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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


Presentation by Paul Nicholson
watch the video

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.

Read more: Via Campesina at the Human Rights Council

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.

Read more: European Coordination Via Campesina supports...

Call to action on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 Dec 2008

We, peasants of the world demand our own convention!
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 on the 10th of December 2008. As the declaration represents the worldwide expression of the rights which all human beings are inherently entitled to, it is important for the peasants to also commemorate this occasion.

Peassants represent almost half of the population on earth and we are the basis of the world's food system. We are working hard to fill people's plates every day—but we face the hard reality of the food, energy, climate and financial crises. Thoses crises also create massive and systematic violations of the rights of the peasants.

Read more: Call to action on the 60th anniversary of the...


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