Background: La Via Campesina International Conference on Pesant Rights

Jakarta – June 19-25, 2008 – Right to Farm! Right to Feed! Right to Eat!

People living in rural areas still comprise almost half of the world’s population and constitute majorities in many nation-states. Most of the world’s poor are rural poor. Many of them are being increasingly and violently expelled from their lands and alienated from their sources of livelihood. Mega development projects such as large dams, infrastructure projects, extractive industry and tourism have forcibly displaced local populations, and destroyed their social fabric and the very resource bases on which their lives depend.
Peasant’s families, fisher and forest communities cannot earn an income which allows them to live in dignity. A mix of national policies and international framework conditions are responsible for being practically driven peasant and indigenous communities to extinction.  Noteworthy among these policies are the processes of de-regularization and privatization of land ownership which have led to a re-concentration of land ownership; the dismantling of rural public services and those that supported production and commercialization by small and medium producers; the fostering of highly capitalized and technophile agro-exportation; the push toward the liberalization of agricultural trade and toward policies of food security based on international commerce.

Moreover, the oppression of peasants and peasant’s rights activists is a daily experience. Many of them are arrested, terrorized, tortured and even killed. Thousands of peasant leaders are being processed by unfair justice because they were fighting for their rights.
For all these reasons, the struggle of rural poor citizens to defend their human rights deserves special attention.

The existing UN human rights instruments have not been completely able to prevent violations of peasants’ human rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights shows limitations in protecting peasants’ rights. Besides that, the Charter of Peasants issued by the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in 1979 was not able to protect peasants from international liberalisation policies. Other instruments like the ILO Convention N° 169, Clause 8-J of the Convention on Biodiversity and the Cartagena Protocol have been poorly implemented.

The historical limitation of human rights obligations exclusively to nation states does not reflect the real political situation today and needs to be rework urgently. From a human rights perspective, the international dimension has to be studied more thoroughly. Several actors have important co-responsibilities for the human rights violations suffered by small holder peasants. While the main responsibility for violations still rests on the nation state, it becomes important in times of globalisation and rapid market liberalisation to also address the human rights obligations states have regarding the extraterritorial impact of national policies. The EU agricultural policies have for instance a tremendous effect on the right to adequate food and the living conditions of small farmers in many countries of Africa and other continents. Moreover, the influence of intergovernmental organisations such as the WTO, IMF and the World Bank, but also of private actors such as transnational corporations, have become overwhelming – their human rights responsibilities need to be better addressed within the human rights system. These actors are often more powerful than weak governments, and they have an extreme influence over the choice of a governments’ policies.

Because of the limitations and shortcomings of the existing human rights instruments, it is urgently needed to create an international policy and instruments to protect, fulfil and uphold peasants’ rights.

 What has been done yet concerning peasants´ rights?
Since its foundation, LVC has been involved in several conferences and workshops on peasants´ rights. During the Regional Conference on Peasants´ Rights on April 2002, LVC formulated the Declaration of Peasant Rights through the process of serial activities, including the Workshop on Peasants´ Rights in Medan North Sumatra (2000), the Conference of Agrarian Reform in Jakarta (April 2001), Regional Conference on Peasants´ Rights in Jakarta (April 2002). During the IV Conference of LVC (June 2004, Brazil) the peasant rights were one of the most important issues discussed.

Since 2004 LVC also elaborates reports on the violation of peasant’s rights (Annual Report Peasant Rights violations) in order to shed more light on the everyday situation of peasant’s world wide. LVC has presented these reports to the former UN Human Rights Commission and now to the Human Rights Council. Moreover, fact-finding mission’s reports and urgent actions of the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform, a joint effort of LVC, FIAN International and the Land Action & Research Network, have been presented to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights to Food, Housing and Human Rights Defenders.

LVC with the support of FIAN International and CETIM has convened two meetings in 2004 and 2006 with experts to start discussing its initiative of a Peasants Rights Convention. As an outcome of these meetings, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food recorded in his annual report 2006 this initiative to improve the situation of small-scale and subsistence farmers, who are the main victims of hunger and malnutrition and of human rights violations, as very relevant.

International Conference on Peasants´ Rights
It is now important to make a next, qualitative step in terms of strategies and plan of action towards the realisation of peasant rights. The International Forum on Peasants Rights is expected to be an event that discusses the issues at stake more in depth, and at the same time an event for mobilising and increasing the level of commitment for a joint strategy and plan of action.

Pogramme Summary

20 June 2008
Women Assembly on Peasant Rights
(Wisma PKBI, Jl Hang Jebat III, F35, Kebayoran Baru, Jakarta)

21 June 2008 (YTKI Building until the closing day)
Opening Ceremony

Press conference  at 11:30 (see media advisory)

22 June 2008
Session 1: The current political and economic context and the struggle  for peasant rights.

Session 2: The struggle of different groups for the recognition of their Human Rights

Session 3: Strategies and options to increase the protection and recognition of Peasant Rights within the UN human rights system

23 June 2008,

Declaration on peasant rights and Action Plan

24 June 2008

Conclusions, Commitments and Closing