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30 March 2011

Conference - Debate on "The Need of Increased Protection of the Human Rights of Peasants"

Within the scope of the 16th Session of the Human Right Council, FIAN international, the Europe-Third World Centre (CETIM), Via Campesina, and the Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice (IHCS) jointly organized a panel discussion on “the need of increased protection of the human rights of peasants.”

Opening the discussion, Mr. Jean Feyder, Ambassador of Luxemburg to the United Nations explained why it is important to discuss the human rights of peasants. He highlighted that the world contains a highly significant number of peasants – more than 1.300.000. Families included, they represent 43 to 45 % of the world’s population. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of these peasants live in poor conditions, some facing under-nutrition. Moreover, peasants represent the majority of the poorest people on the planet: as poverty and malnutrition go hand in hand.

Mr. Feyder also considered two other reasons that call for the further examination of the issue of peasant’s rights. These include gender equality and unlawful practices. While women farmers are responsible for 60 to 80 % of global agricultural production, women are still discriminated upon, he said. Besides, the use of agro fuels and the unlawful appropriation of land are practices that violate peasants’ rights. He therefore concluded that a full examination on how to effectively implement peasants’ rights is needed to guarantee their rights and the end of such practices.

Mr. Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, raised four issues which can severely impact peasants, especially in developing countries:
Firstly, hunger. He outlined that hunger is a result of a vicious circle. Rural poverty results in migration to the cities. Faced with this increased migration, cities do not have the resources to create sufficient new jobs for the incoming population. Therefore, to feed the rural poor, States have to lower their food prices, which in itself leads to price volatility and consequently increased vulnerability.
Secondly, rural poverty. In order to address rural poverty, the incomes of those working in rural areas should be secured, he said. Besides, their access to resources should be better facilitated and their participation in decision-making processes should be advanced.
Thirdly, peasants’ protection. Seeking to improve peasants’ protection is not only important from a human right’s perspective and to combat hunger more effectively, but also to avoid the replacement of small scale farming by large scale industrial farming. Small scale farming improves rural development, agro-biodiversity and the preservation of ecosystems. Moreover, increased peasant protection can have multiple positive effects for local rural economies, as well as for production and consumption patterns.
Fourthly, the creation of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants has been an important step. Although it allowed progress in several areas, gaps remain, such as regarding peasants’ access to land, and to seeds and their against unlawful expropriations and against price dumping.

Mr. Jean Ziegler, member of the Advisory Committee and former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, gave a detailed overview on the causes of hunger and highlighted the value of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants.

The floor was then given to several representatives of government (Ecuador, Indonesia, South Africa) and of non-governmental organizations, such as members of Via Campesina and FIAN International. Via Campesina underlined the importance that represented this Human Rights Council session as it provided an opportunity for the promotion and protection of human rights, including the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas. FIAN international appreciated that the session provided an opportunity to transmit civil society and experts main messages to State representatives.

One point of discussion was related to the use of the term “peasant” as some participants felt that this term has a negative connotation. However, others said to be proud to be peasants, decreasing the negative undertone.

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