HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL OPENS SPECIAL SESSION ON WORLD FOOD CRISIS

Human Rights Council
MORNING
22 May 2008


High Commissioner Says Individual Countries Cannot Confront the Scale of the Crisis Alone

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its Special Session on the negative impact on the realization of the right to food of the worsening world food crisis, caused inter alia by the soaring food prices.

Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed this Special Session on the food emergency and said that the underlying causes and the current manifestations of the crisis, including high prices and shortages of food, jeopardized the well-being and rights of countless people. In some regions, natural disasters or misguided policies compounded already severe situations by rendering them catastrophic for the most discriminated and marginalized populations. While it was imperative to respond immediately to emergencies with commensurate humanitarian support and aid in order to assess conditions of hunger, a human rights focus would contribute to making solutions more durable and more equitable in the medium and long run. By now, one should no longer harbour any illusion that individual countries could confront the scale of the crisis alone.

Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said that, by thus standing up to its responsibilities in these unique circumstances, the Human Rights Council was sending three messages. First, by holding its first Special Session ever on an economic and social right, the Council sent a strong message to the international community about the equal value of all the rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Second, the fact that the Special Session was convened on a thematic issue rather than on a particular country or region highlighted the fact that human rights should be seen not only as obligations imposed on States acting individually, but also as having to be realized through international dialogue and cooperation. Third, and most importantly, thanks to this Special Session, the global food crisis was treated not like a natural disaster, but as a massive threat to the right to adequate food for millions of individuals. The disaster which, for many, resulted from the increase of international prices of food commodities was of a different kind. It was a man-made disaster.

Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea of Romania, President of the Human Rights Council, said the request from the Permanent Representative of Cuba to hold a Special Session on the negative impact on the right to food of the worsening of the world food crisis was signed by 41 Members of the Council, as well as a number of observer States and non-governmental organization groups. Relevant international institutions, United Nations agencies and programmes were contacted, as requested, to ensure their active participation in the session. A draft resolution sponsored by Cuba had been distributed to all Members and Observer States.

Eibe Riedel, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said that last Friday, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had adopted a statement on the world food crisis. States parties to the Covenant had an obligation to respect and protect the right to adequate food. The Committee felt that two levels of actions had to be determined. Urgent action was required on an international basis, through the distribution of humanitarian aid without discrimination. Donor countries should prioritize assistance to States most affected by the food crisis. The rapid rise in food prices should be limited by encouraging the production of local staple food products for local consumption and not diverting the use of food crops for the production of agrofuel. An international mechanism of coordination to oversee and coordinate responses to the food crisis and ensure equal distribution of food accordingly was needed.

Cuba, speaking on behalf of the sponsors of the Special Session, said this was an unprecedented occasion: for the first time the Human Rights Council was meeting to consider a matter of vital importance for millions of human beings, the impact of the global food crisis on the right to food. They were accustomed to listen impassively to figures of 8 million hungry that year after year were mentioned by representatives of international agencies. Attention to the problems of hunger had recently been replaced by a focus on terrorism and climate change. The recent stark rise in global food prices had changed all that. Food prices of certain basic commodities were three and four times what they were a year ago, and that situation was intolerable. The essence of the crisis did not lie in recent factors; the unjust distribution of wealth around the world and the neo-liberal economic policies were at the heart of this crisis.

In the general debate, countries said that an immediate response was needed. States had a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger, as enshrined in the International Covenant Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This was also true in times of natural disasters by securing access of populations in need of humanitarian aid. The food crisis was particularly severe for those where full and safe and unhindered humanitarian access was impeded. The significant escalation on global food prices had become a crisis for the world’s most vulnerable. The threat of malnutrition and hunger was growing and the risk of political instability was particularly high. It was also inconceivable to produce biofuels when others were dying from hunger and famine. Given the interrelatedness of all human rights, it was only through this right that other fundamental freedoms and rights could be met.

Speaking in the general debate were representatives of Cuba on behalf of the co-sponsors of the Special Session, Egypt on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Slovenia on behalf of the European Union, Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, Japan, Guatemala, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Senegal, Egypt, Mauritius, Madagascar, Brazil, India, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Nigeria, France, Angola, China, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

This is the seventh Special Session which the Human Rights Council convenes and the first one to be held on a thematic issue. The Council has held Special Sessions relating to Israel; Darfur, Sudan; and Myanmar.

The Council will resume its Special Session this afternoon at 3 p.m. when it will continue the debate and take action on a related draft resolution before closing the session.


Opening Statements

LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed this Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the food emergency and said that the underlying causes and the current manifestations of the crisis, including high prices and shortages of food, jeopardized the well-being and rights of countless people. In some regions, natural disasters or misguided policies compounded already severe situations by rendering them catastrophic for the most discriminated and marginalized populations.

