Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

By Wenche Barth Eide, emerita, University of Oslo, Norway

My contribution relates to the human rights dimensions of this valuable draft report.

In the wording of the author team itself: «[T]this report [therefore] situates the fundamental issue of inequality in food security and nutrition within a broader framing of equity, rights, agency and sustainability.»

I wish to emphasize that this is precisely in the direction of what human rights scholars and activists have been waiting and hoping for from the UN, as linked here to analyses of the deeper real causes of hunger and malnutrition through, i.a, unequal power relationships and resulting conflicts of interest in different food systems. It was this step that the CFS process on Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition did not want to fully take , and therefore left many disillusioned and disappointed by the fact that governments chose to deselect  a true human rights perspective.

The fact that HLPE itself is an independent entity, makes the CFS the  intergovernmental body finally responsible for fully keeping to the approach taken in this report and to operationalize it. If not, this HLPE document will - at least - serve as a comprehensive and competent step in furthering the development of this perspective for which there cannot now be any real return. I therefore also wish that the leadership of CFS and the Steering committee of the HLPE will help, through this report, to make human rights a standard feature of all future publications from CFS, so that it can live up to its commitment in its Global Strategic Framework for Food Security & Nutrition.

Several recent HLPE reports have laid parts of the ground, including the highly appreciated Report no. 15 which took a strong human rights approach in principle combined with a proposed expanded new framework for food security, as now followed up and utilized in the V0 of the current report.  

There are however two dimensions that the team seems to not have addressed:

1) that  of  the widespread «human rights illiteracy» among many users of these reports and other recommendations for human rights engagement in food and nutrition for greater equality and equity; however elementary knowledge about the UN system of human rights is very often more or less lacking;

2) the non-attention to how to link the work of the institutional UN development environment with its human rights  governance mechanisms, linked to monitoring of actions by  Member States that are parties to the original binding conventions in the international human rights system.

On 1: Many years of experience with attempts to further human rights perspectives in international fora, have demonstrated the fear by many politicians and civil servants of accepting human rights language and consequences for binding up commitments they think they cannot meet. Some of us have come to conclude that at least part of it may stem from ignorance of what the international human rights really are all about. The challenge of how to establish easy accessible information and training as «adult human rights education for food systems and nutrition» , is one that could deserve a special report or note from the CFS. FAO’s formidable work in this connection could be a starting point.

On 2: Mechanisms include states’ parties periodic and obligatory  self-assessment of their current situation of respecting, protecting and fulfilling (facilitating or providing)  various human rights, as reported to the UN human rights formal monitoring bodies; furthermore, the capacity of these bodies to give constructive advice on identifying and implementing obligations. In this context, the development based and the legal human rights based approaches to the right to adequate food and healthy diets could be better integrated for mutual benefit and strengthening of each.

What is needed here would be an explorative and constructive review and dialogue of the prevailing institutional resources for each approach and how they could draw on each other, both in the UN and at Member State level. For example, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the parallel UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (both with regionally nominated members) might gain from new development based outcome- and process indicators; then in turn test how using these in actual human rights/right to food and nutrition monitoring in legal terms, would demonstrate  their added value in driving a human rights based approach.

Could for example the interesting example of Zambia in the report help build process indicators for the country’s next self-reporting to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as part of  monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)? Or, how can ongoing work in Norway and other countries to hinder marketing of unhealthy foods directed to children, bring new process indicators to use in these countries’ own reporting to treaty bodies - with reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

It would be nice to see such examples in the V1 of this exciting report!