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The adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants by la Vía Campesina

The Rights of Peasants - 3

Christophe GOLAY

11 / 2009

La Vía Campesina is the largest group of peasant organizations that has ever been created. It came into being in 1993, two years before the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), to defend the life, land and dignity of peasant families all over the world. La Vía Campesina’s main concern has always been food sover­eignty. (1) However, for more than ten years now, it has also worked on the promo­tion and protection of the rights of peasants. As already stated, la Vía Campesina, in collaboration with the NGO FIAN International, has published annual reports in 2004, 2005 and 2006, detailing violations of the rights of peasants worldwide. In June 2008, after several years of internal discussion and consultation, it adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants - Women and Men. (2)

After describing the process leading up to the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants - Women and Men by la Vía Campesina in June 2008 (1), we will look at the content of the Declaration (2) and la Vía Campesina’s call to action (3).

1. The adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women at the la Vía Campesina Conference on the Rights of Peasants, in Jakarta, June 2008

After a consultation process which lasted seven years, and involved its member groups, la Vía Campesina adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women at the International Conference on Peasants’ Rights in Jakarta in June 2008. The conference brought together about a hundred delegates drawn from 26 countries and representing the various peasant groups that make up la Vía Campesina.

The adoption of the Declaration was the final stage of a long process of drafting and consultation. The first draft of the declaration on the rights of peasants was presen­ted to la Vía Campesina’s Regional Conference on the Rights of Peasants which was held in Jakarta in April 2002, following various conferences and events in 2000 and 2001. (3) The wording of the Declaration was discussed by individual member organ­izations and was finalized at the International Conference on the Rights of Peasants in 2008. The International Co-ordination Committee of la Vía Campesina ratified the final text in Seoul in March 2009.

The fact that la Vía Campesina is made up of more than 140 peasant organizations from nearly 70 different countries and represents more than 200 million peasants, and the fact that their Declaration was adopted after a long process of internal dis­cussion, gives the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women a great deal of authority.

2. The content of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women

La Vía Campesina’s Declaration follows the same structure as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It begins with a long introduction which recalls the large number of peasants all over the world who have fought throughout history for the recognition of peasants’ rights, and for free and just soci­eties, and concludes with the hope that this declaration represents a major step forward in the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and liberties of peasants.

The first Article of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants gives a definition of who peasants are, according to which: “A peasant is a man or woman of the land, who has a direct and special relationship with the land and nature through the produc­tion of food and/or other agricultural products. Peasants work the land themselves, rely above all on family labour and other small-scale forms of organizing labour. Peasants are traditionally embedded in their local communities and they take care of local landscapes and of agro-ecological systems. The term peasant can apply to any person engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, pastoralism, handicrafts-related to agriculture or a related occupation in a rural area.

The term peasant also applies to landless peasants. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 1984) definition[1], the following categories of people are considered to be landless and are likely to face difficulties in ensuring their live­lihood: 1. Agricultural labour households with little or no land; 2. Non-agricultural households in rural areas, with little or no land, whose members are engaged in various activities such as fishing, making crafts for the local market, or providing services; 3. Other rural households of pastoralists, nomads, peasants practising shifting cultivation, hunters and gatherers, and people with similar livelihoods.”

In Article 2, the Declaration reaffirms that women peasants have equal rights to men and that all peasants have the right to the full enjoyment, collectively or as in­dividuals, of all those human rights and fundamental freedoms that are recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law (Article 2, para 1 & 2). It also states that peas­ants (women and men) are free and equal to all other people and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular to be free from discriminations based on their economic, social and cultural status (Article 2, para 3). It then declares that peasants (women and men) have the right to actively participate in policy design, decision making, imple­mentation, and monitoring of any project, program or policy affecting their territor­ies (Article 2, para 4).

Following the model of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women reaffirms the existing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of peasants, and rein­forces them by incorporating new rights, such as the right to land, the right to seeds and the right to the means of agricultural production. These new rights are aimed at giving full protection to peasant families and forcing States to put an end to the types of discrimination from which peasants suffer.

The Declaration adopted by la Vía Campesina reaffirms the right to life and to an adequate standard of living (article 3); the right to freedoms of association, opinion and expression (article 12); right to have access to justice (article 13). In addition, it also recognizes the following new fundamental rights: the right to land and territory (article 4); the right to seeds and traditional agricultural knowledge and practice (article 5); the right to the means of agricultural production (article 6); the right to information and agricultural technology (article 7); the freedom to determine price and market for agricultural production (article 8) ; the right to the protection of loc­al agricultural values (article 9); the right to biological diversity (article 10); the right to preserve the environment (article 11).

3. La Vía Campesina’s Call to Action

For la Vía Campesina, the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants is only a first step and needs to be followed by the drawing up of an International Convention on the Rights of Peasants by the United Nations, with the full participa­tion of la Vía Campesina and other representatives of civil society. (4) To this end, la Vía Campesina is hoping to receive “the support of the people who are concerned with the peasants’ struggle and the promotion and protection of the rights of peas­ants.” (5)

On several occasions la Vía Campesina has called for regional, national and inter­national action to mobilize support for the recognition of the rights of peasants. On 21st June 2008, in the Final Declaration of the International Conference on the Rights of Peasants, it declared: “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 develop 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, urban and consumers organizations …We will also seek the support of governments, parliaments and human rights institutions for developing the convention on peasant rights. We call on 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.” (6)

(1) CETIM, Vía Campesina. Une alternative paysanne à la mondialisation néolibérale, 2002.
(2) La Vía Campesina, Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Women and Men, 2008: viacampesina.net/ downloads/PDF/EN-3.pdf.
(3) H. Saragih, “Les paysans du monde ont besoin d’une convention protégeant leurs droits: le rôle attendu de l’ONU” in ONU. Droits pour tous ou loi du plus fort ?, Geneva, CETIM, 2005, pp. 349-365.
(4) Cf. La Vía Campesina, Introduction to the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Cf. Final Declaration of the International Conference on Peasants’ Rights, 2008: www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=572&Itemid=1

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