Enforcing the right to food is not enough against famine

NEW RELEASES – “Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth”1, according to the World Food Programme. When considering the right to food, it’s incredibly important for the individual to be empowered by the right itself. Non only states, but all members of society should see themselves as right-holders, protected by international and national legislative norms.2 Therefore, the law is a fundamental part of ensuring adequate access to food for human beings. Nonetheless, is legislation enough when considering the right to food? Should we consider other mechanisms to promote human nourishment? A different perspective seems to be urgently needed.

English

Right to food and states’ obligations

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) cites the right to food as a part of the right to a decent standard of living. In Article 25 it was stated that:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”3

The OHCHR4 specified that having a right to food means being able to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access to food, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The consumption of food must be linked to the physical and mental fulfilling and to carrying out a “dignified life free of fear.”5

In terms of States’ duties and responsibilities under international law, the OHCHR recognised that the right to adequate food will have to be realised progressively. “However, States have a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger even in times of natural or other disasters.”6 Apart from Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), General Comment No. 12 also defined the obligations that States parties have to fulfill in order to implement the right to adequate food at the national level.

 


Implementing legal provisions

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations expressly stated that “Legislation is […] a fundamental instrument in implementing national strategies related to the right to food. Yet, the choice of an adequate legal strategy depends on the particular mix of policies, institutions and legal frameworks already existing in each country.”7 Thus, it’s up to the single country to effectively implement efficient strategies to ensure that everyone is free from hunger and to provide to its citizens with adequate access to food. This process of implementation will vary enormously depending on the country we consider and on particular cultural traditions. For instance, Namibia (one of the countries with the highest percentage of people suffering of famine) will be different from Peru where the undernourished population is less prominent. Sometimes, the implementation will be effective; in other cases, there is still much that needs to be done.

In 2015, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, reported on her visit to Morocco. Ms Elver positively commented on the efforts made by the government of Morocco to incorporate international legislation in national provisions. She stated: “I was particularly impressed by the success of women’s cooperatives […] However, I noted that there are some structural disparities in implementation, and gaps in necessary infrastructure.”8 Essentially, Ms Elver highlighted the projects that had been implemented in Morocco, promoting access to food and combatting inequalities. Nevertheless, she pointed out the flaws created by the difficulty of fulfilling the implementation gap. The question then is: is the law enough? Can we only rely on legal norms when it comes to implementing the right to food, which is fundamental for life? An extreme case will highlight the issues with law and practice when it comes to human nourishment.

 


Disregarding the law: North Korea

According to the Guardian, “The number of hungry people in North Korea has more than doubled in the past two decades, rising to 10.5 million in 2014 from 4.8 million in 1990.”9 Over 40% of children under five are malnourished, as well as a high proportion of pregnant women.10 The current crisis in the DPRK is thought to have been caused by deteriorating social services along with inadequate food distribution. The army in North Korea is (allegedly) given more resources than the rest of the population, both from internal resources and from external ones (for instance, from the World Food Programme.) However, there is no evidence that “substantial amounts of food are diverted to the army.”11 As a matter of fact, the TIME12 reported that the country is requiring all residents of Pyongyang (North Korea’s capital city) to deliver 2 lb. of rice to state warehouses each month, as part of a “campaign of loyalty” to the leader. Whilst the state fills up its warehouses with resources, the country still requires food aid from other countries and the population of North Korea is affected by deep famine. As the FAO13 reported, Asia has faced a definite growth in economic terms over the past two decades. However, only one country in the region now has total food supplies inadequate to meet people’s average dietary needs: DPR Korea. Faced with these issues, the country completely disregards international law and doesn’t engage with human rights guidelines.


To conclude, the extreme example of North Korea was brought forward to highlight the inconsistency and the fragility of the law when it comes to the enforcement of the right to adequate food. As much as legal provisions constitute important guidelines aimed to eliminate hunger and promote access to food, they’re not enough. Nourishment is essential for life and there is a clear need for a different approach, on behalf of the international community, to tackle the issue of famine and hunger. A comprehensive and forward-looking approach is needed, and the international community should take into consideration all aspects – legal, political, social, economic etc. - of the right to food as a vital aspect of our life.

 


1 World Food Programme, Hunger Statistics. Available at: https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats
2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006) “The Right to Food in Practice”, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/ah189e/ah189e.pdf
3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Available at: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
4 Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, United Nations. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx
5Ibidem
6Ibidem
7 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The Right to Food. Available at: http://www.fao.org/righttofood/about-right-to-food/en/
8 Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (2015) “Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, at the end of her visit to Morocco”, Rabat. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16597&L...
9 Thomas Reuters Foundation (2015) “North Korea fears famine as drought halves food production, says UN”, the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/19/north-korea-fears-famine-a...
10 YOON Cindy, “Famine in North Korea”, Asia Society. Available at: http://asiasociety.org/famine-north-korea?page=0,0
11Ibidem
12 JENKINS Nash (2016) “North Korea Tells Citizens to Prepare Themselves for Famine”, TIME. Available at: http://time.com/4274666/arduous-march-north-korea-famine/
13 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015) “Regional Overview of Food Insecurity Asia and the Pacific - Towards a Food Secure Asia and the Pacific”, Bangkok. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4624e.pdf

 


MR – Research Assistant at CIPADH




Webography

Economic and Social Council, United Nations (1999) “General Comment 12 - The right to adequate food”, 20th Session. Available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G99/420/12/PDF/G9942012.pd...

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015) “Regional Overview of Food Insecurity Asia and the Pacific - Towards a Food Secure Asia and the Pacific”, Bangkok. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4624e.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006) “The Right to Food in Practice”, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/ah189e/ah189e.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The Right to Food. Available at: http://www.fao.org/righttofood/about-right-to-food/en/

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

JENKINS Nash (2016) “North Korea Tells Citizens to Prepare Themselves for Famine”, TIME. Available at: http://time.com/4274666/arduous-march-north-korea-famine/

Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, United Nations. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx

Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (2015) “Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, at the end of her visit to Morocco”, Rabat. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16597&L...

Thomas Reuters Foundation (2015) “North Korea fears famine as drought halves food production, says UN”, the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/19/north-korea-fears-famine-a...

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Available at: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

World Food Programme, Hunger Statistics. Available at: https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

YOON Cindy, “Famine in North Korea”, Asia Society. Available at: http://asiasociety.org/famine-north-korea?page=0,0

Category: