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One step closer to UN declaration

Intensive negotiations at the UN Human Rights Council conclude with deepened understanding of rural peoples’ rights and with the UN Intergovernmental Working Group gearing up for a 5th session.

Last week, the 4th session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIGWG) to negotiate a UN declaration for peasants and other people working in rural areas was held in Geneva. The 5-day discussion counted on the participation of social movements, affected communities and CSOs worldwide and raised issues of vital importance for the declaration.

The recommendations and conclusions by the Chair-Rapporteur ambassador of Bolivia Mrs. Nardi Suxo illustrated the advance of the negotiations and pointed to the need for a fifth OEIGWG session to fine-tune the contents.

Furthering understanding

Discussions contributed to deepening the understanding of State parties vis-a-vis key human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. As echoed by last Friday’s statement* by civil society and social movements, what was once approached with reluctance by certain countries, is now being favorably reconsidered. Crucial rights “are gaining an incontestable legitimacy in the declaration, as they are specifically referred to in international instruments and a growing number of national legislations. Our grassroots testimonies reinforce the state of emergency for recognizing these rights in the declaration without any further delay,” read the statement.

Under the leadership and coordination of the Chair-Rapporteur, negotiations stimulated the participants’ reflection on the contents of the declaration, as discussions got more elaborated on core legal issues. While some subjects continued to trigger controversy, States generally showed more willingness to negotiate and recognize the interdependent set of rights of the rural world.

Opposition to crucial rights

Despite positive developments, some other States continued to oppose the recognition of crucial rights of peasants, such as the right to land and collective rights, which are essential for the object and purpose of the declaration to be fulfilled.

Some States appeared reluctant to approach the right to land in a holistic manner, which involves freedoms and entitlements, crucial for the fulfillment of rural people’s rights. The right to land is about access, use and management of land, necessary for the realization of the rights to an adequate standard of living, to health and to participate in cultural life, as well as the right to be free from forced evictions or from contamination and destruction of water bodies and fisheries.

By the same token, some others limited collective rights to indigenous peoples. Yet, the recognition of collective rights also corresponds to the way in which rural communities operate, especially in relation to the use, access and management of their resources, since most of them are socially defined and organized collectively. As echoed during the session, an exclusively individual rights approach could actually be detrimental to communities and contribute to antidemocratic practices within them, which, would be contrary to the object and purpose of the declaration itself.

It is expected that next year’s session strengthens the understanding of these crucial rights even more, so the declaration is finally adopted with the deep commitment of States.

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