New York and Geneva, 2 May 2008

The new UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, released today - at a press conference held in New York - a statement calling upon the international community to act, by convening a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council as part of its efforts to address the world food crisis:

The General Assembly established the UN Human Rights Council (replacing the Commission on Human Rights) in 2006 to ‘contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and [to] respond promptly to human rights emergencies’.

As I assume the functions of UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, succeeding Jean Ziegler, the right to adequate food faces the threat of violation on an unprecedented scale, due to a series of events involving different actors. None of them seek to violate human rights, but we cannot ignore their impact on the ability of millions of individuals throughout the world to enjoy their right to food. The UN is leading international initiatives to tackle the crisis; its human rights dimensions must be kept squarely at the centre of all efforts.

The Human Rights Council should, as a matter of urgency, identify what actions are needed to ensure full respect for the right to adequate food. Governments cannot remain passive in the current crisis. Passivity or inappropriate reaction would, in such circumstances, constitute a violation of the right to food, whether by omission or by commission. The Human Rights Council was established as a standing body so it would be able to respond to human rights emergencies. This is one, and the Council should not remain silent.

There is a range of measures Governments and international actors should take to tackle the current food crisis. There is a need to combine short-term measures with those aimed at increasing food supply over the medium term. On an immediate basis, States should increase their support to humanitarian agencies - such as the World Food Programme (WFP) - and the provision of direct cash transfers to the neediest segments of the population in food-insecure countries. Over the medium and longer term, farmers - particularly smallscale farmers who do not benefit from the increase of global prices - need increased investment in irrigation and infrastructure and greater access to credit. Action is needed to combat climate change and mitigate its impact on agricultural production, which is expected to be particularly severe in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural subsidies, which distort markets, should be phased out as a matter of urgency. That should be a priority for the current Doha trade negotiations. The large volume of public resources freed up by elimination of market-distorting subsidies should be reinvested in agriculture – particularly in developing countries and in technologies ensuring positive human rights impact including through environmental sustainability. Freed resources should also help finance stronger social safety nets, particularly in developing countries, targetting the poor and other groups vulnerable to discrimination. Impact on food security must be as central in discussion of agrofuel production as environmental and social impacts.

Olivier De Schutter is professor of Law at the University of Louvain (UCL) and at the College of Europe (Natolin), and a Member of the Global Law School Faculty at New York University; he is currently visiting professor at Columbia University in New York. Mr. De Schutter is an expert on social and economic rights and on trade and human rights, who served between 2004 and 2008 as a Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The Human Rights Council approved on 26 March 2008 the proposal of its President to appoint Mr. De Schutter as Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, succeeding Jean Ziegler on the mandate as of 1 May 2008. The Special Rapporteur can be contacted at