University of Oxford

Right To Food And Food Right As A Fundamental Universal Human Right And Key For The Maintenance Of World Lasting Peace And Prosperity

It is obvious that food is a need which nobody can do without and it is becoming surely in large part a major human right issue today.  Food is a necessity to every person since no person can live without it. The increase in famine, hunger, malnutrition and other food related problems in the world have motivated more commitment to food and to its production.  Access to adequate and quality food has been an important issue in world politics.  Historically and since immemorial times, people are known to have held protest against kings, presidents, prime ministers, rulers, governments or other leaders in fight for food.  For example:  the events leading to the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette attitude towards her subjects will be always studied  and remembered as unfortunate historical occurrences caused by misery and hunger (le ventre affamé n’a pas d’oreilles = empty stomach is hard of hearing).  Similar protests are still being witnessed in the world today. The latest world food crisis led to demonstration, protest and even food related violence in many countries.

These aforementioned occurrences and the importance of food as number one of all needs to human existence add weight to food rights and mostly right to food as an important element of universal human rights susceptible to help in the eradication of poverty and the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the world today, if well implemented.

Right to food has been addressed in several conferences, various human rights documents and in research papers.

The world came to its sense to address food rights since the adoption of The Universal Declaration. Since then, the mere legal right confirming access to adequate food has been included in various human rights and legal documents. Following suit, some countries have included clauses on and enshrined right to food in their constitutions.

It is laudable to observe that even the countries that do not have explicit clauses of right to food, went ahead in accepting and signing to international documents that recognize right to food as a fundamental right. Show of force, without reservation, their commitment to the indispensable universal right to food.

In general overview, it is important to say there is no need to repeat the mere fact that food is an essential necessity to every human being (“Food security is a basic right” par 1).  For a person to live, food is required.  Not only ordinary food, but the food should be Adequate and of quality, and such food is required for people to live normal and healthy lives.

Even thought the food production has increased in 21st Century, Access to adequate and quality food is not possible to every person on the planet (United States. Dept. of Agriculture 32).  The world has witnessed increase in people suffering from famine, hunger and malnutrition, and effect of famine to children has been even more severe.

Although the fundamental responsibility to food falls on an individual person, the collective responsibility to food cannot be ignored.

Historical and political background of right to food gives evidence to the importance of food as an universal fundamental right and the history of the right to food has even longer history than the politics of malnutrition. The historical background of right to food shows the growth of access to food as a fundamental right.  The Access to food as a right expands the responsibility to food from an individual to state and to community of states because of its global impact.

After many centuries of struggle for democracy, social justice and human rights, obligations for providing food have been increasingly made enforceable in some countries. Thus, explaining the fact that providing food has been a moral obligation of rulers for centuries.  In history, rulers were expected to provide and maintain access to food for their subjects.  Failure to provide access to food was viewed as failure in leadership.

It is obvious to say that Moral obligation to provide food is in a way different from right to food.  While moral obligation is not enforceable, food as a right is an enforceable obligation (Schulz & Kracht 113).

In the past people under threat of famine or hunger would hold protests against rulers to force them to meet their moral obligation of providing food. Right to food, as a human right provides channels for forcing the State to meet its obligations towards its citizens. The essence of right to food is to provide legal and procedural means for ensuring that authorities provide access to food for everyone.  But even if the plea and several demands for right to food have been there for more than two hundred years, the idea is yet to be adopted by all the countries in the world.

If we look at the current state of food rights, World data on food related issues provide surprising information. It is estimated that more than Eight hundred million people in the world do not have adequate food. The effect of inadequate food and famine is even more severe in children. It is estimated that about forty thousand children die each day to hunger related cases. Most of the victims of famine and famine related problem constitute more of the poor. The high number of people suffering from food related problem continues to grow despite of high food production and consumption per capita ratio in some countries and the world in general (Craven 215).

