Rural and landless people: can a UN declaration protect them?

"The UN has drafted a groundbreaking declaration that has the potential to protect the human rights of peasants, rural workers, and landless peoples. There is room, however, to strengthen its provisions" says Shivani Chaudhry in a recent article on

24 january 2018 - “Every year, about 15 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes in the guise of ‘development’”. Rural people face consistent human rights violations and are continually marginalized. Each year, those experiencing poverty, human rights violations, and/or discrimination continues to grow, as well as the number of peasant farmers who eventually commit suicide after deprivation and indebtedness. These marginalized rural groups do not contribute to climate change, but bear the greatest brunt of the impacts! On the other hand, the people and groups working against the system to provide some amount of relief end up facing repression and persecution. Awareness and concern of these circular issues are non-existent and very limited and any efforts to mitigate and prevent these issues is not effective.

Published on, Shivani Chaudhry, the executive director of the Housing and Land Rights Network in India, explicitly voices her opinions regarding a possible new UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. “The UN has drafted a groundbreaking declaration that has the potential to protect the human rights of peasants, rural workers, and landless peoples. There is room, however, to strengthen its provisions.” From the initial discussions in 2012, members of the United Nations have worked to contribute to food security, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, and the human rights of peasants and other rural farmers around the world. The current draft does recognize, for the first time, the respective needs and consistent marginalization of members of rural communities, with a more personal and sustainable paradigmatic lens! As Elisabeth Mpofu, General Secretary of La Via Campesina, recently said, "the need for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants is more urgent than ever". Despite these efforts, however, Shivani calls for a more extensively written UN Declaration, explicitly stating the goals of the document regarding the aim to uplift, protect, and support marginalized communities, specifically peasant women and children, indigenous groups, and the landless, to name a few. Shivani includes four main changes to be made to the Declaration draft, including human rights-based impact assessments before project implementation to mitigate the risk of violations, incorporating solutions regarding biopiracy and appropriation of traditional knowledge especially within groups that have been historically omitted (“internally displaced persons, refugees, people living under occupation and situations of armed conflict, and stateless persons”), a concrete definition of the term “public purpose” that actively works towards preventing human rights violations, a human rights approach to addressing climate change including recognition and descriptions of how peasant farmers are continually impacted, and finally, an overall agreement of all member states to collaborate and participate in these efforts.

A revised Declaration would not only demonstrate historic leadership and commitment to specific and immediate human rights issues, but would also be an addition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure, the Parish Agreement, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Working as a way to fill implementation gaps, a refined and expanded UN Declaration will help contextualize and define frameworks for impactful implementation!


Photo: Flickr | @Prabhu B Doss