Special Session on the Right to Food

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the present special session of the UN Human Rights Council convened at the request of the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to food. This first special session on a thematic issue will increase the recognition of the equal value and interdependence of economic, social and cultural rights and of civil and political rights.

Most importantly, we hope that this session will be central to bringing coordinated solutions to the unprecedented current food crisis in line with international human rights law, and in particular with the right to adequate food.

The number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition has continued to grow in the past decades in spite of the commitment of States at the UN Millennium Summit to cut by half the proportion of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 as a primary objective. The soaring food prices, largely due to the rise of global demand of agricultural products, the increase of oil prices, uncontrolled speculation over agricultural raw material, climate factors and the diversion of land for biofuels, have further aggravated the situation. FIDH is particularly worried about poor segments of the population living in net food importing countries which are directly and immediately affected by the rise of food prices. It is the poorest, the most vulnerable, those who spend most of their income for purchasing food that are the first victims of the crisis, and in particular small scale farmers, landless peasants and the urban poor. Food riots have broken up in several countries in Africa, in the Caribbean, but also in Asia. In many places, those who go hungry and already suffer from a wide range of human rights violations have been repressed.

This situation, exacerbated by soaring food prices, is the result of decades of misguided international policies. FIDH associates itself with the statement of several NGOs « the world does not need more of the same medicine ». Indeed, structural adjustment programs under the auspices of the IMF and the World Bank and trade liberalisation in agriculture have seriously restrained the ability of States to meet their domestic obligations related to the human right to food: tariffs on food imports have been cut, leaving local producers at the mercy of cheap products they cannot compete with on the local market, and government support to agriculture in developing countries has been dismantled, leaving small scale farmers without support, and leading to the decline of food production for the local market in many developing countries. The current Doha Round and other trade liberalisation processes will further harm the food security of many developing countries if no adequate safeguard mechanisms are established and if the need for a different set of rules for international trade in agriculture is not recognized.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires that States Parties « take steps individually, and through international cooperation » in order to achieve the realization of human rights. At the minimum, this means that States should refrain from adopting national and international policies and practices that undermine the right to adequate food in third countries. Further, non-state actors, in particular multinational corporations in the agro-business sector, should be recalled of their responsibility to respect human rights. Speculation on food prices should be strictly controlled by the relevant national and international financial institutions.

We hope that the current session will bring recognition that the right to food is an essential component to solve the current global food crisis. The Right to adequate food should be a guiding principle for States and the international community in developing long term strategies.

FIDH calls on the Member States of the Human Rights Council to:

Make sure all measures taken as a matter of urgency to assist the populations in need conform to the right to adequate food; in particular, food aid should be delivered in a way that does not negatively affect local food production;

Take all necessary measures to ensure the realization of the right to food, in particular through the adoption of national strategies and framework legislation on the right to food, and through international assistance and cooperation; in particular, industrialized countries should comply with their commitment to devote 0.7 % of their GDP to development assistance and cooperation, which will be required if agricultural production has to be promoted and supported in developing countries;
Make sure international policies, including trade liberalisation processes, do not harm but contribute to the realization of human rights and in particular of the right to adequate food; in particular, WTO trade rules in agriculture should allow for sufficient national policy flexibility for States to implement their right to food obligations; WTO rules and policies that would be found to have a negative impact on the right to food should be immediately revised;
Ensure that any coordinating mechanisms created to deal with the present food emergency situation have the active participation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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