UN Declaration on the rights of peasants

The rights of peasants? The subject has been under discussion for over 40 years. As long ago as 1981 the FAO, following the World Conference on agrarian reform and rural development in 1979, launched the Peasants’ Charter calling for programmes and policies that supported peasants and the rural world. In addition, all sections of the UN were invited to commit themselves to putting into action the principles supporting peasants. This turned out to be a dead end, however, not least because attention was focused only on the rights of agricultural workers in developing countries.

Since then various proposals have been launched and put into practice in different nations of the world. Only last 28 September, the UN’s Human Rights Council adopted the text of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas  by a large majority (33 votes in favour, 11 abstentions, 3 against). Great credit is due to the international movement La Via Campesina which has fought for this for 17 years.

With this declaration, the UN Human Rights Council has recognized the need to strengthen peasants’ rights. Peasant communities are more seriously affected by hunger and are often subjected to systematic violations of their basic rights, through land grabbing and seizure of natural resources, biopiracy, criminalization of community leaders, workers treated like slaves on giant industrial plantations, etc.

By protecting the rights of those who produce our food while protecting natural resources, the Declaration helps to confront the most serious current crises: rural poverty and food insecurity, climate change, the damage and destruction of natural resources, the collapse of biodiversity, and so on.

In concrete terms, the Declaration brings together and clarifies the rights of peasants and others who work in rural areas, such as rights to the land, seeds, and water, to social security, health and lodging, to education, a decent income and development, to participation and justice.

This victory on the part of the peasant movement was, however, overshadowed by the abstentions of 11 nations, including 6 from the EU (Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain), not to to mention the three opposing votes from the UK, Hungary and Australia.

The position of the EU states is simply incomprehensible, given that various European institutions, including the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the European Parliament had explicitly called on member states in 2018 to vote for peasants’ rights at the UN.

The text of the Declaration is currently available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian on the UN website.