April 17, International Day of Peasant Struggle, is a critically important day for global social justice. It is a day reminding us of the continuities from past to present, both the ongoing cycles of violence confronting us and the powerful acts of resistance that have gotten us this far — and upon which we must build.
Let’s remember the original event sparking this day — the brutal murder of 21 members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, the MST, and injury of 69 others, by military police on April 17, 1996. As we look back, we are acutely aware that the struggles of, and violence against, movements in Brazil continue to this day. Just days ago, we received an alert from our partner Rede Social about recent murder attempts, death threats, harassment, deforestation, and land grabbing attempts in the territories of rural communities of the state of Piauí. These communities are located in Brazil’s Cerrado region, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and a major target for land grabbing by powerful interests like the pension fund management firm TIAA.
We are also viscerally aware that these struggles extend far beyond Brazil. As our partner La Via Campesina stresses in its April 17 Call to Action: “In the past few months alone, social movements in Brazil, Palestine, Paraguay, Colombia, Mali, Ecuador, France, Spain, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, South Korea, Kenya, Canada, Haiti, Guatemala and Peru have alerted the world about the serious violations of the rights of the peasant and rural communities.” And this is sadly the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that acts like saving and exchanging traditional seeds and farming on one’s ancestral territory are increasingly criminalized and met with repression across the globe.
But movements are resisting in powerful ways, and April 17 is also a day to celebrate and deepen this resistance. One point of celebration is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). Adopted in 2018 after years of tireless mobilization by movements of peasants and rural workers from across the globe, UNDROP is a key instrument in global and national policy making in support of food sovereignty, and an important reference point in agrarian struggles worldwide. In a statement released today, La Via Campesina is calling for a UN special procedure on UNDROP to allow for its effective implementation at the international level. We join them in this call.
We also celebrate the major growth of the food sovereignty movement since 1996, with many concrete advancements along the way. As La Via Campesina looks toward its 8th International Conference later this year in Nicaragua, food sovereignty remains more relevant now than ever for confronting the challenges ahead.