While it was imperative to respond immediately to emergencies with commensurate humanitarian support and aid in order to assess conditions of hunger, a human rights focus would contribute to making solutions more durable and more equitable in the medium and long run. Such focus helped to analyze and confront the differing impact of the crisis on people. It contributed to clarify the imbalances in a society that triggered or exacerbated the food crisis. It offered a legal framework underpinning States’ obligations, while concentrating on the empowerment and participation of the most marginalized groups. It could bring into the debate the voices of these groups to help monitor the situation over time and provided responses better attuned to needs, said Ms. Arbour.

The current food crisis stemmed from a perverse convergence of several factors, including distortions in supply and demand, unfair trade practices, as well as skewed policies involving incentives or subsidies, Ms. Arbour said. Yet, at its core and in its punitive effects, this crisis boiled down to a lack of access to adequate food. Such access was a right protected by international law, underlined Ms. Arbour. It was important to examine and address the repercussions of the crisis on the people already living in precarious situations. A failure to act might also trigger a domino effect by putting at risk other fundamental rights, such as the right to education and to health. States had a legal obligation under human rights law to remedy such situations. There was no doubt that countries with stronger accountability systems were in a better position to control the internal causes affecting the increase in the prices of food. Furthermore, States had a duty to protect their populations against human rights abuses by non-State actors and to provide access to remedies when abused did occur.

By now, one should no longer harbour any illusion that individual countries could confront the scale of these crises alone, the High Commissioner said. The food emergency had highlighted or exacerbated existing imbalances in the relationship among States. The nature of this crisis transcended national boundaries. It involved collective responsibilities. States had to support and extend cooperation to other States in need of assistance. Pledges to such cooperation and solidarity were enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Millennium Development Goals. Empowering people to secure food for themselves and for their family in a sustainable way was central to a human rights approach to the food crisis, said Ms. Arbour.

The United Nations human rights system could support national efforts to monitor the implementation of the right to food and freedom from hunger. The Council at this session could stimulate and evaluate national and international responses to the crisis. The United Nations system was tackling the humanitarian, scientific, economic and political aspects of the food crisis. The discussion today was necessary to bring rights to bear on measures that had been adopted and would be put in place as responses to the food emergency, said Ms. Arbour.

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said that, by thus standing up to its responsibilities in these unique circumstances, the Human Rights Council was sending three messages to the international community – to Governments, but also to international agencies. First, by holding its first Special Session ever on an economic and social right, the Council sent a strong message to the international community about the equal value of all the rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Second, the fact that the Special Session was convened on a thematic issue rather than on a particular country or region highlighted the fact that human rights should be seen not only as obligations imposed on States acting individually, but also as having to be realized through international dialogue and cooperation, in particular, between food-exporting and food-importing countries. Third, and most importantly, thanks to this Special Session, the global food crisis was treated not like a natural disaster, but as a massive threat to the right to adequate food for millions of individuals. Natural disasters did not constitute violations of human rights, unless the States in a position to assist victims stood by and did nothing. The disaster which, for many, resulted from the increase of international prices of food commodities was of a different kind. It was a man-made disaster. The causes were identifiable. Both immediate and medium-term solutions could be agreed upon. That imposed on all States an obligation to act, and to act without delay.

Since he had entered into the mandate three weeks ago, Mr. de Schutter said he had spoken to a wide range of actors about the initiatives they were taking in order to address the impacts of the soaring food prices in the short term, and in the medium and long term, to boost production in agriculture, particularly to support agriculture in Africa. All those actors, including the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, had responded favourably. Indeed, the unified United Nations response to the global food price challenge showed the willingness of the international community to react to the exceptional nature of the crisis by exceptional forms of cooperation. At the meeting of the Chief Executives Board held in Bern on 29 April, it had been decided to establish a Task Force on the global food crisis under the leadership of the Secretary-General, to enhance cooperation. A number of States had contributed funds to allow the World Food Programme to meet urgent needs of the populations which were hungry, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations had launched its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, which offered technical and policy assistance to poor countries affected by high food prices. The International Fund for Agricultural Development had also made available significant sums from existing lands and grants to provide an urgent boost to agricultural production in the developing world.

Yet, in that range of reactions, hunger and malnutrition were still treated as humanitarian questions, or as questions of macroeconomic policy, rather than as violations of the human right to adequate food, Mr. de Schutter stressed. It was to send this message on the right to food that the Human Rights Council had gathered today. As regarded emergency, humanitarian measures, the provision of international food aid should comply with Guideline 15 of the Voluntary Guidelines to support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the context of National Food Security. That required that the provision of food aid support the national efforts of receiving States to achieve food security, rather than being imposed or decided upon unilaterally. International cooperation was essential to the realization to adequate food. In any situation where a State lacked the resources to provide food to its population in situations where it could not feed itself, it had to seek international support to ensure the availability and accessibility of the necessary food. Further, the obligations following from the right to adequate food were also relevant as regarded the adoption of measures which, at the national level, might better shield the vulnerable segments of the population from increases in the prices of food commodities. All actors involved in identifying solutions to the current crisis recognized the urgent reinvest in agriculture in developing countries. Finally, in addition to guiding the policies which were needed to feed the hungry today and to adopt preventive mechanisms for tomorrow, the adoption of a human rights approach to the current increase of international prices of food commodities should guide the processes through which such short-term and long-term policies were developed.

