The UN needs to start supporting the rights of peasants around the world
By: Henry Saragih
Date: 17 April 2017
One morning in March, 36 houses belonging to peasant families of Mekar Jaya village in Indonesia’s North Sumatera province were razed to the ground.
A palm oil plantation company , assisted by state forces, used heavy machinery to evict the people and take the land. Agus Ruli Ardiansyah, from Indonesia’s peasants union, says that 360 families from the village no longer have anywhere to live.
Their village is part of over 550 hectares of peasant land that have been seized by this company alone in less than a year. Worldwide, land grabs like this are unfortunately becoming more common – highlighting the continuing lack of peasants’ rights. Peasants, or small-scale farmers, as a group, are very vulnerable to human rights violations: the expansion of plantations like palm oil have forced peasants and indigenous people out from their land and territory.
We peasants, producers of the food on the table, have been active in many avenues to struggle for better recognition and protection of our rights. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of peasants around the world are still facing displacement and criminalisation. Hunger and malnutrition, unemployment, gender discrimination and poverty all have something in common: they are more prevalent in rural areas.
That is why we feel a human rights based approach can be useful. In 2008 we began a process within the United Nations for a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. We brought our proposed declaration from members of La Via Campesina; from little villages in Sumatera, Parana, Limpopo, Granada and many others. This declaration, if approved, will create an international legal instrument to protect the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, and draw attention to the threats and discrimination they suffer.
The road to a UN declaration will include the fourth session of negotiation this May in Geneva – meaning the content of the draft declaration will continue to be shaped by UN member states, civil society and other parties. From a simple peasants’ declaration, the draft has grown to 27 complex articles. Now it is not only exclusive to peasants, but has been developed to include all people working in rural areas. In the latest UN draft, we can find that the declaration also applies to any person engaged in small-scale livestock-keeping, fishing, forestry, hunting or gathering and handicrafts.
The declaration also contains crucial rights for peasants and other people working in rural areas – individual and collective rights – such as the rights to land, seeds, water, decent income and biodiversity, with an emphasis on rural women’s rights. The adoption of the declaration by the UN could provide villages like Mekar Jaya another legal instrument to protect peasant lands in the future.