While some people have excess food, others in other part of the world suffer from adverse lack of the same. Considering high production of food per capita in the world, it is fair to say that scarce access to food in other regions of the world is closely related to other social economic elements of life such for example, lack of source of income that can lead to poverty and hunger.

Food problems in the world can be viewed in two perspectives. In one hand, food is not available to the people and the unavailability of food can lead to famine.  In the other, food is available but some people cannot access it (Eide par 5).

It is known that earlier campaigns on access to food have focused on making food available to all.  To conform to right to food, many countries emphasized on improving food production through reforms and technology.  However, it has shown so far that this approach is not always effective when poor people are not involved in the production. With technology and mechanization of agriculture, food production is made for commercial purpose while the poor fail to access food despite of high food production (“Right to food: A fundamental human right” par 7).  In this case, the overall yield per hectare cannot be used to evaluate access to food in statistics.  Also, the Right to food involves other variable such as quantity, nutrition value and culture.

As a fundamental necessity, access to food will remain an important human right issue.

Without human rights, the principles of democracy, good governance, justice and law or order would not have the real meaning in their implementation. Therefore, the notion of right to food is very important for the mankind in all countries on this planet.

As the time goes, it is a trend to see that Most countries’ constitutions contain at least a chapter on the bill of rights or a charter of rights or either a chapter and sections pertaining to human rights that state the rights provided to the people within the territory.  Also, it is certain that United Nations has played an important part and role to the growth in human rights in the world as we know them today.  The United Nations was formed after the world had experienced very severe human rights issues during the Second World War.

The vision for Universal Human Rights was developed during the war after basic human rights of most people were overlooked in the war. The post war vision was a world with freedom to speech, faith, freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Universal Declaration on human rights provides the most important foundation to growth in human rights. United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as a guideline to universal human right (Orend 25).   The vision implied global cooperation to fight against global problems, common responsibility to security and wealth.

The global unity was to replace unilateral assertion that had led to war but promote multilateral cooperation for common good (Gross 33).

The growth in the vision for unity for common good was first manifested through declaration between United Kingdom and United States of America in 1941.  Then, in 1942, United Nations incorporated the vision in its United Nations Declaration.  This global cooperation inspired the drafting of United Nations Charter in 1945 and Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Formation of United Nations showed the determination with which member states had deep faith in cooperation, global peace and in solidarity or working together for common good.  By being a member, a State commits itself to maintain peaceful relations and to respect and be friendly to other member countries. The member countries also promised to do anything possible for universal peace (Gross 33). Member States also promised to cooperate with other nations in order to solve international humanitarian, cultural, economic or social problems. Above this, the member States must be committed to uphold human rights of their citizens and other people with disregard to race, political affiliation, religion, sex or language.

The vision for global cooperation was stamped by adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration implied that global peace and cooperation was not possible without respect of fundamental human rights. Global social, cultural, humanitarian and economic solution could not be possible without respect to basic human rights. The Universal Declaration of human Rights elaborates the range of human rights that should be available to every human being (Eide & Alfredson 17).

Various steps have been taken toward global cooperation. Although there are various successes to human rights, some of the rights stated in the declaration are yet to be achieved in all countries.

Right to food is seen as a fundamental right to human being.

Since the inception of human right through the declaration of universal human right, right to food has taken a central point in other human rights’ documents that came after the Declaration of Human Rights.  Internationally recognized human rights’ documents that recognize the right to food include international Bill of Human Right, the Covenants on Human Rights, and social, economic and cultural rights. These mentioned international documents on human rights were adopted through the General Assembly of Human Rights.  Governments that ratify these documents imply that they agree to uphold the contents of the documents.

Although the rights are recognized in various countries, this does not necessarily imply that there are respected in practice, but it gives at least a bright hope to future practice of the human rights including the right to food as legitimate human right..

