Over 15 years’ struggle for the recognition of peasants in the international human rights system

Over 15 years’ struggle for the recognition of peasants in the international human rights system

The process towards a Declaration on the Rights of Peasant Men and Women and Other People Living in Rural Areas aims to create an international human rights instrument, to improve the promotion and protection of their rights and draw attention to the threats and discrimination suffered by peasants and people involved in small-scale food production across the world.

This article originally appeared on the website of our Hands on the Land Partner ECVC.

The current draft declaration is under negotiation with the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIWG) on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. This Working Group is part of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and was created in September 2012 by Resolution 21/19.

The third session of the Working Group took place from the 17th to the 20th May 2016 in Geneva, with the Bolivian Ambassador as the Chairperson-Rapporteur, having been so since the first session. Dozens of representatives, men and women, peasants, fishing communities, indigenous peoples, herders and rural workers from regions all across the world came together to defend the draft Declaration, together with numerous NGOs and experts.

How did we reach this stage?
The current draft Declaration is the result of the work undertaken by La Via Campesina (LVC) over more than 15 years, supported by FIAN International and CETIM (Europe Third World Centre), with the support of other social movements. This process has a unique strategy: have the Declaration recognised by the UN, the international human rights governance system, based on issues coming from grassroots peasant movements.

2000-2004: The SPI (Serikati Petani Indonesia), an Indonesian trade union and member of LVC set up the first meetings in Geneva with the aim of seeking the recognition and institutionalisation of peasant rights.

2004-2008: Three reports concerning peasant rights violations were written by LVC and FIAN and submitted to the Human Rights Council in 2004, 2005 and 2006. LVC then began the draft Declaration with its human rights working group. In June 2008, the Jakarta Conference on Peasant Rights took place with the participation of some one hundred peasant men and women delegates from La Via Campesina and about 1000 members of SPI – La Via Campesina’s Declaration on the Rights of Peasants Men and Women came into being. The 5th International Conference in Maputo approved the Declaration and the LVC’s International Coordinating Committee passed it in March 2009.

2008-2012: Work in the UN. During the world food crisis, the UN General Assembly in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva approached LVC regarding measures to take to combat the crisis. LVC responded with its Declaration as an indispensable tool to combat hunger and discrimination against peasants around the world. In 2009, the Human Rights Council gave the Advisory Committee the mandate to undertake a study about discrimination within the context of the right to food. In March 2012, the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee presented its Final Study on the advancement of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

The Committee recommended the Human Rights Council give a new mandate with special procedures to strengthen the promotion and protection of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, as well as create a special instrument to that effect. The Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, adopted by the Advisory Committee, was largely inspired by LVC’s Declaration, which served as a model. In September 2012, the 47 Member States on the Council adopted the historic Resolution 19/21, establishing the first OEIWG with a mandate to negotiate, finalise and submit a draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, with 23 States in favour, 9 against and 15 abstentions.

2013 -2017: The First Session of the OEIWG was in July 2013. A first reading of the Declaration was done, opening the debate to numerous countries and under strong pressure from North countries, which disputed the mandate to draft such a Declaration. This First Session ended with the recommendation to draft a new text for the Second Session.

In June 2014, Resolution 26/26 was adopted with 29 votes in favour, 5 against and 13 abstentions, and the Working Group’s second mandate was passed. There was thus a Second Session in February 2015. The third Resolution 30/13 was adopted with 31 votes in favour, 1 against and 15 abstentions, thus advocating a continuation of negotiations in 2016 and 2017.

The Third Session of the Working Group was in May 2016, with a reading of the new draft Declaration. North countries still refuse to adopt this instrument but the path to dialogue has been opened. The EU’s stance is slowly changing and for the first time in the report’s conclusions, it has accepted that it is concerned for those who are living in vulnerable situations.

The last Working Group was marked by the strong presence of organisations offering their support, notably the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP), the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organisations of West Africa (ROPPA), The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Union (IUF),) and the International Federation of Rural Adult Catholic Movements (FIMARC), among others. La Via Campesina and other organisations made a total of 64 statements opposed to five during the First Session in 2013. It was decided that a review of the text would take place before the next Session in May 2017.

What is our stance?
80% of the world’s population suffering from hunger live in rural areas. Currently 50% of these people are devoted to peasant agriculture and 20% are landless families who make a living as tenants or underpaid agricultural workers. No less than 70% of these people are women who work mainly in agriculture. 1The main causes of this discrimination and vulnerability have a direct link with the fundamental and historical struggle of La Via Campesina. That is why we defend the following rights:

Right to land and other natural resources, including the right to use non-productive land, recognising the social function of land, regulating non-state actors and States’ extraterritorial obligations, ‘territory’, agrarian reform, limiting or prohibiting big business and excessive concentration of land ownership, States’ obligation to give priority to peasants’ access to public land, the creation of inalienable public agricultural heritage, ending discrimination in terms of access to land, and the creation of peasant areas/territories.

Right to decent income and means of subsistence, including the right to a decent standard of living. States’ obligations: regulating markets, prohibiting dumping and monopolies, guaranteeing fair and profitable prices for agricultural production, protecting access to markets, direct sale, traditional means of production, exchange and processing of peasant produce, differentiated and adapted rules; buying and selling of peasant produce at fair prices, right to set prices and choose markets; States’ obligations for agricultural production to guarantee job stability and decent income.