EIBE RIEDEL, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said that last Friday, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had adopted a statement on the world food crisis. The food crisis had to be seen in its closest link with the enjoyment of human rights. States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had an obligation to respect and protect the right to adequate food. The Committee felt that two levels of actions had to be determined. Urgent action was required on an international basis, through the distribution of humanitarian aid without discrimination. Donor countries should prioritize assistance to States most affected by the food crisis. The rapid rise in food prices should be limited by encouraging the production of local staple food products for local consumption and not diverting the use of food crops for the production of agrofuel. An international mechanism of coordination to oversee and coordinate responses to the food crisis and ensure equal distribution of food accordingly was needed. The global trade regime under the World Trade Organization should be revised. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines should also be reinforced. In its General Comment 12, the Committee had affirmed that the right to adequate food was indivisibly linked to the inherent dignity of the human person and was indispensable for the fulfilment of other human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

JUAN ANTONIO FERNANDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Sponsors of the Special Session, said this was an unprecedented occasion: for the first time the Human Rights Council was meeting to consider a matter of vital importance for millions of human beings, the impact of the global food crisis on the right to food. Their peoples were hungry. They were accustomed to listen impassively to figures of 8 million hungry that year after year were mentioned by representatives of international agencies. But attention to the problems of hunger had recently been replaced by a focus on terrorism and climate change. The recent stark rise in global food prices had changed all that. Food prices of certain basic commodities were three and four times what they were a year ago, and that situation was intolerable.

There were Malthusian arguments that seemed to blame the crisis on countries with high birth rates, Cuba said. However, the essence of the crisis did not lie in recent factors; the unjust distribution of wealth around the world and the neo-liberal economic policies were at the heart of this crisis. Band-aids would not correct the situation. Cuba was concentrating on structural changes, rather than financial aid to help the hungry. The army of the hungry that was making the world shiver today was a necessary evil: the silent tsunami of hunger that many had thought would keep those vulnerable unable and too feeble to make their voices heard, had gone beyond that point. Those dying from hunger could not bear the thought that the problems of the world could be resolved by force. As Castro had said, bombs could wipe out people and destroy towns, but they could not end hunger and sickness, nor could they put down a rebellion against unjust conditions.

General Debate

SAMEH SHOUKRY (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the African Group welcomed the fact that the Human Rights Council was holding the first Special Session on a thematic issue. The global food crisis had had a disproportionate effect on Africa. The African Union had developed since 2005 a number of plans and strategies to address the situation. It was imperative to achieve national and international coherence in addressing the food crisis. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asked States to provide food to everyone. States had an obligation to alleviate hunger everywhere. Several factors were impeding efforts, including the blocked discussions at the World Trade Organization and imbalances between demand and supply. Further the use of food for biofuels and climate change had been factors that were worsening the situation.

Any policies that had proven to impede access to adequate food should be suspended. The international community should adopt a coherent approach to the crisis. Institutions and specialized agencies had to reach in their respective mandates and provide short, medium and long term solutions to the crisis. The corporate sector should also shoulder its responsibilities. The present situation, if not reversed, would endanger peace and security. Today’s session should not end up in a talk forum, actions had to be taken.

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, noted that the request for the Special Session on the right to food had been sponsored by 41 of the Council's 47 members. There was universal support for this initiative. The Special Session would sensitize the international community to deal with the food crisis that was threatening the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. More than 82 countries faced food emergencies. Some 850 million people were in a state of food insecurity. Stockpiles of grains, particularly of rice and wheat, had declined sharply. Some 100 million people would be pushed to deeper levels of poverty, and food riots had hit many countries. The crisis was so serious that they had to avoid playing the blame game and come up with a coordinated strategy. Criticizing countries or international agencies would not resolve the crisis. At the same time, they had to look into the factors that had caused this crisis and find ways to fix the myriad problems it had spawned.

The Human Rights Council had to identify possible actions that would promote respect for the right to food. The Organization of the Islamic Conference agreed with the Special Rapporteur that passivity or inappropriate reaction would constitute a violation of the right to food. The immediate challenge was to help those affected most, and the Organization endorsed the recommendations to avert the crisis in the short-term by increasing food supplies to meet the needs of the neediest in food-insecure countries. In the medium and long term, they should address the issues of the growing demand for food, agrofuel production, agricultural subsidies, food import restrictions, agricultural export bans, the impact of climate change, drought and desertification and investment in agriculture. The focus should be shifted to the most vulnerable, to the small farmer and the poor consumer. Small farmers should be helped with seeds, fertilizer and irrigation. Food distribution systems at the national, regional and international levels should be made efficient and elastic. The Organization of the Islamic Conference pinned high hopes on the High-Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bionergy to be held in Rome in June. The Council's support to that Conference would be a big help in mainstreaming the human rights dimensions in the world food crisis.