One example of global recognition of right to food as a fundamental right is the recognition of food security as a state responsibility. Food and Agriculture Organization council passed a guideline to food security in 2004. The guideline recognizes the right to food by focusing on food security (FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 37).The trend in world leaders to recognize the need for guaranteed food security is an indication that right to food is a fundamental right (Gonsalves & Human Right Law Network 59).

The ambitions United Nations’ Millennium Goals show the commitment of global leaders to a better world through provision of human rights. One of the millennium goals is to reduce the number of people suffering from hunger by half. The World Summit held in 1996 also recognized the need to address access to food in all parts of the world (Feyter 125).

Despite of the commitments made by globe leaders to reduce hunger in the world, the numbers of people suffering from hunger have increased rather than decreased. This trend is an indication that measures that are more positive and objective should be taken to guarantee right to food other than just make mutual empty promises and non effective commitments.

Although most world leaders agree that access to food is a fundamental right, there is laxity in fulfilling this right, thus, creating hindrance to the right to food (Williams 171).

Almost one billion people in the world are hungry right now. Reducing hunger in the world seems not to be a priority in core decision makers. The right to food is set aside for other aims that are thought to be of priority by the leaders (Skoet & Stamoulis 78).  For example, reform on land policies to allow land to majority of poor would improve food security in a bigger way. However, most world leaders cannot agree to such a reform with preference to income from commercialized agriculture (Christensen 123).

Priority on commerce has led to competition between nonfood commercial crops and food crops.  Even where the land reforms are taking place, they are not well adequately applied. There is abuse of power and many transgressions on individuals’ human rights.  Several countries in the third world found themselves without any adequate agriculture and food production after their independence from colonial masters. One of the mere reasons is the inequity in implementation of land transfer and the lack of vision in the distribution and implementation of the same well written land reforms. Politicians want to grab all the left land and they have no will to use what it takes to make the land  productive. The land and the farm workers are being managed by remote control using cell phone (Zimbabwe).

Right to food has been addressed in various international documents. After the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted, human rights advocates paid more attention to political rights, which seemed to be urgent due to the Second World War.  However, as most political rights in the declaration are already in place, there is more increased attention to social and economic rights.  Right to access to food is part of social and economic right provided by the declaration (Austin & Tomasevski 67).

Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Right states the importance of food as a human right. “…Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing. Housing and medical care and necessary social services…” (“The Universal Declaration on Human Rights” art 25(1)).  This article makes it clear that access to food is an essential component to social economic rights.

The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights elaborates the social economic rights provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Article 11(1) of this document offers and insists a lot on individuals having the right to adequate food. The article also emphasize of the need for other humanitarian commodities such as clothing and a standard of living (“International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” art 11). This article emphasizes on the need for every member state to commit itself to upholding right to standard of life, where access to food is recognized as one of the components to standard of life.

The objective of human rights is to uphold human dignity for all individuals in the world other than just meet their psychological needs. This human dignity is manifested more in ability of every person to provide for herself other than being provided for (Tomasevski 89).

The response to problems of malnutrition in the world is highly based on compassion (Kent 21). International response to food problems range from small feeding programs to large-scale response, and through international bodies such as World Food Program, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Bank and other nongovernmental organizations.

The right to food is closely related to the right to life.  Everyone has the right to be free from hunger. It is the most fundamental and enabling human right of them all. Without food, nobody will thrive, nobody will function and nobody will live. Since a person cannot live without access to food, clauses that provide for right to life also imply the right to food.  Article six of International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, adopted in 1976, provide for the right to life. ” ..Every human being has the inherent right to life…” (“International Convention on Civil and Political Rights” art 6).The term inherent in this article shows that the right to life is absolute and not be denied. Article 1(2) of the same document protects human being from interference on their means of getting food. “In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.” (“International Convention on Civil and Political Rights” art 1(2).

International Convention on Economic, Social and cultural Rights and Convention on the Right of the Child provide clauses on right to food that are binding to all member states. Article 24 of Convention on the Right of the Child compels member states to provide essential things to a child including water and adequate food (“Convention on the Right of the Child” art 24).

