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 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.
Organised farmers, agricultural labourers, cattle-rearers, and even hunter gatherers could legally challenge agricultural policies, as well as the broader policy directions such as austerity and ‘free-trade’.
If approved by UN member states next month, the declaration would help farmers legally challenge agriculture policies.
Peasants would be able to approach courts using the provisions of the declaration.
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 organised 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.
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 organise 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.
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 favour, 11 abstentions and 3 against.