”.
Within days, two men were arrested for the murder. Both Malawians, they were tried in a district court in May 2016 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit a crime and abduction.
* Access the complete multimedia feature story via the link below.

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