Various countries have included the right to food in their constitutions. Brazil, Congo, Ukraine, Paraguay, Peru, Pakistan and India are some of the countries that have included the right to food in their constitutions (“The right to food in national constitutions” par 2-9).  Uganda, South Africa, Nicaragua and Ukraine recognize explicitly the right to adequate food for everyone.

Although the implementation of clauses on right to food may not be successful, at least the inclusion of right to food in the constitutions is a giant step toward overall right s to food for everyone.

For the Right to food in United States and Canada is a complex subject.  Right to food is not explicitly stated in both United States of America and Canada’s constitutions.  Despite of this omission, the right to food could be implied through precedence or implied in other clauses of both countries’ constitutions.

For example, the right to food is not explicitly stated in the United States Bill of Rights. However, the bill of rights provides for the rights that could be related to the right to food.  Right to food is considered as a social economic right such as right to land, good environment, just wages or personal security and pursue of happiness (Cohen & Messer 152). Despite of this, the same right is also implied in the civil and political rights. Observations from countries that do not respect civil and political rights show that citizens of such countries suffer from dire social economic problems (Russell & Chapman 83).

The right to speech and freedom of assembly, guaranteed in the US’s Bill of Rights create a good opportunity for achieving of the social economic rights.

Right to assembly and free press create the needed environment to demand for social economic provisions.

In addition to the Bill of Rights, the US government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International and Convection on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. USA also passed the Convention on the Right of the Child, a binding treaty, although it did not ratify it. Despite of the earlier commitment to right to food, United States of America is reluctant to inclusion of right to food in UN charter. This reluctance is not malicious, because USA is one of the first and best countries that care about human rights, human dignity and the well being of citizens.  Americans as individuals are compassionate people.

Unfortunately enough, it goes without forgetting that in 2002’s World Food Summit, United States was the only country that was opposed to the right to food.

Even though right to food is not incorporated in Canada’s constitution, Canada has a Charter of Rights which is stronger than the Bill of Rights passed in the United States, because the Charter of Rights is integral part of the Constitution of Canada. Canada is known as the world‘s Human Rights Champion.  Canada has dedicated itself to a variety of global conventions that tackle right to food (Riches par 4).

In the recent past, Canada has also committed itself to various international declarations that address the right to food.  The country supports FAO’s Declaration of Food Security in 1996, World Declaration on Nutrition in 1992 and Declaration on Social Development.  And in 2002’s World Food Summit, Canada distanced itself from USA by siding with the world for the Right to Food. Canada is a very compassionate State and for example when the USA is still struggling within itself to provide health insurance to the big segment of its less fortunate of the society without health insurance, Canada has accomplished that decades ago and nobody on Canadian soil goes medically uninsured.

In summary, Canada and the United States of America, both countries are known to be at the summit of leading democracies in the world and are where the major food problems to feed their citizens do not or hardly could occur.

In conclusion, the Right to food is an important human right issue today.  Hunger dulls the intellect, hinders development and thwarts productivity.  Enough food is produced twice over every year than is needed to feed the world. There is no reason for anyone to live hungry without food.  Advocates for right to food use the phrase “Food first” to show the importance of availability to food above other priorities.

Food is a necessity that none can live without; hence, it should be given a priority. Article 25(1) of Universal Declaration on Human Right defines right to adequate food as a fundamental right.  International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and Convention on Right to Child are some of the international conventions that have addressed the right to food.  Various international declarations on right to food show the trend towards global right to food.

Some countries such as India, Brazil, Paraguay and South African already have enshrined clauses on right to food in their constitutions.  We hope the world will increasingly understand and recognize the trend to make the right to food as a priority for the healthy mankind enshrined in their Constitutions. Then, governments will be directly legally held accountable and would be aware of their obligations toward the people and citizens in the respective countries.

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Works Cited

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