Re: Mainstreaming Food Security into Peacebuilding Processes

George Kent Univeristy of Hawai'i, United States of America
20.12.2013

Greetings –

I appreciate this discussion on Mainstreaming Food Security into Peacebuilding Processes. However, so far little attention has been given to the role of the human right to adequate food, and international humanitarian assistance in that context.

Most discussions of human rights are about the obligations of national governments in relation to the human rights of people under their jurisdiction. However, in protracted crises resulting from armed conflict, economic collapse, or geophysical hazards such as floods and earthquakes, national governments cannot, or perhaps will not, carry out their obligations relating to food security and nutrition.

In recent years there has been increasing recognition of the importance of extraterritorial obligations. This can be viewed as implying an obligation of the international community, taken as a whole, to provide humanitarian assistance in crisis situations. However, the donor countries have not recognized any concrete obligation to provide international humanitarian assistance.

This is especially clear in the way the Responsibility to Protect doctrine has been interpreted. The language of responsibility suggests that the countries that do the intervening have specific obligations to intervene when necessary for humanitarian purposes, but they really use it to assert their right to intervene.

The legal obligation to provide assistance to people in need under domestic law is discussed in terms of the duty to rescue. However, under international law, there is a curious change in perspective. The discussion is mainly about the rights of the donors to deliver assistance without interference. The argument says needy people have a right to receive assistance if other people offer to provide it. It does not say that the needy have a right to receive certain kinds of assistance, and therefore others have an obligation to provide it.  The main concern appears to be with the rights of those who provide the assistance, not the rights of those who need it.

The international community has turned the responsibility to protect, understood as an obligation, into a right to intervene—if and when it wishes.

Countries that intervene in other countries on humanitarian grounds should not be free to choose who and when they help. Stopping genocide or starvation should not be optional. There should be recognition of obligations, and not only rights, on the part of those who would intervene.

If the powerful countries are going to claim a right to assist under some conditions, they should also have an obligation to assist under some conditions. Despite their talk about responsibility, the donor countries don't really acknowledge any sort of obligation to provide humanitarian assistance if it does not suit them.

The human right to adequate food should be recognized internationally as well as within countries. Protracted crises are not merely local; they are also problems of the world, and should be viewed as matters of responsibility for the world as a whole.

Aloha, George Kent