ANDREJ LOGAR (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union welcomed the convening of this first thematic Special Session. The European Union was of the opinion that the Human Rights Council could promptly and effectively contribute to the human rights dimensions to solving the crisis, guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provided that everyone had the right to a standard of living adequate for her or his health and well-being, including food, and by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stipulated that States parties to the Covenant recognized the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. However, this crisis had many and complex causes and it was not the mandate of the Human Rights Council to discuss these, but of other UN agencies and bodies.

The European Union was of the opinion that it was the primary obligation of States, individually and through international cooperation, to take necessary measures to meet the vital food needs of their people, especially of vulnerable groups and households. It was important to address all related human rights concerns in solving the current food crisis. Greater attention also needed to be given to increasing food production and productivity in developing countries, particularly in least developed countries. It was also the obligation of States to ensure full and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance, including the supply of food, for the affected people. In that regard, the European Union was deeply shocked at the devastation Cyclone Nargis had caused. Everything should be done to ensure that the necessary humanitarian assistance, in particular the supply of food, medicines, shelter and health care, reached the affected population. Emergency food assistance had an important contribution to make in mitigating the worst effects of the current crisis. The European Union Member States and the European Commission had therefore significantly increased their funding for food assistance in 2008. They were also providing substantial capacity-building assistance to the most vulnerable countries to increase agricultural productivity, particularly for small-scale farmers. The European Union joined the consensus in the proposed resolution.

MOHAMMAD ABU-KOASH (Palestine), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the Arab Group had participated in the calling of this Special Session on the global food crisis. The Council had to address this crisis within its competence and specialization. This Special Session had to yield a consensus resolution without a vote for the Council to send a clear message to all concerned, but in particular to the poor of the world. They had to send the message that they were not just standing on the sidelines like spectators. The Arab Group therefore was a co-sponsor of the draft resolution before the Council.

Food was a basic need and requirement for humans. But this crisis was manmade. They were all cooperating in a noble manner to address natural disasters. They had to do the same to address the food crisis, including the structural issues. That would require political decisions to be taken at the highest levels. Different speakers highlighted different aspects of the problem: some spoke of demand, and others supply. But they all had to review the entire process. There had to be a consensus on an initiative for more agricultural materials so that more food could be produced. Under normal circumstances, places like Palestine and Sudan could feed their populations.

SHINICHI KITAJIMA (Japan) said that all people had the right to be free from hunger. Soaring food prices were creating serious problems. Malnutrition was increasing and the situation was creating social unrest. This issue was a pressing one that needed to be addressed quickly. On April 18, the Prime Minister of Japan, as chair of the G8, had sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank. In the letter, the Prime Minister encouraged the United Nations and the World Bank to give additional input to the upcoming G8 summit in Japan. Other international forums should also be used to address this issue. The Government of Japan had announced a plan to implement emergency food assistance; $ 50 million had been provided to the World Food Programme by Japan. Japan joined the consensus on the resolution.

CARLOS RAMIRO MARTINEZ ALVARADO (Guatemala) said that the former Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, had visited Guatemala in 2005. In his report, he had acknowledged the Government's efforts to address the problem, and recommended that the attainment of the right to food should be an urgent priority. Government efforts had indeed been stepped up in recent years, focusing both on structural causes and on emergencies where hunger and malnutrition occurred. The Special Rapporteur had noted that a comprehensive development strategy was needed for the rural and agricultural sectors.

A national initiative had been launched in Guatemala, backed by both national and local actors, but the current crisis exceeded the capabilities of most countries to deal with the situation. The rise in food prices was turning Government resources from local social needs. The internal contradictions and social gaps would increase, including the eroding of democratic processes that had been constructed in many countries at such great costs. Despite many efforts, measures applied by the Governments of developing countries were not sufficient to alleviate the crisis, and were, moreover, blocking those Governments from bringing needed services to their people.

AMRAN MOHAMED ZIN (Malaysia) said that the rapid dwindling in the food supply and the soaring food prices currently experienced were unprecedented. Malaysia was seriously concerned over the enormous strain this situation was putting, particularly on developing countries. The latest statistics and projected number of victims of hunger was alarming. Confronting the crisis and achieving global food security required immediate and concerted actions at the domestic levels, coupled with effective international cooperation. Malaysia fully supported the ongoing efforts by the United Nations Secretary-General to promote a comprehensive and unified global response to address the food crisis. Malaysia looked forward to a positive outcome of the June high-level conference in Rome. In its view, the systemic causes of the crisis and its consequences were already clear, and what was required was a genuine international commitment and collaboration to enhance global food security.

BOUDEWIJN J. VAN EENENNAAM (Netherlands) urged the Council to concentrate today's discussions on how Governments, as duty bearers of the right to food, could meet their obligations and guarantee their citizens access to adequate food, even under the current difficult circumstances. The high-level meeting on world food security that would be held in Rome in two weeks' time would address the complex macroeconomic forces that had led to the current crisis.

