The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas (UNDROP) has been formally adopted by the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, by a vote of 121 in favour to 8 against, with 54 abstentions.


This ratification formally introduces the Declaration as a UN human rights instrument, and will be used as a tool to continue the struggle for the recognition of peasant rights worldwide. La Via Campesina (LVC) and its allies were key contributors in bringing the Declaration from the grassroots level to the international stage.


La Vía Campesina (a Spanish phrase meaning "the campesino way" or "the peasants' way") was founded in 1993 by farmers' organizations from Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America, Central America and Africa. It describes itself as "an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe".


As a coalition of 182 organisations in 81 countries, LVC advocates family-farm-based sustainable agriculture, and was the group that coined the term "food sovereignty." It has campaigned to defend farmer's seeds, to stop violence against women, for recognition of the rights of peasants, and for agrarian reform.


The National Farmers Union of Canada was a founding member of LVC. NFU Youth Vice-President Jessie MacInnis was at the UN General Assembly for the adoption of the Declaration, which she calls “...An exciting and truly ground-breaking moment for La Via Campesina. To have an internationally recognized instrument at the highest level of governance that was written by and for peasants from every continent is a tremendous achievement. To have a tool such as this to support our continued work at the grassroots level is invaluable.”


MacInnis also took part in a delegation of LVC peasant leaders who lobbied for state support prior to the adoption of the Declaration.

In a commentary on the NFU website (www.nfu.ca) she adds, “This Declaration sends an important message that our livelihoods matter and our small-scale methods of food production are vital for a sustainable future. Not only does it have the potential to serve farmers, but also rural communities and consumers, because society as a whole will benefit when peasants rights are realized. The non-binding nature of the Declaration presents a challenge, but it will still be an incredibly potent tool for organizations to use in grassroots lobbying and within the court system. Just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set the standard for human rights law, we hope that UNDROP can serve as the foundation."


Canada was among the 54 countries which abstained, claiming to have concerns with collective rights, and saying that priority issues identified in the Declaration are addressed through existing international instruments and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The issue of collective rights was raised by many states, arguing that they are not recognized under international law and are not recognized by any of the core international human rights treaties.


"Now that the declaration is a recognized international instrument," says MacInnis, "LVC and its allies will work to build implementation strategies that fit into a broad spectrum of national and regional contexts. LVC will mobilize to bring peasants rights violations up against the articles of the Declaration and lobby for policies and strategies that protect and respect the value of peasants within rural communities and their crucial role as conscientious stewards of the land and sustainable food producers."


The UNDROP is a tremendous achievement for LVC, MacInnis concludes, "but the struggle for justice, dignity, and support of peasant livelihoods is far from over.”


(The above article is from the February 1-14, 2019, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)