Human Rights Council Uses Food Crisis to Promote "Right to Adequate Food"
Monday, June 9, 2008
Whether it is in the area of food, energy, water, or health, the Human Rights Council (HRC) and Special Rapporteurs appointed by the HRC under its Special Procedures take great strides to use international crises as vehicles for promoting emerging human rights. The latest example is the work of the HRC and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
On May 22nd, the Human Rights Council held its 7th Special Session, addressing “The negative impact on the realization of the right to food of the worsening of the world food crisis, caused inter alia by soaring food prices.” Prior to the Special Session, Olivier de Schutter, the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to food, published a background note analyzing the world food crisis.
According to de Schutter, the current crisis of food scarcity is a “man-made disaster.” Although he states that the crisis has been caused by the “uncoordinated” actions of various parties, he emphasizes that it remains the obligation of all States to remedy the situation. Indeed, de Schutter claims that “a general obligation of international cooperation is clearly established under international law,” citing as evidence such international agreements as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition.
Though the Special Rapporteur acknowledges that some efforts have been made by the international community to alleviate the problem of food scarcity, “the reactions of the States to the crisis have been uncoordinated, leading States to undercut one another’s efforts in coping with the soaring food prices.” Further, the failure of States to view the current crisis through the framework of the “human right to adequate food” has resulted in an insufficient response to the problem of food scarcity. De Schutter feels that it is the duty of the HRC to help develop and coordinate implementation of a global response to the crisis.
The Special Rapporteur claims that there are two obligations that all States have in regards to the right to adequate food: the cessation of any activities that negatively impact a population’s right to adequate food, and the regulation of the activities of companies who are involved with food production and distribution.
As has been generally acknowledged, the current food crisis is largely due to the dramatic rise in food prices globally. De Schutter details six causes for the increase of the cost of food, including “a structural transformation on the demand side,” insufficient investments in agriculture, the effects of climate change, the rising price of oil, the increased demand for agrofuels, and the effects of “speculative investment.” Each of these factors needs to be addressed by the international community in order to adequately respond to the current food crises within the context of the right to adequate food.
Following the conclusion of the Special Session, the HRC issued Resolution S-7/1, which emphasizes the obligation of the international community to “provide its assistance to populations in need in an effective and coordinated manner” and calls on States “to take all necessary measures to ensure the realization of the right to food as an essential human rights objective.”
Jim Kelly is the President of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C., a public interest civil and human rights law firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. The opinions expressed herein are his own.