Rights violation documentation important evidence for our struggle

(Cape Town, April 27) La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa (LVC SEAf) members and allies from African, Asian and European countries met in South Africa (April 18-21) to discuss the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of the Peasants and other people working in the rural areas and make recommendations.

The member organisations gave their input to the articulation of peasants’ and rural peoples’ rights, with a particular look at land, seeds, agricultural practice, gender, biological diversity, agricultural workers and migrants.  

The second day of the 3-day long consultation, focused on the importance of documenting peasant right violations with emphasis on why and how to do so effectively. Documentation is instrumental in pushing the adoption of the declaration. Creative ways of documentation are needed as it is becoming increasingly difficult and even dangerous in some parts of the world to do so.

According to Ana Maria Suarez Franco (FIAN) this makes fact checking and credible sources essential. However, you need to consider protecting your sources where necessary. Not only do cases often become dangerous to document, but stories often go untold and isolated because of the lack of coverage.

“Most violations of our rights come from corporations in power,” says Sandra Moreno of European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) who led the discussion on case documentation. During discussion, groups highlighted influences of corporations and the private sector. A case presented from Burkina Faso on GMO cotton highlighted the imposition of fertilisers and other chemicals for GMO cotton and its effects on other food crops such as maize. The fertilisers and chemical impacted the health of those who came into contact with it and also negatively affected crop yields. There was little media coverage on these issues.

Regional blocs and their governments sometimes make policies that affect the lives of rural populations whose voices are not part of governments’ decision making process. For instance, African seed systems are increasingly the target of transnational companies. Most small scale farmer-saved seeds are often replaced by commercial and GMO seeds. These are often not adapted to local climates and are failing under unfavourable climate changes. Sandra Morena suggests there is need toknow whether there has been any organisational outreach or media coverage of the case and if those who are affected have and are able to voice their struggles.

In agrarian struggles, access to land, water and other natural resources are common struggles. And those who defend such struggles are often victimised and criminalised.

Mining companies want to exploit land that peasants are producing on. This often means the relocation and resettlement of peasants. States have obligations including those to protect the peasants and their communities against abuses of private actors. However, this has not always been the case.

“What happens to minorities like migrants, rural workers people, pastoralists and other cultural minorities when there are exploitations?” asks Sandra, adding that we should link struggles to women and youth as they are twice affected.

Rights of peasant women and other women working in rural areas need to be improved. The same applies to the youth who face various  challenges in the countryside causing economic displacements.

The more cases documented on ground level, the more concrete evidence there is when presenting cases to governments and demanding changes in policy and implementation of rights, such as those in the declaration.

LVC SEAf member organisations and allies each agreed to write and send letters to ask five selected governments of their choice to support the adoption of the declaration. Organisations will also lobby locally.