Via Campesina statement at the UN General Assembly on The Global Food Crisis and the Right to Food

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Statement by Mr. Henry Saragih, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina

6 April 2009, New York

Mr. Secretary General of the United Nations,
Mr.President of the United Nations General Assembly,
Chair of the High-Level Task Force on Food Security,
Mr. Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome this Interactive Thematic Dialogue in our global effort in responding to the food crisis. Our dialogue in this chamber is of particular importance for those of us who believe that humankind has the courage and ability to make global governance work for all. Indeed, the food crisis gives us all an opportunity to do something without delay. The food crisis poses a massive threat to humankind. Everyday, significant parts of society around the world suffer directly or indirectly because of the food crisis. La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, has been working to address the situation globally, with our members in 70 countries—this figure includes over 200 million members worldwide. Given the nature of our movement, undoubtedly the situation of peasants was put high on our agenda.

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La Via Campesina's struggle for the rights of peasants


Almost half of the people in the world are peasants and small farmers and the food they produce is the backbone of people's life. Agriculture is not just an economic activity, but it also means life, culture and dignity for all of us.

Nonetheless, peasants all over the world have to struggle to defend their right to feed themselves and their communities. Every year, thousands of peasant leaders are being arrested in their effort to maintain land, water and natural resources—the effort to preserve life. Incidents of massacres, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, and political persecution and harassment are common.  

Poor rural families, represent 75 % of the people suffering from structural hunger. Illiteracy rates increase in rural areas, health care and public services are vanishing and poverty is raging. Women and children are the most affected and discrimination towards women has put double burden on their shoulders.

The violations of the rights of peasants have risen dramatically with the liberalisation of agriculture  that forced farmers to produce for export and to engage in industrial modes of production. International institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) compel peasants and small farmers to follow that path. Over the past decades, peasants have disappeared massively all over the world, and a handful of large transnational corporations (TNCs) have taken control over food production and trade (from seeds producers to supermarket chains). Governments and international institutions have developed policies to support agribusiness and to dismantle peasant's agriculture. Food has been left in the hands of speculators, leading to the current food crisis.

Towards a legal framework

There are already some mechanisms and laws intended to protect human rights, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). However, they have limitations especially to address the distinctive rights of peasants. Also, the Charter of the Peasant, produced by the UN in 1979, has not been able to protect the peasants from international liberalization policies. The other international conventions, which also deal with peasants' rights, have not been sufficient either. These conventions include: International Labour Organization Convention 169, Clause 8-J Convention on Biodiversity, Point 14.60 Agenda 21, and Cartagena Protocol.

This is why La Via Campesina has been campaigning since 2000 to create an instrument to respect, protect, fulfill, and uphold the rights of peasants within the United Nations — the International Convention on the Rights of Peasants. We also promote the development of legally binding mechanisms at local, provincial, national and regional levels to guarantee the protection of the rights of peasants. The long struggle for the adoption of the International Convention goes hand in hand with the struggle on the land, in our fields, in the reality of our daily life.

As a first step towards the adoption of a Convention on the Right of Peasants by the Human Right Council, we demand the adoption of a Declaration by the Advisory Committee of the HR Council by the end of this year. This initiative is also supported by Jean Ziegler, member of the Advisory Committee.  

As described by Via Campesina in its own Declaration on the rights of Peasants, the rights of peasants mainly consists of (1) right to life and to an adequate standard of living; (2) right to land and territory; (3) right to seeds and traditional agricultural knowledge and practice; (4) right to means of agricultural production; (5) right to information and agriculture technology; (6) freedom to determine price and market for agricultural production; (7) right to the protection of agriculture values; (8) right to biological diversity; (9) right to preserve the environment; (10) freedoms  of association, opinion and expression; and (11) right to have access to justice.

Via Campesina at the Human Rights Council

Presentations by Panellists in Discussion on Realization of the Right to Food

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Presentation by Paul Nicholson
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PAUL NICHOLSON, of La Via Campesina, said this was an important opportunity to place the realization of the right to food, to be a fisher, a farmer and a herder, in the context of human rights, and not just in the context of the global economic chain. The causes of the crisis showed that 70 per cent of hunger was rural, and was primarily due to the export and industrial modes of production, and the privatization of market control, which were instruments that multinational corporations controlled leaving prices in speculative hands, and resulting in a high price for the consumer. Ongoing destruction of local food production was a consequence of neo-liberal policies forced upon countries through the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in particular, policies that promoted the import of cheap food and the privatization of natural resources. Those policies were driven at the global level which had direct consequences at the local level. Transnational corporations took over the land and imposed industrial food and agro-fuel production, expelling peasants from their land, turning them into slum dwellers and exploiting workers on transnational plantations.

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European Coordination Via Campesina supports Çiftçi-Sen

and denounces the lack of union liberty in Turkey

On December 2nd, the Farmer Union Confederation Çiftçi-Sen, member of the European Coordination Via Campesina is facing a law suit where the legality of the Confederation is at stake.

The governorship of Ankara is demanding the closure of the Confederation on the basis that there are no domestic legal arrangements allowing for farmers to establish unions.

The Turkish Republic has failed to bring domestic law in concordance with the international agreements it has ratified, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Convention concerning freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise. However, international treaties prevail over domestic laws and therefore this law suit has no legal justification.

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