[Despite opposition from agribusiness, the UN Human Rights Council
Declaration adopted a declaration of peasant rights. This can provide
a legal basis for peasant organizations to challenge neo-liberal
austerity measures. ] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADOPTS LANDMARK DECLARATION OF PEASANTS’
RIGHTS  
[https://portside.org/2018-10-04/un-human-rights-council-adopts-landmark-declaration-peasants-rights]


 

 Pavan Kulkarni 
 October 2, 2018
Peoples Dispatch
[https://peoplesdispatch.org/2018/10/02/un-human-rights-council-adopts-landmark-declaration-of-peasants-rights/]


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 _ Despite opposition from agribusiness, the UN Human Rights Council
Declaration adopted a declaration of peasant rights. This can provide
a legal basis for peasant organizations to challenge neo-liberal
austerity measures. _ 

 , 

 

After almost two decades of ceaseless peasant struggles across the
world, coordinated by global movements such as the Via Campesina (the
peasant way), the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) finally
adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and
Other People Working in Rural Areas
[https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/WGPleasants/Session5/A-HRC-WG.15-5-3.pdf] on
September 28.

If adopted by a final vote by UN member states next month, this will
be an unprecedented recognition of peasant rights in international
law, using which organized farmers, agricultural laborers, cattle
rearers, and even hunter gatherers can legally challenge agricultural
policies, as well as the broader policy directions such as austerity
and ‘free-trade’.

For decades now, states across the world have been pursuing neoliberal
economic policies, as a result of which the peasantry has been
suffering a continuous squeeze on their real-incomes. They have been
dispossessed of their land and access to natural resources,
disenfranchised from the seed breeding and food production processes,
and targeted with violence when they resist in an organized manner.

“The violations of peasants’ rights are on the rise because of the
implementation of neoliberal policies promoted by the World Trade
Organisation, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), other institutions and
many governments in the North as well as in the South. The WTO and
FTAs force the opening of markets and prevent countries from
protecting and supporting their domestic agriculture. They push.. the
deregulation in the agriculture sector,” the Via Campesina stated in
its 2008 Declaration of Rights of Peasants – Women and Men
[https://viacampesina.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2011/03/Declaration-of-rights-of-peasants-2009.pdf],
which was placed before the Human Rights Council the same year.

Without naming policies or institutions, the UNHRC’s declaration
nevertheless acknowledges this attrition suffered by the class which
comprises almost half the world’s population, and concedes to them
all the rights demanded by the Via Campesina in its declaration.

Some of these include the right to organize and freedom from violent
suppression, the right to breed and exchange seeds, the right to
influence national policies that affect peasants, as well as the right
to choose what is to be grown and by what methods. The declaration,
once in force as a law, will strengthen the peasantry’s ability to
resist such policies by leveraging international law in appropriate
courts.

This declaration, after being placed before the 3rd Committee session
at the UN General Assembly this month, will be voted on in November.
“Once adopted, the UN Declaration will become a powerful tool for
peasants and other people working in rural areas to seek justice and
favourable national policies around food, agriculture, seeds and land
keeping in mind the interests of millions of rural food producers
comprising all genders and youth,” the Via Campesina said in
a statement
[http://www.cadtm.org/UN-Human-Rights-Council-passes-a-resolution-adopting-the-peasant-rights].

Incidentally, many developed countries, including Germany, Belgium,
Iceland, Japan, South Korea and Spain abstained from voting while the
UK, Hungary and Australia voted against adopting the declaration at
the UNHRC session. Brazil too abstained from voting.

However, the support of the developing countries helped carry the
motion with 33 votes in favor, 11 abstentions and 3 against.

The resistance to the adoption of this declaration by most developed
countries is understandable, as the rights stipulated in it will
directly affect the profits of transnational corporations, most of
which are based in these countries.

The declaration states peasants shall have the “Right to save, use,
exchange and sell their farm-saved seed or propagating material,”
adding, “States shall recognize the rights of peasants to rely
either on their own seeds or on other locally available seeds of their
choice, and to decide on the crops and species that they wish to
grow.”

Further, the declaration also makes it an obligation on the state to
actively “support peasant seed systems, and promote the use of
peasant seeds and agrobiodiversity”. This will directly affect the
profits of many giants like Germany-based Bayer, which has now
acquired Monsanto. The profit strategy of companies like these
includes lobbying states, especially in Africa and South Asia, to
confer intellectual property rights on its genetically-modified seeds
. This enables these corporates to criminalize breeding and exchange
of seeds by farmers, leaving them dependent on the firms for the most
basic necessity for farming.

A major source of accumulation of wealth for numerous large
manufacturing industries, predominantly based in developed countries,
has been the grabbing of land, water and other resources from the
peasants in developing countries, using state-sanction.

The declaration seeks to protect peasants from what academics call
accumulation by dispossession. It states, “Peasants and other people
working in rural areas have the right to be protected against
arbitrary and unlawful displacement from their land or place of
habitual residence, or from other natural resources used in their
activities and necessary for the enjoyment of adequate living
conditions.”

In order safeguard this right, “States shall incorporate protections
against displacement into domestic legislation…. States shall
prohibit arbitrary and unlawful forced eviction, the destruction of
agricultural areas and the confiscation or expropriation of land and
other natural resources.”

By asserting that “Peasants and other people working in rural areas
have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies,”
the declaration seeks to limit the influence that Western states,
armed with IMF and World Bank policies, have had in shaping the
national development policies.

By deeming “adequate standard of living”, basic income security,
access to health and to “means of production.. including production
tools, technical assistance, credit, insurance and other financial
services” as a “right” of the peasantry, the declaration obliges
states to undertake large-scale public expenditure, directly
contradicting the IMF’s neoliberal diktat of austerity.

The declaration mandates that, “before adopting and implementing
legislation and policies, international agreements and other
decision-making processes that may affect the rights of peasants and
other people working in rural areas, States shall consult and
cooperate in good faith with peasants.. through their own
representative institutions.. and [respond] to their contributions.”
This can prove key in the resistance to free trade agreements.

Further, by stipulating agrarian reforms to reduce land concentration,
the declaration has adopted a radical language, a victory for those
who have been campaigning for such a measure for years. “This has
been a long tough path but as peasants, as people who have seen the
worst of poverty and neglect, we are tough too and we never give
up”, Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina
said.

“Once the resolution is adopted at the UN General Assembly in New
York, we will take the message of the Declaration to our people back
home, and elaborate its significance and how it could strengthen our
struggles against privatization, criminalization and more. ..It will
enable us to demand better policies and laws that will take into
account the rural realities of the developing world” said Henry
Saragih, the chairperson of the Indonesian Peasant Union.

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