In the short term, guaranteeing the right to food meant enabling access for individuals to adequate food supplies. That meant creating safety nets for vulnerable groups, preferably in the form of cash transfers. Safety nets should comply with the human rights principles of non-discrimination and inclusiveness and should be subject to the rule of law. Short-term measures such as price caps or export quotas did not work. In the medium term Governments should focus on agricultural development. That was not without cost, and the international community could provide support when national Governments were not able to foot the entire bill. On top of the Netherlands contribution to the World Food Programme of $68 million, it had made an additional 8 million euros available for international food aid caused by higher food prices. Finally, the Netherlands held that the right to food implied that Governments accept humanitarian assistance, especially food assistance, when, for whatever reason, they were not able to access such supplies themselves. In that respect, the Netherlands strongly deplored the initial response by the Burmese authorities to limit access to their country for relief workers and humanitarian aid after Cyclone Nargis hit that country.

JOSE A. MORATO TAVARES (Indonesia) said that if left unaddressed, the current crisis could have grave physical and moral repercussions around the world. The current crisis as a result of the steeply rising food prices in recent months and the threat which it posed to the subsistence of millions of people around the world could be said to come at an opportune time to join the international community into action. The purpose of today’s Special Session was to push countries to act, which could be done notably through the establishment of a regime of world food governance, which was long overdue. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights first recognized the right to food as a basic human right in 1948. But it could be realized only when access to food was universal and in sufficient quantities. The crisis came at a timely juncture to remind all States of their responsibilities under the Millennium Declaration. Government were invited to re-assess the mechanisms of food production, supply and trade in such a way to make them more equitable. Against the backdrop of a world financial crisis, the escalating food prices, compounded by the dizzyingly high oil prices threatened to precipitate vulnerable areas into a crisis of massive proportions.

DEBAPRIYA BHATTACHARYA (Bangladesh) said that in their continued efforts for the actualisation of human rights throughout the world, they were transcending a new threshold in addressing the economic and social right, the right to food in the context of the global food crisis. Notwithstanding record levels of food production, some 9 million people in the world went hungry. Nearly 40,000 children died owing to disease and malnutrition every day. The situation was most acute in the least developed countries and net-food-importing low-income countries. Bangladesh was such a country. World food prices in 2008 were more than 2.5 times higher than in 2002. High oil prices, crop losses in many developing countries, lower stocks and increased price volatility were among some of the causes. The impact was that rising food prices had serious deleterious affects on the global poor. Enhanced food import bills were diverting funds from other global development needs. Rising food prices might not only wash away poverty gains, but could deepen poverty.

From the perspective of the right to food, the availability of food in the market was irrelevant if the poor could not afford to buy it. Access to food was the moral obligation of rulers since the dawn of civilization. In modern times, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous international covenants have created a right to food. It was imperative for the Human Rights Council and other international bodies seek internationally based policies for effectively implementing the right to food. Among necessary measures, subsidy-drive biofuel production had to stop and agriculture had to be repositioned as the key development focus.

BABACAR CARLOS MBAYE (Senegal) said that the way countries had answered the call for this Special Session reflected a collective awareness of the urgent need to resolve the current crisis and that the voice of the Human Rights Council had to heard in this crisis. The world food situation was so complex that all actors that had a direct or indirect impact were called to act. The right to food was in the first instance lying with States, but all international, governmental, non-governmental and the public sectors had to join efforts to fight poverty and develop agriculture. Senegal had been considering programmes in this regard and was committed to building a world free from hunger and poverty. This Special Session was seen as a step in this direction.

SAMEH SHOUKRY (Egypt) said Egypt believed that this session represented a test for the credibility of the Council in the eyes of world public opinion, and for the degree to which the Council had been successful in shedding light on the human rights dimension of the challenges facing the international community. Public opinion was anxious to assess whether the Council would rise to the challenge and address a united message reflecting international solidarity in the face of the world food crisis, and whether it was serious about mainstreaming human rights perspectives in international policies.

The current food crisis and its associated sharp increase in the prices of basic food crops was the product of several factors. It was also the natural outcome of the type of policies advocated by some international financial institutions and specialized agencies resulting in a sharp decrease in funding allocated to agriculture, and in encouraging developing countries to change their crop patterns at the expense of food security considerations, relying instead on the importation of food from international markets. The devastating repercussions of the crisis had also been compounded by the trade distortions resulting from the generous agricultural subsidies offered by rich countries to their farmers for non-economic considerations. Egypt called on all States, international organizations, in addition to presenting urgent assistance to countries most affected by the current food crisis, to examine the various reasons that led to it, and to reconsider national policies which may have contributed to its escalation.

