Twenty-eighth Session

Rome, 6-8 June 2002


Table of Contents


1. The World Food Summit, 1996, has proven to be a watershed, in the process of highlighting and bringing to the fore the human right to food. Under Objective 7.4 (e) of the Plan of Action on World Food Security, the World Food Summit undertook to: “Invite the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in consultation with relevant treaty bodies, and in collaboration with relevant specialised agencies and programmes of the UN system and appropriate intergovernmental mechanisms, to better define the rights related to food in Article 11 of the Covenant and to propose ways to implement and realise these rights as a means of achieving the commitments and objectives of the World Food Summit, taking into account the possibility of formulating voluntary guidelines for food security for all.” Pursuant to this objective the Director-General of FAO signed a memorandum of understanding with the High Commissioner for Human Rights in May 1997 regarding follow-up to the World Food Summit.


2. The Commission on Human Rights has annually adopted resolutions on the subject[1], and has appointed a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who reports to the Commission and to the General Assembly.[2] FAO is playing an active role in support of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in realising the right to food. General Comment 12 (GC 12) adopted by the CESCR, now constitutes the most authoritative interpretation of Article 11 on the right to food in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It has helped the understanding of what is implied in the right to food in general terms, and provided principles for identifying corresponding obligations and responsibilities of state and non-state actors in implementing it. It has laid the basis for the next phase in advancing the right to food which is to operationalize implementation at the national level.[3] It also led the UN Commission on Human Rights to appoint, in 2000, a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (Professor Jean Ziegler) with a mandate to establish co-operation with Governments, intergovernmental organizations, in particular the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations, on the promotion and effective implementation of the right to food. He may “seek, receive and respond to information on all aspects of the realization of the right to food,…”[4] He has undertaken two country visits to date, to Niger and Brazil. His most recent recommendations are highlighted in Box 1.

1. Recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on
the Right to Food

  • International trade obligations must be reviewed to ensure that they do not conflict with the right to food. Economic policy changes must not endanger life through malnutrition, but guarantee at least a basic minimum that respects at the very least the right to food and the right to life. The Special Rapporteur strongly recommends that the decisive negotiations on agriculture and other issues currently under way at WTO take food security into particular account and ensure that trade rules do not conflict with international human rights law.
  • As far as structural adjustment programmes can increase social disparities and exclude many of the poorest of the poor households from access to minimum food requirements, the right to food should be a guiding principle in the process of the review of such programmes. Similarly, the right to food should be a guiding principle in poverty-related policies in the preparation of poverty reduction strategy papers.
  • In order to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, the Special Rapporteur recommends putting more emphasis on small-scale farming, local food security and nutritional programmes. Whatever the weakness of the situation in a State, there are measures for local food security that can be taken immediately at very low cost, including programmes for nutritional education, universal school lunches, encouraging maternal breastfeeding and the provision of family gardens or small parcels of land and other elements that relate to securing land titles, micro-credit, local co-operatives and access to water.
  • Action for local food security should also clarify the question of the organization of the provision of food and water in case of natural disasters, ensuring ethnic, gender and religious non-discrimination. Monitoring structures should also be put in place at the local level to monitor the consumption of food in sufficient quantity and high enough quality to ensure adequate growth of babies and children, as well as for women, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
  • Stronger involvement of local authorities in delivering services and reaching food-insecure population groups should be encouraged. Decentralization means allocation of responsibility and budgets to local authorities, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
  • Every Government should develop a national framework law conforming to the need to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food, recognizing obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, in particular paragraph 29 of General Comment No. 12 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As recommended by the Third Expert Consultation on the Right to Food, held in Bonn, Germany, from 12 to 14 March 2001, the strategy should make an inventory or checklist of issue areas that require national regulation, such as guaranteeing access to productive resources for the food-insecure and the vulnerable, including land tenure and access to water. In addition, a review of existing legislation should be made to assess whether it contradicts the obligations under the right to adequate food or lacks adequate implementation. Effective administrative and judicial remedies and recourse procedures should be implemented for everyone whose right to food is violated or neglected.
  • Governments should appoint focal points on the right to food in national administrations that should co-ordinate the work of relevant ministries (agriculture, finance, social welfare, health and land). As provided for in paragraph 29 of General Comment No. 12, Governments should develop indicators and set benchmarks to allow verification of the progress of establishing the right to food at the country level.
  • The Special Rapporteur recommends that States adopt an international code of conduct on the right to food, as voluntary guidelines aimed at achieving food security for all, as called for in objective 7.4 of the 1996 Rome Declaration on Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. The drafting of such voluntary guidelines should be on the agenda of the follow-up meeting to the World Food Summit. In that respect, the 1997 International Code of Conduct on the Human Right to Adequate Food already drafted and approved by many non-governmental organizations should be taken as an excellent starting point. The Code should be further developed by FAO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in collaboration with other relevant bodies and inter-agency arrangements.
  • The Special Rapporteur recommends that international organizations, including FAO, WFP, IFAD and others, as well as the bilateral and multilateral development Cupertino agencies, adopt a rights-based approach in their work of implementing the right to food as set out in paragraphs 40 and 41 of General Comment No. 12.

