From the podium

From the podium


Ms Mary Robinson (High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commission for Human Rights - UNHCR)

Madame Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, those of you who have sat and listened so patiently are about to be rewarded. You are about to receive a rich diet of human rights, as the real cure for world hunger.

The 1996 Rome Summit in its Plan of Action invited my office to undertake, in collaboration with others, a better definition of the rights related to food in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That task has been completed successfully. The process involved a wide range of consultations with individual experts, treaty bodies, specialised agencies and programmes, with the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the right to food, Professor Ziegler, as well as with non-governmental organisations.

The scope of the definition, and the obligations it places on States, are best captured in the General Comment, being the jurisprudence adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. General Comment No. 12 gives an authoritative interpretation of the right to adequate food. The Special Rapporteur has made an important contribution in constructing a better understanding of the right to food linked to safe drinking water and you will hear from him later.

The 1996 Summit also asked my Office to propose ways to realize the rights related to food as a means to achieve the commitments and objectives of the World Food Summit. From a human rights perspective, this concerns the implementation of the right by the primary duty holder, the state. We can report some progress on this task as well. Some 20 countries have adopted constitutions which, in more or less explicit terms, refer to rights concerning food or a related norm. A smaller number have developed legislative means to ensure enjoyment of the right to food in a comprehensive way. My detailed Report to the Summit illustrates this with the good example of Norway. There have been welcome examples also of judicial consideration an enforcement of the right in different countries and an important decision of the Indian Supreme Court showing the justifiability of the right to food, is referred to in the Report. But much more effort is needed on implementation of the right at national level.

The shocking reality is that although there are sufficient food resources in the world, we have all here acknowledged today that we are not progressing at the necessary pace to reach the target set in 1996 reiterated by the Millennium Declaration in 2000, of halving the number of hungry by 2015. This is morally and legally unacceptable. As we gather here it is estimated that nearly 13 million people in Southern Africa will face famine in the coming months. In addition, certain groups, such as HIV/AIDS affected persons and women in rural areas, in particular, can have great difficulties in coping as a result of discrimination or lack of accountability on the part of States. As we begin to discuss how to shape a more ethical globalisation it is clear that food security must be an overall priority.

Therefore, we must move beyond rhetoric and put the realisation of the right to adequate food at the centre of the new agenda. I was very glad to see the right to adequate food expressly referred to in paragraph 10 of the Declaration adopted this morning. The focus now has to be on implementation. I believe it would be helpful to work further on agreeing on practical guidelines that may help States to identify measures to implement this right. The WFS-five years later should give a fresh impetus to international action on the implementation of the right to food. It should adopt a multi-track strategy in which States, the United Nations, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society generally join efforts to make the commitments of the World Food Summit, as reinforced by the Millennium Declaration, a reality.

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