Right to seeds and biodiversity, including the right of peasants to use, grow, reuse, store, develop, exchange, transport, give and sell their seeds; reject patents on their seeds and biodiversity; States’ obligation to promote and support peasant seed banks and their conservation in situ, prohibit GMOs and limit the use of industrial seeds, respect extraterritorial obligations with specific reference to the regulation of non-state actors like transnational companies; these provisions should also be applied to animal breeding.

Right to food sovereignty, including the right to a development model in which peasants can choose their own means of production, distribution and consumption, in such a way that it values and improves the social and working conditions within agricultural and food systems. In this development model, peasant men and women have the right to manage common goods and participate in public policy in order to better regulate agricultural and food systems.

Right to access to justice and ending the repression and criminalisation of peasant organisations and trade unions.

Definition of peasantry and other people working in rural areas, including the reference to ‘peasant agriculture;’ the special relationship peasants have with land and territory, not only in economic terms, but also culturally and socially; peasantry as a basis of family agriculture.

Rights of rural women including a substantial focus on gender; States’ obligations to take measures to prohibit de jure and de facto discrimination towards rural women; guaranteeing access to land, seeds, water and all natural resources, as well as access to credit, participation in and setting of rural policy and policies to help rural sectors, in order to avoid the feminisation of insecurity and rural poverty.

What is the stance of EU countries?
At the outset of the process, the European Union acted a block, refusing to enter into discussion or negotiations about such an instrument, alongside the United States and other industrialised countries. Contrary to statements made by States at regional level in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, parts of the EU are still not in favour of this Declaration, as they believe that new international regulation is unnecessary and thus deny the recognition of the peasantry as political subjects or rights holders. By using this argument, the EU gives no value to the intrinsic historical relationship between those men and women who produce food for their own subsistence and that of their community, and the management, conservation and preservation of nature and biodiversity. These are inseparable notions in the peasant model, but are separate where the logic of exploitation, commodification and privatisation of natural resources is applied, without taking into account the spiral of violence which results from this. Neither does the EU recognise the systematic vulnerability of peasant men and women in an economic system based on free trade and competition.

The EU’s stance however, has changed, from the complete rejection of the draft by all EU countries during voting on the First Resolution in 2012, to generalised abstention in 2015, as a result of the efforts by our organisations. Certain States’ willingness to commit more has not been effective, which is unfortunate as, three years into the debate, no EU country has incorporated this issue into their international agenda. Some countries, like Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Ireland have listened to our requests and have shared our concerns by stating, on many occasions, that they accept the Declaration. Others, like Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands still express their reservations but have shown a desire to move discussion forward. The United Kingdom remains the country which most attacks the Declaration. Our European governments have yet to understand that in Europe we also have people who are devoted to the conservation of traditional seeds, local markets, traditional ways of processing food, management of forests, water, sustainable fishing, transhumance, and livestock rearing, with the aim of managing territories in a sustainable way. Their rights are not respected.

The issue at stake is the conservation of our rural peoples, ancestral knowledge, agroecological practices, and a decent standard of peasant life. This model is under attack by the dominant logic of the market, repression and social criminalisation, the dismantling of public agricultural regulations, land grabbing and generalised violence against nature and women. Despite the reservations of Western countries, the work of the third Working Group in Geneva concluded with overall support given to the process by those States present. The next stage will be the fourth Working Group in spring 2017.

We are now organising several dates to mobilise States, but also intergovernmental bodies, as well as activities programmed with our organisations and allies. Until then, it is extremely important to continue our lobbying and mobilisation work with our national governments, as well as in Brussels and Geneva.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of websites and partners that you can consult for more information about issues in the Declaration:

The official website of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the Working Groups of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. You will find official documents from the three Sessions of the Working Group: interventions, conclusions, statements. EN, FR, ES, AR, CH, RU

www.viacampesina.org – Read the latest press releases and other articles relating to peasant rights in all regions. You will find La Via Campesina statements dating from 2009. ES, FR, EN

Defendingpeasantrights.org – This blog gives more visibility to the increasing body of knowledge which defends the rights of peasant men and women all over the world. It is a space to bring together different types of material and resources such as: statements, documents and studies defending peasant rights; constitutional rights, current national laws and policies; court rulings protecting peasant rights; opinions of legal experts and academic works; UN treaties and declarations, principles and directives recognising peasant rights. EN

FIAN has supported the work done by La Via Campesina for the Declaration. There is also a series of analytical notes on peasant men and women’s rights and videos explaining the process of the Declaration. ES, EN, FR

Cetim has been committed for many years to better protection and promotion of peasant rights, alongside La Via Campesina and FIAN. They have published a series of documents on the right to land, economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights. ES, FR, EN

The Geneva Academy organises annual trainings and a seminar about the key issues in the Declaration. They have done an In-brief document on the process of the Declaration and have just published a document on the issue of seeds.

Sandra Moreno Cadena – member of SOC-SAT, Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores /European Coordination Vía Campesina, participant in the process of the Declaration for LVC since 2013.