Legal Processes

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The right to food is legally recognized in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the obligations of States Parties are set out in Article 2, establishing that:

“Each State undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures” (…)

Depending on a country’s legal and constitutional system, the international treaty’s provisions can be directly applied in the same way as national legislation or it will require specific legislative action to incorporate treaty provisions in the national legal system. In its General Comment 3, the CESCR considered that in many instances legislation is highly desirable and “may be even indispensable” in order to give effect to the rights guaranteed in the ICESCR (paragraph 3).

Legislation is thus, 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.

There are three main complementary levels of legislative action that States may undertake:

  • Incorporation of the right to food in national constitutions;
  • Adoption of food security or right to food framework laws defining clear objectives, institutional responsibilities and overarching principles to orient policies and programmes;
  • Review of the most relevant sectoral legislation affecting the enjoyment of the right to food for their compatibility with this human right.

FAO works on these three areas of legal intervention providing technical support to countries in the development of legal frameworks for the implementation of the right to food. In strong collaboration with FAO Legal Office, which alone has the mandate to provide direct legislative support, the Right to Food Team undertakes awareness raising and capacity development activities involving national actors and counterparts who have a key role to play in the development of legislation.

While legislative action is thus essential to implement the right to food (as well as all other human rights) at national level, legal solutions alone are not sufficient to achieving its full realization. Effective enjoyment of an economic and social right – even if constitutionally or statutorily recognized – is not possible without effective policy and programme follow-up.

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