Thursday, April 19, 2018

From Dream to Reality: UN Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas

By Afsar Jafri, Focus on The Global South

The initiative of La Via Campesina, largest peasant movement on earth comprising more than 182 organizations from 81 countries, for a United Nation Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural areas will soon be a reality. At the conclusion of 5th Session of the United Nations Open-Ended International Working Group (OEIWG) on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, held in Geneva, April 9-13, the process for finalizing the declaration this year was further revitalized. The Declaration will create an international human rights instrument, within the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), for the promotion and protection of peasant rights. It will also draw attention to the threats and discrimination peasants and people involved in small-scale food production across the world suffer from. Through this Declaration, millions of peasants around the world will also be able to reclaim their rights to feed their families and communities, as it recognizes the fundamental role of small-scale food producers while also offering them tangible prospects for decent working and living conditions, consequently making this world a safer place for peasants.

The motive for evolving the UN Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas has been exquisitely illustrated in the Preamble of its last revised draft. (A/HRC/WG.15/5/2 of 12th February 2018). It says:

  • Recognizing the special relationship and interaction between peasants and other people working in rural areas, and the land, water and nature to which they are attached and on which they depend for their livelihood;
  • Recognizing also the past, present and future contributions of peasants and other people working in rural areas in all regions of the world to development and to conserving and improving biodiversity, which constitute the basis of food and agricultural production throughout the world, and their contribution in ensuring the right to adequate food and food security which are fundamental to attaining the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;
  • Concerned that peasants and other people working in rural areas suffer disproportionately from poverty, hunger and malnutrition;
  • Concerned also that peasants and other people working in rural areas suffer from the burdens caused by environmental degradation and climate change;
  • Concerned further about peasants ageing around the world and youth increasingly turning their backs on agriculture owing to the lack of incentives and drudgery of rural life, and recognizing the need to improve the economic diversification of rural areas and the creation of non-farm opportunities, especially for rural youth;
  • Alarmed by the increasing number of peasants and other people working in rural areas forcibly evicted or displaced every year;
  • Alarmed also by the high incidence of suicide of peasants in several countries;
  • Stressing that peasant women and other rural women play a significant role in the economic survival of their families and in contributing to the rural and national economy, including through their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, but are often denied tenure and ownership of land, equal access to land, productive resources, financial services, information, employment or social protection, and are often victims of violence and discrimination in a variety of forms and manifestations;
  • Stressing also that several factors make it difficult for peasants and other people working in rural areas, including small-scale fishers and fish workers pastoralists, foresters and other local communities to make their voices heard, to defend their human rights and tenure rights, and to secure the sustainable use of the natural resources on which they depend;
  • Recognizing that access to land, water, seeds and other natural resources is an increasing challenge for rural people, and stressing the importance of improving access to productive resources and investment in appropriate rural development;
  • Convinced that peasants and other people working in rural areas should be supported in their efforts to promote and undertake sustainable practices of agricultural production that support and are in harmony with nature, also referred to as Mother Earth in a number of countries and regions, including by respecting the biological and natural ability of ecosystems to adapt and regenerate through natural processes and cycles;
  • Considering the hazardous and exploitative conditions that exist in many parts of the world under which many peasants and other people working in rural areas have to work, often denied the opportunity to exercise their fundamental rights at work, and lacking living wages and social protection;
  • Concerned that individuals, groups and institutions that promote and protect the human rights of those working on land and natural resources issues face a high risk of being subject to different forms of intimidation and of violations of their physical integrity;
  • Noting that peasants and other people working in rural areas often face difficulties in gaining access to courts, police officers, prosecutors and lawyers to the extent that they are unable to seek immediate redress or protection from violence, abuse and exploitation;
  • Concerned about speculation on food products, and the increasing concentration and unbalanced distribution of food systems, which impairs the enjoyment of human rights;
  • Recognizing that, in order to guarantee food security, it is essential to respect, protect and promote the rights recognized in the present declaration.