Source: Preliminary report to the General Assembly on the right to food prepared by Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the right to food, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/25 of 20 April 2001, as approved by the Economic and Social Council at its substantive session of 2001.


3. The translation of GC12 into practical legislative, executive and administrative terms in specific country contexts is the required next step on the road to acknowledging, honouring and implementing concretely the human right to food. In 2002, a series of national dialogues are planned for initiation through national seminars in a small number of selected countries, on the implications of applying GC12 principles to guide and to operationalize a rights-based approach to food and nutrition security in those countries. Two such seminars have already been held - in South Africa in January 2002 (organised by South African Human Rights Commission and the University of Pretoria) and in Brazil in March 2002 (coinciding with the visit to Brazil by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food). National seminars were also held in Norway in April (hosted by the Ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs), and in Germany on 22-23 May 2002 (hosted by the Minitry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture). These will be followed later in the year by similar seminars in Uganda (through the Uganda Human Rights Commission with University of Makerere), in Mali (through the Commissaire du Developpement Institutionel) and in Nepal (through the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal). In all cases the focus is expected to be on what needs to be put in place at the national level, if the country were to apply the principles of GC12 as a basis for food security planning and action. A synthesis of the lessons learned from these initial seminars are expected to be available in early 2003. That would provide a basis for other interested member states to set in motion similar processes for internal dialogue and implementation.

4. These national seminars, catalysed by the Norwegian-based International Project on the Right to Food in Development (IPRFD)[5], also offers an opportunity to explore the role and contribution of UN agencies to the implementation of the right to adequate food and related rights, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and FAO. The seminars constitute a potential learning ground for international organisations regarding how to orient technical advise and support to member states in these matters, as well as identify needs for internal capacity development for the purpose.


5. FAO has actively followed the development of the Draft International Code of Conduct on the Right to Adequate Food. The Code now has the support of hundreds of other NGOs as well as of some governments. The decision to negotiate such a code belongs of course to the members of FAO and the UN, including a decision as to whether that should take place under the auspices of FAO or somewhere else. The Committee may wish to debate the manner in which a Code of Conduct on the Right to Food may best be pursued.


[1] UN documents E/CN.4/RES/2001/25, E/CN.4/RES/2000/10, E/CN.4/RES/1999/24, E/CN.4/RES/1998/23 and E/CN.4/RES/1997/8.

[2] UN documents E/CN.4/2001/53, A/56/210, E/CN.4/2002/58

[3] General Comments also serve as a guidance to States Parties on the expected content of their obligatory reports to the Committee on ESCR on the implementation of the right concerned.

[4] Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/10, 17 April 2000.

[5] IPRFD provides technical advice and support as needed to these seminars and will prepare a synthesis document in collaboration with the national organisers.