11 / 2009
Peasants have always been among the first victims of hunger and multiple violations of human rights all over the world. For hundreds of years they have been forcibly evicted from their lands. Their claims have been met by violent repression. Every year thousand of peasants are killed defending their rights to land, water, seeds and other productive resources. For centuries, such violations were committed in the name of the civilizing mission of colonialism; in recent decades, it has been done in the name of neo-liberal free-market policies, which favours highly-mechanized, export-oriented agricultural production and the interests of multinational corporations.
To address the problem, la Vía Campesina, the international peasant movement founded in 1993, has spent more than ten years denouncing these violations of the rights of peasants to the United Nations. These denunciations, taken up by CETIM at the end of the 1990s, were then presented, in the form of annual reports, at parallel events to the Human Rights Commission, in collaboration with another NGO, FIAN International (Foodfirst Information and Action Network). At the same time, la Vía Campesina was engaged in a lengthy process of drawing up a comprehensive definition of the rights of peasants until, in June 2008, after seven years of internal discussion and consultation with its member organizations, it finally adopted The Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women. (1)
It took the United Nations a long time to understand la Vía Campesina’s demands. It was only with the creation of the Human Rights Council in June 2006, and the work of its Special Rapporteur on the right to food and its advisory committee in response to the global food crisis, that the rights of peasants were discussed by the United Nations for the first time. In 2009, la Vía Campesina was invited to the UN General Assembly to give its view on the world food crisis and the possible solutions to overcome it. One of the solutions it offered was The Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Men and Women. (2)
This Critical Report is divided into four parts. The first article aims to give an overview of the different forms of violation of peasants’ rights. The second article deals with the recognition currently given to the rights of peasants in international human rights law. The third article looks at la Vía Campesina’s Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Women and Men. The fourth article examines the current state of discussions on the rights of peasants within the United Nations.
As an appendix to these articles, see a selection of international legal documents relevant to the rights of peasants.