Between the 9th and 13th of November, a delegation of La Vía Campesina leaders was in Geneva to support the Declaration on the rights of peasants which is being drafted in the Human Rights Council. The leaders participated in an informal consultation meeting and highlighted some of the key elements of the draft Declaration, in particular the recognition of the peasant identity along with the right to land, right to seeds, right to food sovereignty, right to a decent income, right to productive resources, right to health and right to freedom of association.
The adoption of a Declaration on the rights of peasants by the Human Rights Council is a proposal born from the international peasant movement, La Vía Campesina. CETIM supports its efforts and has been working alongside it for several years.
The La Vía Campesina leaders took part in an informal consultation held by Ms. Angelica Navarro, the ambassador of Bolivia to the United Nations in Geneva, who took on the presidency of the intergovernmental working group created by the Human Rights Council in September of 2012 with the mandate of developing a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People working in Rural Areas. The objective of this consultation was to identify the key aspects that should be included in a revised version of the draft Declaration, to be presented and analyzed during the second session of the intergovernmental working group which will take place in February of 2015.
The La Vía Campesina leaders arrived to Geneva on the 9th of November and participated in a preparatorymeeting with representatives of other allying organizations such as the International Federation of Rural Catholic Adult Movements (FIMARC), the World Forum of Fisher Folk (FMPP) and the International Union of Food and Agriculture Workers (IUF), who represent people working in rural areas and who support the draft Declaration.
The La Vía Campesina delegation was comprised by Genevieve Savigny, of the Peasant Confederation in France and member of the European Coordination of La Vía Campesina, Federico Pacheco, of the Rural Workers Union (SOC) in Andalucía, Spain, and Diego Montón, of the National Indigenous Peasant Movement in Argentina and member of the operative secretariat of the Latin-American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC).
An informal consultation meeting was held on the 12th of November in the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. This involved both state as well as civil society representatives. The leaders of La Vía Campesina, through their interventions, defended the draft Declaration and identified some of the key elements that should be included in the revised version of the text, in particular the recognition of the peasant identity along with the right to land, right to seeds, right to food sovereignty, right to a decent income, right to productive resources, right to health and right to freedom of association.
Federico Pacheco said “The goal for us is none other than guaranteeing the survival of the peasants and their lifestyles, with the social and cultural implications that this involves, and for benefit of the rest of society, the environment and taking care of the planet”.
Diego Montón stated “It is very important that this declaration recognizes the peasant identity, since other sectors, especially which of the concentrated economy, have incessantly belittled, disqualified, discriminated and even attempted to eliminate it”.
He pointed out that “the declaration must include not only peasants, but also fishers, pastoralists, agricultural workers, landless workers, indigenous peoples, basically, all individuals who work in rural areas and produce food through their work”. He also added, “we are referring to a vast and important ensemble of people who live and work in what can be called the ‘popular economy’ and behind their work there is a goal, not to accumulate wealth and capital, but rather the social reproduction of their families, their communities, their people, all within the framework of a decent life”.
Diego Montón highlighted the importance of recognizing new rights to peasants “in the face of the progression, offensive, and attack of the speculative financial capital that create problems that before were not even to be spoken of”. Federico Pacheco went further in depth in this and said “there is a new reality, an offensive and attack against the rural world, that was unimaginable a few years ago, and that requires new legal instruments, new rights and new protections”.
Mr. Pacheco referred specifically to land. “The greatest threat to the right to land is land grabbing, this has been a historical process involving latifundia but it also includes current processes we are witnessing today with the transnational companies and states purchasing of thousands of acres land where peasants are excluded from, most commonly by force. This is also happening in Europe”.
The right to land “must be a key element in the Declaration on the rights of peasants where not only the established peasant is referred to, but also women, rural workers, wage-workers, landless workers, and anyone who wants access to the agricultural world”. “The content of this right to land must include both access to land as well as a secure and fair tenure”.
Genevieve Savigny emphasized the importance of biodiversity and seeds for peasants. She recalled how “since the dawn of agriculture, it has always been the peasants who selected the seeds that would provide food for the people for centuries”. These peasant systems are threatened by the expansion of the intellectual property system and its increasing application to seeds and biodiversity, particularly through the UPOV system but also through the patent system which now applies to genes. This is why Genevieve Savigny insisted on the need to recognize the right to seeds and more specifically “the inalienable right of peasants to use, grow, reuse, conserve, develop, exchange, give, transport, and sell their seeds”.
Federico Pacheco also suggested to recognize the right to productive resources and means of production due to the fact that today they are not guaranteed to a sufficient and efficient extent. “In the social and economic system we live in, it is not enough for a peasant to have a land in order to produce food in adequate manner. We also need access to credits, tools, irrigation water, means of transportation, drying installations and participation in all public planning for agriculture and rural production in the different states”.
Finally, Federico Pacheco stated that access is useful if it can be guaranteed that peasants and rural workers can make a decent living from the land, from their work, and from food production. “This is not the case in the vast majority of the world or in Europe”. Federico Pacheco identified among the threats that deter peasants from living a decent live with adequate income, “Monopolies, intermediaries, an entire system that fix prices that suffocate peasant production. There are also sanitary regulations, certification systems that are developed with industrial standards, which might be useful for industrial production, but what they do is destroy peasant production and hinder its development”. Diego Montón also emphasized that the prices in the food market do not make for a decent living for peasants because “the market is completely distorted […], there is a market being held hostage by corporations, there is a heavy burden brought on by monopolies and oligopolies in the food market”.
Federico Pacheco also talked about work exploitation in rural areas. “Rural workers, no matter what part of the world they are or what region, they will always be the worst paid and suffer the worst social and working conditions”. The Declaration, with regards to this, must be an advancement and a deepening in all labor rights recognized by international instruments in force”.
That is why there was a call for recognizing the right to decent income in this declaration as well as including the states obligation to regulate markets in a way that can guarantee fair and remunerative prices for peasant production as well as guaranteeing employment stability and sufficient incomes for waged workers and immigrants in the rural areas.
Diego Montón also highlighted that the Declaration needs to strengthen the protection of peasants against persecution and oppression. “There is a great criminalization, strong violence, and political persecution. We have many peasants who are prisoners for opposing that their families be fumigated with pesticides or for trying to keep their homes from being bulldozed, illegally evicted”.
He insisted on the matter of pesticides because in many cases, peasants are the main victims of pesticides and fumigations. “This declaration must guarantee the right to health and within this right, though it may seem odd, the right to not be fumigated, and the right to not have poison sprinkled on you; the right to not be poisoned”.
Lastly, Genevieve Savigny concluded that the inclusion of all of these rights in the Declaration is “indispensable in order to guarantee food sovereignty for peasants and peoples […], ensure that peasants can carry on maintaining the existence of their families and communities as well as providing food in a sustainable manner for the rest of humanity.
The Bolivian ambassador now must proceed to revising the draft Declaration based on all of the input received. The new text will be presented and analyzed in the second session of the intergovernmental working group which will take place in February 2015.