On April 16th, the LVC and other social movements issued a Joint Statement from Geneva on the outcome of the 5th Session of the OEIWG, which says that “it appears clear that, aside little exceptions that we all know, nobody denies the need for adopting such Declaration. This process is a demonstration of the effort to continue advancing the pluriculturality of the human rights system.” It further says, “after seventeen years of work, effort, and dedication, throughout the world, this process has made our movement and struggle stronger than ever. We are always ready to take our roles in terms of fighting for our human rights. The legal gaps with regard to the protection of peasants’ rights and of other people working in rural areas at the international human rights level, need to be filled without further delay. This is our Declaration…all peasants and other people working in rural areas around the world strongly identify themselves with the content of this Declaration, which will be an instrument to restore and dignify our status in society, to recognize and protect our rights, and to guarantee conflict resolution with dialogue and in peaceful manner”.

In the opening of the 5th Session, April 9th, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said in her opening remarks that “over five years of diligent effort, the drafting had been built on existing international standards relevant to the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, as well as FAO Principles and several Voluntary Guidelines.” These remarks from the Deputy High Commissioner transmitted a sense of urgency to the Working Group to finalize its work on the draft declaration to address the gap in protection for more than a billion people, who face discrimination and other challenges. She also said that “the situation is aggravated by globalization, free trade agreements, and patents over seeds which erode the ability of small farmers, as well as climate change which affects particularly those who depend on the land.”

As told by the LVC representative at the 5th Session to Focus, the negotiation went on quite smoothly on some of the articles that gained broad agreements, including in languages but that some of the articles witnessed intense debates, among these Article 5 (Right to natural resources), Article 11 (Right to information with regard to production, marketing, and distribution), Article 12 (Access to justice), Article 15 (Right to adequate food), Article 16 (Right to a decent income and livelihood and the means of production), Article 17 (Right to land and other natural resources), Article 19 (Right to seeds), Article 20 (Right to biological diversity), Article 26 (Cultural rights and traditional knowledge), Article 18 (Right to a safe, clean and healthy environment), Article 21 (Right to water and to sanitation), Article 28 (General), Article 2 (General obligations of States), Article 1 (Definition of peasants and other people working in rural areas), and in the preamble and negotiations on the matter of collective rights. However, La Via Campesina delegates, its allies, and experts emphatically defended these articles through inputs and testimonies favoring their retention.

Other civil society groups that were represented in the 5th session were the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF), World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), Federation of Rural Adult Catholic Movement (FIMARC), International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), Association Centre Europe-Tiers Monde (CETIM), FIAN International, International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), Bread for All, among others. The experts who were assigned certain articles or groups of articles played a key role in explaining the importance of various articles and why these articles must be retained in the current draft, stressing that any dilution or deletion of text of these articles would compromise the spirit of those articles and would go against the current human rights obligations and ultimately affect the protection of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

At the end of the final meeting of the of the five-day session on April 13th, the Chair-Rapporteur concluded that a revised draft will be prepared by the Chair-Rapporteur on the basis of the different proposals and views expressed during the fifth session of the working group, and encouraged States, civil society organizations, and relevant stakeholders to send their written textual proposals and contributions to the draft declaration, as presented during the fifth session, before 20 April. During the negotiations, the Plurinational State of Bolivia and especially Chair-Rapporteur played a constructive role with the sole intention making the Declarations a reality as soon as possible.

The Chair-Rapporteur will also prepare a final draft to be submitted to the Human Rights Council for its adoption, in fulfillment of the mandate of the working group as stated in paragraph one of Resolution 19/21 and subsequent resolutions. The draft Declaration will come up for vote at the Human Rights Council in June 2018 and it is hope that the whole process will finally be concluded with a vote on the draft Declaration at the UN General Assembly in September this year. The period from now till June has been deemed crucial for mobilizing the member states of UNHCR towards voting for this historic declaration.

If this Declaration gets adopted by end of this year, according to La Via Campesina this will be a wonderful gift from the World Community of United Nations in its 25th year (LVC was formally established in 1993) of its long struggle for the protection of peasants’ rights and millions of peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fisher folk and rural workers, and rural women.

