UPDATE: On December 17th, the UN General Assembly voted to affirm the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This represents an important advance for peasant rights around the globe. The struggle will continue, to make these rights on paper a reality in every community.
December 10th was International Human Rights Day. Grassroots International volunteer Emma George writes about new steps forward for an international Declaration of Peasants and Rural Workers Rights. This declaration is needed even more after the recent murder of two peasant activists in Brazil.
After almost two decades of negotiations, peasants and other rural workers are finally about to receive formal recognition of their struggles — and their basic human rights. Thanks to the tireless work of Grassroots International’s partners in La Via Campesina, the United Nations General Assembly will be voting on a declaration to expand peasant rights later this month.
Although peasant workers contribute to more than half the world’s food production, they are often victims of human rights violations and suffer from poverty. Peasant workers, women especially, do not have equal control over land and other natural resources, education, or justice. They face violent land evictions, as states clear family homes for agribusiness and other corporate interests. They struggle to govern the food, seeds, and resources in their very own communities.
This discrimination makes it incredibly difficult for peasant workers to make ends meet. Poverty forces peasants to export the majority of what they produce. It often leaves them with not enough food for themselves and leads to greater levels of malnutrition.
Those struggles have driven a long campaign to expand and defend peasants’ recognized human rights. La Via Campesina’s Declaration of Rights of Peasants – Women and Men was first presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. This past September, the Human Rights Council approved a resolution giving its own declaration of the rights of peasant and other rural workers. The declaration was then approved by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, and will be passed onto the UN General Assembly to be officially confirmed in December.
A Step Forward
The UN declaration expands peasant and small farmers’ basic human rights, and lays out how governments must guarantee these rights. It seeks to raise rural standards of living by:
- protecting peasants against unwarranted evictions,
- ensuring they maintain control of their land and other natural resources,
- setting prices so that peasant workers can profit from their goods, and
- improving overall working conditions.
It emphasizes the vital role that food sovereignty plays not only in the livelihoods of peasant workers, but in the conservation of biodiversity as well, recognizing the essential role peasant workers and their sustainable practices have in protecting the environment.
If the UN General Assembly confirms this declaration, peasant workers will have more recognition and protection of their basic human rights — rights that have been up to now so frequently disregarded. It will give them a bigger international platform to fight for fair treatment. Additionally, it calls out the vital role that peasant workers play in food production and environmental conservation and acknowledges that food sovereignty is necessary.
While the declaration is not binding in and of itself, it serves as a blueprint of sorts for more just legislation. As advocate for indigenous rights from Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena (MNCI) Diego Montón says, “This criminalization of peasant struggles has to stop and this Declaration is a step forward in that direction.” The momentum from the UN declaration will hopefully give rise to victories for the peasant workers’ struggle for enforcement of their basic human rights in the future.
Emma George began interning at Grassroots International in October 2018. She is currently an undergraduate student at Northeastern University majoring in Economics with a minor in French.