In late 2018 the UN General Assembly in New York adopted a path-breaking Declaration on the protection of the rights of peasant families and other people working in rural areas. In concert with an alliance of civil society organizations, HEKS/EPER had championed the adoption of this Declaration and will now also be campaigning for its implementation.
Do peasants need their own rights?
Time and again the UN has adopted special interpretations of the universal human rights for specific people or groups – such as children, women, ethnic minorities or indigenous communities – whom it views as particularly vulnerable and in need of special protection.
Today, rural population groups too must be regarded as especially vulnerable: Although it is a proven fact that peasants, fishers, livestock farmers and other people working in rural areas play a critical role in ensuring food security worldwide, they receive little support in many countries. On the contrary, the growing industrialization of agriculture is making it ever more difficult for them to access land, water or seeds, or is placing these resources entirely beyond their reach, even though their lives and survival depend directly on them. They are also the ones most exposed to the devastating consequences of climate change.
UNDROP: A historic signal to farmers worldwide
The world community has recognized the problems and decided that the rural population must be better protected. In the 28 articles of the «Declaration on the protection of the rights of peasant families and other people working in rural areas» (UNDROP) the UN lays out their principal rights, including the right to land, water, seeds, agro-ecological forms of production, an intact environment or the right to determine their own economic goals as well as their diets.
For HEKS/EPER, the UNDROP covers all the critical issues as well as the rights to which people in rural areas should be entitled and which we have long promoted through our rural development projects.
Declaration on the rights of peasants and other People
The United Nations General Assembly in New York adopted a path-breaking declaration on the protection of the rights of peasant families and other people working in rural areas.
Rights on paper are one thing, their implementation in reality is another. The UNDROP is described as «soft law», in other words, it is not legally binding. The rights are therefore not directly actionable, but by adopting the Declaration, States have committed themselves to implementing it politically.
In its international project work HEKS/EPER therefore aims to raise awareness regarding the new Declaration and to support its partners in claiming these rights in their respective countries. Moreover, together with other Swiss civil society organizations, HEKS/EPER is keen to initiate dialogue with the Administration so as to work towards the systematic implementation of the UNDROP in and by Switzerland.
Implementing UNDROP will also present challenges for Switzerland, for example when it comes to harmonizing Swiss agricultural or trade policy with the rights of smallholders, for instance under bilateral trade agreements or intellectual property legislation.