Afsar Jafri can be contacted at:
This post was originally posted on Focus On the Global South page.

Peasant movements across the world mobilized on International Day of Peasant Struggle

This report originally appeared in Newsclick

Every year on April 17, the organizations that are part of the international platform of peasant movements La Vía Campesina commemorate the International Day of Peasant Struggle. The date April 17 commemorates the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre which happened 22 years ago in the northern state of Brazil, Pará. The massacre was orchestrated by State repressive forces, large landowners and agribusiness and resulted in the death of 19 rural workers and hundreds injured.
In honor of these workers who died while resisting repression and agribusiness, La Vía Campesina declared April 17 as the International Day of Peasant Struggle. This year in particular the mobilizations were focused around resistance to free trade agreements and against the criminalization of the social movements. They stated:
We live faced with the massive violation of human rights, where crimes past and present go unpunished, popular movements are criminalised, and where social leaders disappear or are murdered. The impunity of the state terrorism of the past has become the basis of impunity for big businesses today.
In this context, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) serve as instruments propelled by corporations and States to establish the rules by which our natural resources are sold; they commercialise humanity’s shared resources, such as land and water, and use them to generate profit.
Today, FTAs represent the expression of an anti-democratic wave on a global level, which attempts to impose the economic interests of the few over the well-being and quality of life of the many.
Faced with international capital and Free Trade Agreements, at La Via Campesina, we unite to defend and achieve agrarian reform in the sense of the people’s right to land, territory, water and indigenous seeds: the fundamental basis of Food Sovereignty.
Multinational corporations and antidemocratic states promote unfair practices to boost extractivism, the looting of the land, large-scale monocultures for exportation, and the use of lands primarily for large-scale monocultures for agribusiness. Land and water are becoming increasingly important, and are the focus of strong economic interest, as much for national elites as for foreign ones. For this reason, there exist today alarming persecutions, criminalisation, evictions and deaths amongst peasants as well as indigenous and coloured peoples in the defence of their lands and against the exploitation of common resources.
There were mobilizations and diverse events held across the world to honor the landless workers killed on April 17 22 years ago and to denounce the pervasive issues that peasants and rural workers continue to face today. Below are photos from some of the actions:
Members of La Vía Campesina participating in the Korean ritual called “Gosa (고사)” on #April17, praying to the spirits of Earth, Sky, and Universe for the wellness of all participants before starting a very important event. Photo Credit: La Vía Campesina
Confeunass of Ecuador mobilized on #April17 to defend the rights of the peasant population. Photo Credit: Confeunass
The women of ANAMURI of Paraguay held an event on #April17 to denounce the capitalist and patriarcal system that oppresses peasant women. Photo Credit: ANAMURI
Members of La Vía Campesina in Honduras held a forum on the agrarian conflict in Tegucigalpa on #April17. Photo Credit: La Vía Campesina
Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation marched in honor of #April17. Photo Credit: La Vía Campesina
Over 1,000 marched in Mendoza, Argentina for #April17. Photo Credit: Movimiento Nacional Campesino e Indígena
#April17 Action in Brussels against Free Trade Agreements in front of the European Commission building. Photo Credit: European Coordination Vía Campesina

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Infographic: The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas

“International human rights law lays down obligations which States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.” Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights

States are duty-bound to respect, protect, and fulfil Peasants’ Rights!