SHREE BABOO CHEKITAN SERVANSING (Mauritius) said that this session was very timely. The ongoing crisis was not simply a humanitarian one but constituted also a tragic violation of the right to adequate food. The right to food perfectly illustrated the indivisibility, interdependence and inter-relatedness of all economic social and political rights. Civil and political rights could not be advanced if the right to food could not be upheld. While the effects of the present food crisis had been felt worldwide, the effects had been more acute for the world’s most vulnerable economies, including small island developing States. As a net food importing developing country, Mauritius was extremely concerned that many food exporting countries had reacted to the crisis with stringent trade policy measures. The right for access to food was as important as the right to food. Food should not be used in a manner that would impoverish the less fortunate. Countries were urged to refrain from unilateral measures that endangered food security. The crisis called for international cooperation and solidarity.

CLARAH ANDRIANJAKA (Madagascar) said that the support by more than 82 United Nations Member States, including Madagascar, for this Special Session demonstrated the global nature of the crisis and the determination of the international community to ensure full respect for the right to food. Sub-Saharan Africa, which had the largest number of least developed countries, where poverty was ever present, was one of the regions of the world most affected by this scourge. Increased efforts and collective commitments by the international community were needed to guarantee the right to food.

Confronted by challenges of all sorts, including natural disasters, the deterioration in the exchange rates, and the rise of the price in foodstuffs, the least developed countries alone could not ensure full respect for the right to food. It was true that the right to ensure respect for the right to food was chiefly the responsibility of States themselves, which urgently had to formulate national plans to address the food crisis. But such measures also had to be taken at the regional and international levels. As far as the African Union was concerned, it already had such a mechanism and was making use of it.

SERGIO ABREU E LIMA FLORENCIO (Brazil) said that combating hunger and poverty was Brazil’s highest priority. They were most concerned with the human rights perspective of the current food crisis. An innovative financial mechanism and the creation of the United Nations Development Programme Fund to strengthen international cooperation against hunger and poverty were examples of concrete measures in the common struggle they were all engaged in. Brazil was among the co-sponsors of the draft resolution. Brazil was hopeful that the results of the Special Session would contribute to a human rights approach to the current food crisis and strengthen cooperation engaging a number of actors. All activities dealing with the issue should keep a coordinated approach. Relevant initiatives in the combat against hunger and poverty should also be highly stressed. In this context, the high-level conference on world food security and the challenges of climate change which would be held in June was a major event.

Brazil agreed with the Secretary-General that the crisis was complicated and had multiple causes. As President Lula affirmed, the current phenomenon was the result of a combination of factors. The rise in oil prices, lower crop yields in many countries due to adverse climate phenomena, rise in freight costs, shifts in currency exchanges, speculation in financial markets and the rise of food intake in developing countries. As President Lula highlighted, to face this problem in a consistent manner, one must avoid generalization and reductionism. Brazil repudiated the latest declarations in the media by the former Special Rapporteur on the right to food Jean Ziegler that the production of bio-fuels implied a crime against humanity because it supposedly affected the right to food. To overcome the present crisis, the successful conclusion of the World Trade Organization Doha Round was clearly required.

SWASHPAWAN SINGH (India) noted that the food crisis underscored the interdependence of all human rights, as the enjoyment of the human right to food and freedom from hunger was of paramount importance for the enjoyment of all other rights, including the right to life. The present food crisis, particularly high food prices, was of special concern to developing countries, that were in the process of trying to provide basic nutrition to their populations. Moreover, the rise in global food prices not only retarded economic growth, but also heightened global inequities of income and wealth. In addition to trade distorting policies, production of bio-fuels by diversion of land from food crops to biofuels had resulted in production distortions leading to price hikes. There was a need for transfer of modern farming technologies, drought and pest-resistant seeds, advanced irrigation systems, and improved fertilizers to assist developing countries to increase their production. Gross domestic product (GDP) that was agriculture-driven was four more times effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth originating in other sectors.

In India, which was home to around a sixth of humankind, one of the most notable achievements had been in the area of food security. However, as far as Millennium Development Goals were concerned, India continued to need to do much more to improve nutrition levels. India was convinced that the world had enough resources and the ability to cope with this crisis. There was an urgent need for a global understanding to stabilize food prices and that could be addressed by forging a new partnership between the developed and developing nations on issues related to food security. For its part, the Council now had to pronounce itself very clearly on this issue.

ELCHIN AMIRBAYOV (Azerbaijan) said that Azerbaijan shared deep concerns with regard to the present food crisis, especially when the world produced enough to feed double the present world population. The crisis was increasing poverty in poor countries. It undermined the efforts of the poorest countries in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. It was also putting national and international security in jeopardy. A new trend of hunger refugees was now arising. Countries should redouble their efforts to address the problem. The root causes such as climate change and desertification should be addressed to put an end to this phenomenon. The international community should continue to provide assistance in this regard. Further, in some affected countries, illegal or rebel groups were blocking the international community’s help. Azerbaijan hoped that today’s session would help address these issues.

LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA (Mexico) welcomed the Special Session to bring out the human rights dimension in the global food crisis, contributing thereby to the search for better solutions to address this crisis. Moreover, the topic of this Special Session underscored the universal and indivisible nature of all human rights.

