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Livelihood Rights: The Right to Exist

July 2008

Members of Grassroots International’s partner La Via Campesina — an international network of peasants, indigenous peoples, fishers, pastoralists, women, and youth — gathered in late June in Jakarta, Indonesia to defend their right to exist, and called for a UN Convention on the Rights of Peasants. (Below, see their final declaration)

Under intense threat from the expansion of agro-fuels in South America and Indonesia, militarization in Colombia and South Korea, and increasing food prices, rural families are voicing a predicament that affects all communities.

The Via Campesina’s message is a strong warning that rural communities are disappearing because of economic policies that disregard the Livelihood Rights of rural and urban communities. Livelihood rights are the right to the means of existence and reproduction of individuals and their communities – essentially at the core of the Right to Life and to a life with dignity.

The expansion of industrial agriculture and free trade policies are the major threats to the protection of peasants’ way of life. They are destroying the cultures and economic bases of entire communities.

The violation of the human rights of peasants and indigenous people shows that this industrial food system is not only making us unhealthy (and changing the global climate), but also is perpetuating oppression and hunger.



Final declaration of International Conference on Peasants’ Rights:

In the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we peasants demand our own convention

Jakarta, 24 June 2008

We, the delegates of the small farmers, women and men, of the international movement La Via Campesina, coming from 26 different countries attended from 20 to 24 of June 2008 the International Conference on Peasant Rights in Jakarta, Indonesia. After seven years of intense discussions on the content and strategies, our spirits are high and full of confidence that we will achieve a UN convention on peasant rights. This convention will be one cornerstone to sustainable life for all human beings on our planet.

We peasants, women and men, landless people, agricultural workers, small- and medium-scale farmers, indigenous people and rural youth, represent almost half of the world population and are the backbone of the food system. The food crisis shows us the massive and systematic violations of peasant rights.

We are being increasingly and violently expelled from our lands and alienated from our sources of livelihoods. Mega development projects such as big plantations for agrofuels, large dams, infrastructure projects, industrial expansion, extractive industries and tourism have forcibly displaced our communities, and destroyed our lives. Many armed conflicts and wars are occurring in rural areas. Land grabbing and destruction of harvests are often being used as weapons against civilian rural populations.

We can not earn an income which allows us to live in dignity. A mix of national policies and international framework conditions are responsible for driving us to extinction. Noteworthy among these policies are the processes of privatization of land, which have led to a reconcentration of land ownership; the dismantling of rural public services and those that supported production and commercialization by small and medium producers; the fostering of highly capitalized and high-inputs agroexports; the push toward the liberalization of agricultural trade and toward policies of food security based on international commerce.

In many countries, we are losing our seeds at great speed, our agricultural knowledge is disappearing and we are being forced to buy seeds from Trans National Corporations (TNCs) in order to increase their profits. These companies are creating Genetically Modified Organisms and monoculture crops with the loss of many species and biodiversity in general.

In addition, we women peasants suffer from double marginalization: as peasants and as women. The responsibility of looking after the family is in our hands and the shortage and uncertainty of health care and education for the children make us work long hours for low wages. Women who work as laborers in the fields are being forced to use chemical fertilizers and are therefore at high risk for their health.

Moreover, violent oppression is a daily experience for us. Thousands of peasant leaders are arbitrarily arrested, detained, terrorized, tortured, killed and being criminalized because they rre fighting for their rights. We women peasants also suffer violence at the hands of our husbands, partners, or employers. Such violence can be physical or mental and even life threatening.

We have inherited a long history of peasant’s struggles defending our rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the main human rights treaties are important instruments in our contemporary struggles. Nevertheless, we feel as other oppressed groups such as indigenous peoples, and women, that time has come to fully spell out our distinct individual and collective rights. It is time for food sovereignty. There are major gaps in the interpretation and implementation of the main human rights treaties when applied to peasants. Moreover, we face patterns of violations of our rights, by the crimes committed by TNCs and by Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). In order to address these patterns of violations, we need specific provisions and mechanisms to fully protect our rights.

A future Convention on Peasant Rights will contain the values of the rights of peasants-and should particularly strengthen the rights of women peasants-which will have to be respected, protected and fulfilled by governments and international institutions.

For that purpose, we commit ourselves to developing a multi-level strategy; working simultaneously at the national, regional and international level for raising awareness, mobilizing support and building alliances with not only peasants, but rural workers, migrant workers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, fisher folks, environmentalists, women, legal experts, human rights, youth, faith-based communities, urban and consumers’ organizations as well.

We will also seek the support of governments, parliaments and human rights institutions for developing the convention on peasant rights. We call FAO and IFAD to uphold their mandates by contributing to the protection of peasant rights. We ask FAO’s department of legal affairs to compile all FAO instruments protecting peasant rights as a first step towards this purpose. We will bring our declaration on peasant rights to the UN Human Rights Council.

In the light of the threats posed by the current neoliberal-capitalist attack on local food systems and peasants, we call on all the people to join hands for the sake of humankind.

We call all our members and allies to rally for our Convention on Peasant Rights the next 10th of December, on the 60th anniversary of the UDHR.

Globalize the struggle, Globalize the hope!

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