This post was originally and first published by Focus on the Global South here

Monday, April 2, 2018

South Asia region of La Via Campesina successfully concludes regional meeting

Farmers’ organisations in South Asia, who are also members of La Via Campesina, held a regional meeting in New Delhi from the 30 March – 01 April, making a collective commitment to unify the struggles in the regions and to also strengthen the international solidarity across continents.
Members from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and India took part in the 3-day long meeting. Representatives from Pakistan could not attend the three day meeting due to an inhuman visa regime that India and Pakistan have built against the citizens of the both countries. A message from the comrades in Pakistan were read out during the meeting, where all members joined in condemning these bureaucratic processes that stand in the way of people’s exchanges and denying free movement.
On the opening day, all the attending members held a minute of silence in the memory of K S Puttannaiah, the iconic peasant leader of KRRS and Asma Jehangir, a close ally of the peasant movements in South Asia and a leading human rights lawyer and activist of Pakistan – both of whom passed on in February this year. Several members fondly remembered the long and ardent struggle that both the tall leaders led and promised to take forward their fights for social justice in the region.
The first day was spent reflecting on the national and regional context that has precipitated the agrarian crisis affecting millions of peasant households. During the presentations, it was evident that the small farmers and peasants, in all the countries, were facing an oppressive state, which is in cohorts with the global neo-liberal regime that is more interested in fancy optics and empty promises, rather than addressing the real concerns of people and rural communities.
Allies of La Via Campesina South Asia were also present on the first day, when participants spent a considerable time looking at specific issues, such as the impact of the policies of WTO, the dangers of Bilateral and Regional Free Trade Agreements that are massively tilted against the interests of peasant communities and posing grave threat to the peasant way of life.
Members of the BDS movement in Palestine also joined the participants briefly, to present the ongoing struggle of Palestinian people to reclaim their land and resist the occupation of the Israeli forces. They spoke about the daily struggle of Palestinian farmers to cultivate in their own land, often destroyed and devastated by the occupying forces. La Via Campesina South Asia offered solidarity to the Palestinian struggle and encouraged more such exchanges between peasant communities to unify and strengthen the movement for justice.
In a tragic turn of events, though the participants in Delhi were unaware at the time, while the presentation was underway – back in Palestine 17 people lost their lives to firing by Israeli forces – in a grim reminder of the despicable situation that is prevailing in the region. Soon as they learned about the incident a day later, the South Asia members strongly condemned this act of murder and violence by the Israeli forces, latest in a series of such violations.
On the first day, friends of La Via Campesina also spoke about the repeated attempt by multilateral corporations and friendly governments to capture the peasant seeds system through the creation of seed laws and through attempts to harmonise these laws across the South Asia region. Such efforts of harmonisation would allow big multinationals to enter the market. So far the peasant movements in the regions have been resisting these attempts but the global forces of capital are making big strides in the region. The big mergers in Agribusiness, that threatens to monopolise the formal seed system was also noted with much concern.
There were also presentations made on the ongoing human rights violations by Transnational Corporations world wide, and the many resistances led by social movements. A brief overview of the ongoing negotiations for a legally binding treaty at the UN, that could hold these corporations accountable for their violations, was also given.
The second day was spent reviewing the agitations and campaigns carried out by each of the individual members to advance the struggles for justice. A considerable amount of time was also spent in reviewing the several international processes – such as the ongoing seed treaty negotiations, the discussions going at the Civil Society Mechanism within the FAO, the resistances against introducing climate smart agriculture and more. It was agreed that the regional members would make a concerted effort to translate these complex international negotiations down to the members of our peasant communities, in a systematic way.
On the third day, participating members also discussed ways to strengthen the ‘working collectives’ of La Via Campesina, which are internal mechanisms within the movement to follow and intervene in specific issues concerning the peasant community. It was noted that each member organisation will commit to dedicate atleast two people per issue and will take responsibility of disseminating the international process to the grassroots.
The youth and women members of the South Asia movements also held a brainstorm session on increasing the gender and generational parity within the leadership of the movement in the region. Decisions were taken to create equal representation at all levels of the movement and to ensure that younger people are trained politically to take forward the several inter-regional and inter-continental struggles forward, within and outside the movement.
Discussions were also held on developing a coherent communications strategy for the region and also in developing a collective system of communications with each member deputing a member to become the communications coordinator. Much emphasis was also laid on developing a network of volunteer interpreters and translators in the region, who could play a pivotal role in taking the messages of the global peasant movements to all the communities in the South Asian region.