Peasants’ rights: the latest attack on the universality of human rights

The intergovernmental working group on “The Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas,” met for the first time during the week of 15-19 July, 2013. It was chaired by the Bolivian ambassador as mandated by Human Rights Council Resolution 21/19 of September 2012. At the time, Western countries had opposed this resolution, as another effort of Cuba and their allies to dilute the universality of human rights.

During the session, the US and the EU explained the main reasons for their negative votes. First, the Advisory Committee prepared the draft declaration without a mandate, that the HRC did not request. Second, the HRC was not the ideal forum to discuss this topic; for example, the Committee on World Food Security would be more appropriate. Lastly, the singling out of peasants for special treatment was unnecessary, since other existing international law instruments would suffice. For those three reasons, both delegations were not ready to negotiate the draft declaration. Some EU countries did add, however, that they still cared about peasants’ rights such as “poverty and hunger, ensuring food security and the maintenance of biodiversity and combating climate change.”

The strongest proponents were some Latin American states (especially Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba) and African states. They were in favor of this declaration because of the importance of the agricultural sectors in their respective countries.

States such as Ethiopia, Bolivia and South Africa found problems with the definition of a “peasant,” as outlined in Article 1. Consensus on the definition was deemed essential for the draft declaration to be accepted; however, the participant states seemed to have various definitions of the term “peasant.” Along with Article 1, Article 10 regarding the “Right to biological diversity” was also a problematic one, mostly for Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and Tunisia.

Indonesia called into question the real relevance of the Declaration where some of the rights are assured in other international norms. The Indonesian delegate took the example of Article 9 Paragraph 4 stating, “peasants have the right to express their spirituality, individually and collectively”. Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions this in Article 18, many states were skeptical with the current draft.

During the working group session, Palestine found the opportunity to launch an attack on Israel. The speech of the Palestinian delegate was long and accusatory regarding the human rights of Palestinian peasants. The delegate criticized the violent behavior of Israeli settlers against the Palestinian peasants and accused Israel of stealing land from Palestinians. She even blamed Israel for “Water Apartheid” and polluting the water, condemning also the behavior of the Israeli Navy against Palestinian fishermen.

It goes without saying, that no other specific case was mentioned, let alone Syria, North Korea or Cuba, where violence against people from all levels of society are rampant.

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