Implementing Human Rights Based Approach: The Case of Right to Food

Speech by Minister Hautala at the International seminar by The Finnish NGO Foundation for Human Rights (KIOS) in cooperation with KEPA and Finn Church Aid in Helsinki on 18 September 2012.

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Finland’s new development policy highlights the human rights based approach to development. I firmly believe that all governments, including Finland and its partners must respect, protect and fulfill human rights, like right to food in their territory. The objective is to ensure that also the most vulnerable people are aware of their rights and are able to claim these rights.

UN Committee on Economic, social and cultural rights has stated that right to adequate food is realized “when every man, woman, and child, alone or in community with others, [has] physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.” It protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Thus, Right to Food – the Human rights based approach complements and reinforces food security. It adds to the food security equation the notion of rights of every person, the obligation of states, and the responsibilities of all stakeholders. In addition to adequate production it looks at human rights principles and the governance of food systems.

This is particularly relevant at this stage when the number of chronically malnourished persons is globally increasing and soaring food prices threaten the food security of millions of persons, particularly those who are already poor and vulnerable.

Food security is a part of the human right obligations by the states. From this angle, it means for instance the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all, without any discrimination, and the formulation of policies and corresponding benchmarks. It should also identify the resources available to meet the objectives and the most cost-effective way of using them.

The right to food offers a coherent framework with which to address critical dimensions in the fight against hunger. It emphasizes human rights principles such as participation, non-discrimination, transparency and empowerment, and provides mechanisms for increased accountability and the rule of law.

It is States’ primary obligation, individually and through international co-operation, to take necessary measures to meet the vital food needs of their people, especially of vulnerable groups and households. In this respect, a peaceful, stable and enabling political, social and economic environment at national and international levels is fundamental for states to ensure adequate priority for food security and poverty eradication.

Food is globally mostly produced by private producers and delivered in market economy. States don´t have any obligation to deliver food free of charge, but it must create a judicial and policy environment that enables right to adequate food without any discrimination and using all available resources. The land rights itself are a civil law issue, but equal access to land of men and women and all minorities is a human rights affair.

Food security is a complex issue and cannot be tackled without a holistic approach. Several policies such as trade, agriculture, environment and energy have an influence on food security, and this underlines the importance of policy coherence: These policies should be in compliance and support the objectives of development policy or at least not work against it.

The need for policy coherence was recognized while drafting Finland’s development policy last spring. As a result of this process, food security and Right to Food were chose to be the pilot case for concrete actions towards policy coherence. In this work, we will be testing OECD’s tool for policy coherence on food security. An intergovernmental working group – including representatives from university, research institutes and civil society – will start working on the issue in October.

The challenge is how to concretize and operationalize the principles of Right to Food. Fortunately there is good guidance and practical tools especially from FAO. FAO’s Right to Food Guidelines – i.e. The Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization to the Right to Food in the Context of National Food Security – translate human rights principles into concrete recommendations for action and provide the basis for advocating for more equitable policies and programmes. FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines with several guiding documents as well as the reports of Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, provide practical guidance how to implement the different aspects of the approach in the practice.

One dimension of Right to Food is “Access to resources and assets”. Here the importance FAO’s recently adopted Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests as well as the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments must be emphasized. Respecting land and resource rights and consulting all those materially affected should be at the heart of any land deal negotiations.

The questions of land – and thus food security – are all the time more burning because of the increasing pressure for land and the race for resources in developing countries. At the same time it is evident that many governments are totally unprepared to guarantee their citizens’ rights in cases of conflicting interests. In this situation, it is our duty to highlight the importance of good governance and transparency of decision making – they are the key to socially equitable land use.

Dear friends,

Human rights based approach is essential part of our development cooperation. In our partner countries we emphasize these principles in the dialogue with the governments and other donors. Also at the programme level it is important to enhance the capacity of the public authorities: both the awareness of their human rights obligations and the capability to enforce them. At the grass root level, in our bilateral projects, the targeted beneficiaries include the most vulnerable groups. In practice, the implementation means inter alia capacity building and empowerment of women’s groups, encouraging everybody’s meaningful and effective participation to work as a group, and to be accountable and transparent when using common resources.

In particular, the most vulnerable groups’ right to food is more often likely to be put at risk in society. These groups may include female or child headed households, people living on humanitarian assistance, those affected by HIV and AIDS, refugees and poor urban families, who are forced to make trade-offs between nutrition, health, education and production. Increased attention needs to be addressed to these vulnerable groups – and in particular to children. Furthermore, we need to fully address the gender aspects of the issue and observe the principle of equal opportunities for, and participation of all. The adequate, nutritious food is especially important for pregnant mothers and children as the malnutrition during the foetal period and early childhood causes lifelong damages.

The Committee of World Food Security, the most comprehensive platform for dialogue and coordination of global food security issues, will in its October meeting focus on the relationships between social protection and food security as well as climate change and food security. These two issues can play a crucial role in Right to Food. Different social protection methods are one way to ensure people’s access to safe and nutritious food. The link between increased prices of agricultural products, climate change and food insecurity is alarming – extreme weather conditions associated with climate change are likely to further threaten agricultural production and push more people to poverty. It is necessary to develop sustainable agricultural production which is adaptable to changing environment.

Right to Food has brought a new dimension to the traditional approach to hunger reduction. The human right based approach’s targeted actions will benefit the most vulnerable without discrimination. The efficiency of public action is promoted by accountability, transparency and rule of law. While promoting participation and empowering the poor it really should ensure that nobody is left behind in the fight against food insecurity.