The magnitude of the crisis was alarming: food insecurity affected 860 persons worldwide, of whom 100 million were living in extreme poverty. Outbreaks of violence, generated by food shortages, were menacing security in many countries. The impact of climate change, shrinking grain reserves, export controls, agricultural subsidies, and biofuels production on rising food prices – all made it clear that there was an urgent need to identify approaches that could be implemented over the short, medium and long term. All should bear in mind the need to act in a coordinated manner on the basis of shared responsibility. While national strategies were needed, they would not work without measures to ensure global food markets. Mexico, at the initiative of its President, was currently implementing energetic policies to address the crisis, including additional funding to strengthen national agriculture, and a proposal on alternative bioenergy sources that would be presented at regional and global forums.

MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) said that Canada was deeply concerned by the food crisis affecting many people around the world. The importance of an international, coordinated and coherent approach to this problem was underlined. The Council’s contribution should provide practical support for dealing with the crisis. All States were called on to ensure full and equal access to humanitarian services. Minorities were particularly vulnerable. The Human Rights Council should hold States to their obligations to respect human rights, including the right to food. The food crisis was particularly severe for those where full and safe and unhindered humanitarian access was impeded such as in Burma, Somalia, Zimbabwe, “North Korea” and Sudan. It was the primary responsibility of States to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of persons under their jurisdiction but international cooperation based on free consent was essential. The Human Rights Council had a clear role to play in responding to the food crisis.

ERLINDA F. BASILIO (Philippines) said that the Philippines was a co-sponsor of the draft resolution and fully agreed that the Human Rights Council had to play a role in helping improve the human rights situation of those most affected by the world food crisis. The utmost concern for the Philippines was the deteriorating situation - because it was the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized groups, that were most affected by the world food crisis and rising food prices.

In the Philippines, as an immediate measure, the Government had increased the level of the minimum wage to help lower-income families cope with the rise in prices of basic commodities. It was also taking active measures to provide those in greatest need with access to rice at cheaper prices, with 700,000 families most in need eligible to participate in that scheme. Yet, because the crisis affected all countries, no country could solve its problems on its own. While short-term responses could be local, long-lasting solutions had to be attained at the regional and global levels, involving all relevant actors and institutions. The current crisis provided a window of opportunity for the international community to comprehensively address the multifaceted factors such as unfair and discriminatory trade practices and environmental degradation – which had caused the crisis.

CARLOS ROBELO RAFFONE (Nicaragua) said that hunger was the biggest violation of human rights in the world. How was it conceivable not to find the money to bring food to the poorest when billions were spent for wars? During today’s Special Session they had to jointly assess the causes and the impact of this crisis. Food could not be the subject of the so-called free market. The crisis was hitting hardest the poorest countries and impeded the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It was inconceivable to produce biofuels when others were dying from hunger and famine. The attainment of the right to food would only be reached when the world would end being unequal as it was today.

MOHAMMED I. HAIDARA (Nigeria) said Nigeria welcomed the convening of the very first thematic Special Session of the Human Rights Council, which was an indication of its sensitivity to all human rights emergencies and its readiness to address them on an equal basis. Nigeria was gravely concerned by the worsening situation which was currently threatening the lives of more than 800 million people across the world, but especially in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. That phenomenon was undoubtedly a threat to humanity and a critical test for the Council. Let it not be forgotten that the effects of this grim situation were not imaginary, but real and concerned people with whom they shared a common humanity.

Therefore, the time to act was here and now. The Council should call upon the international financial institutions, specialized agencies, and in particular the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Trade Organization to contribute meaningfully to providing practicable short-, medium- and long-term solutions to the persistent food crisis and the challenges posed by the continuous rise in food prices.

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France) said that France believed that the food crisis required a swift reaction by the Human Rights Council. The Council was here to contribute with solutions to the crisis. France was seriously concerned by the level of the crisis and by the impact it had on the Millennium Development Goals. France had immediately answered to the crisis by doubling its financial aid to the Food and Agricultural Organization. The French President had called for a global partnership to better coordinate all stakeholders. Sustainable responses were needed. France would set the crisis as one of the priorities under their European Union Presidency. On 3 July a conference on the subject “Who will Feed the World” would take place in Brussels. Immediate intervention to support agriculture in the developing countries was needed.

ARCANJO MARIA DO NASCIMENTO (Angola) said Angola supported the statement made by Egypt, on behalf of the African Group, and thanked the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food for their statements. Angola had been following with great trepidation the social uprising in a number of countries, in particular African countries, following the price surge for foodstuffs. That could throw over an additional 100 million persons globally into poverty. The rise in the price of basic foodstuffs had become a true crisis. There were a number of factors behind this, including growing urbanization, climate change, and rising energy prices.

Angola lamented the current economic order that marginalized the African continent and threatened development for more than a decade now. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that everyone had a right to adequate health care, a healthy environment, and adequate food, among others. That required a climate of peace, stability and a regular political, social and economic development, which could contribute to States' capacity to give the necessary priority to food security and the eradication of poverty. In the face of poverty, international solidarity was called on to help the poorest of the poor and to provide them with the necessary assistance to allow for them, in the medium term, to ensure their own food independence.

LI BAODONG (China) said that the soaring food prices were seriously impeding the efforts of developing countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The crisis had already created several conflicts in Africa and the Caribbean. Today’s Special Session showed that the Council had the capability to react and act swiftly. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognised the right to food and the right of everyone to be free from hunger. Given the interrelatedness of all human rights, it was only through this right that other fundamental freedoms and rights could be met. The right to food was the most fundamental human right and should require the highest attention of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. The Office should closely collaborate with relevant specialized agencies and Special Procedures in order to address the situation and find solutions. Speculation had to be prevented. China was willing to continue to support all parties dealing with the crisis

CARLOS ALBERTO CHOCANO BURGA (Peru) said Peru had joined in Cuba's request to hold this Special Session, and was a co-sponsor of the draft resolution on the world food crisis, as it believed the Human Rights Council had a role to play in addressing the global food crisis that had resulted from rising food prices. States should ensure that efforts by the international community included a human rights perspective, and in particular, the right to food. Only thus could they ensure that actions taken had as their final objective that boys, girls, men and women around the world would benefit from the actions they adopted. Human action was the primary cause of the crisis: through pollution and trade distortions, among others. The resolution they should adopt should not address merely the immediate issue of hunger, but the underlying causes of the crisis.

Peru was addressing the crisis by providing direct subsidies to the poorest families, as well as food to those in need. Moreover, the rise in food prices had been a theme of the Summit of Heads and State of Latin America and the Caribbean and the European Union which had been held in Lima in May 2008. At that meeting, they had adopted a declaration expressing their grave concern about the situation and reiterating their commitment to policies to combat hunger and fight against poverty.

GLAUDINE J. MTSHALI (South Africa) said that dealing with this issue in this forum underscored that the human rights dimension of this problem could not be overlooked. The significant escalation of global food prices had become a crisis for the world’s most vulnerable. The threat of malnutrition and hunger was growing. The risk of political instability was particularly high in countries emerging from violent conflict. It was believed that this crisis had multiple causes such as increasing energy prices and production of bio-fuels. If action was not taken to provide farmers in developing countries with the support required to ensure sustainable future crops, it would lead to even more severe food shortages. The African Union was working to urgently address food security issues in Africa. Despite the positive increase of economic growth in Africa in 2007, the escalating food predicament would be disastrous for many African countries.

R. ARIYARATNE (Sri Lanka) said, as a net food importing developing country, Sri Lanka had grave concerns on the impact of the current global food crisis on its economy and on its people. Sri Lanka was facing the challenges of conflict that had spanned over two decades and the prospective of rebuilding and recovering in the future. With no energy resources of its own, and a small agricultural infrastructure, the pressures that rising prices coupled with equally accelerating fuel prices were placing on its already overburdened economy were heavy. It was no longer possible to continue defining this crisis in economic terms: they had to face the reality that it was now very much a human concern, with more and more people suffering from lack of access to adequate food. In the current environment that continued to stress the importance of human rights, it was ironic that that basic right sometimes appeared to be the most neglected right of all.

Sri Lanka therefore joined other Member States in calling for a concerted international response to this crisis, guided by the obligations of all States to respect the basic human right to adequate food. Such a response should be on an individual level, but more especially through international cooperation, through relevant multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization framework, which was itself at a crossroads in the crucial Doha Development Round negotiations. Such international cooperation was also vital in the form of capacity-building and transfer of technology that would provide all means for countries in increasing their food production. As an important step towards that international response, Sri Lanka urged the adoption of the draft resolution before the Council.

REINHARD SCHWEPPE (Germany) said that Germany shared the grave concerns on the current food crisis and its implication for the poor. An immediate response was needed. The high-level conference on food security in June in Rome would play a vital role, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Task Force on food security. States had a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger. This was also true in times of natural disasters by securing access of populations in need of humanitarian aid. Tackling this issue within the Human Rights Council provided an opportunity to highlight human rights obligations of States and to recall the content of the Food and Agricultural Organization Voluntary Guidelines. It also allowed the world to place the right to food in the broader context of the progressive realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.

ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) welcomed the convening of this Special Session on the world food crisis, which was affecting a number of countries and threatened the right of food for all. During the 2000 World Summit, States committed themselves to half the prevalence of hunger, and they reaffirmed that goal in 2005. The world was producing enough to feed 12 billion people, yet children were dying every second from hunger and 6 million children under the age of 5 were dying of malnutrition.

Addressing this grave crisis required the solidarity of the international community, and the need to look at it through the perspective of international law, in particular the right to food. This Special Session would not be just an emotional appeal, but a commitment to the extension of this international right.
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