The Ethical Dimensions of



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Introduction


The purpose of this paper is to examine the question of whether the current global economic situation in general, and the food crisis in particular, is a result of inadequate attention to the Right to Development.

The food crisis is a fundamental problem of the inequalities between the haves and the have-nots, and solutions should center on human rights issues as much as on economics or humanitarianism.20 Given the current rising prices of food, the related food riots, the bio-fuel argument, the imbalance between supply and demand, the unfair trade practices and distorted incentives and subsidies, it is important to examine the Right to Development in the context of this situation. This crisis transcends national boundaries. It also differs from natural disasters in that it is man-made and that its causes can be traced and are identifiable.

The Right to Development is central to any crisis that involves the basic needs of humankind and is true of the food crisis today; therefore it is essential for countries to focus on this Right to Development in all government strategies and policies to avert a future similar food crisis.

The Right to Development

The scourge of two world wars highlighted the truth that all humans were of equal worth regardless of race, creed, social background and nationality. Importantly, human rights constitute a goal that all peoples should aspire to and which not be used as a tool.

In the Preamble of the United Nations Charter the concept of Human Rights is given a prominent position in the very first Paragraph, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined….to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”. Human rights are to be interdependent and indivisible, universal and inalienable, equal and non-discriminatory, and include both rights and obligations.21

The Basic Right

One of the human rights central to mankind is the Right to Development. The General Assembly Resolution of December 1986 defines this Right to Development in Article 1(1): The Right to Development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all persons are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. Article 1(2) further explains the link between this right and the right to self determination “the inalienable right to full sovereignty” over all their natural wealth and resources.

In summary, the Right includes22 the following five features: full sovereignty over natural resources, self-determination, popular participation in development, equality of opportunity and the creation of favorable conditions for the enjoyment of other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

As with all human rights the human person is identified as the beneficiary of the Right to Development. It can be invoked both by individuals and by peoples. It imposes obligations both on individual States - to ensure equal and adequate access to essential resources - and on the international community to promote fair development policies and effective international cooperation.

The Right to Development is a process of development where all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural - are realized together, and in a comprehensive fashion. It led to the divide on Human Rights into the two separate Human Rights Covenants, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and it brings forth the original concept of human rights as universal and indivisible.23

The Working Group

The Commission on Human Rights established the open-ended Working Group on the Right to Development by its resolution 1998/72 and the Economic and Social Council decision 1998/269.24 The mandate of the open-ended Working Group is:



  • To monitor and review progress made in the promotion and implementation of the Right to Development.

  • To review reports and other information submitted by States and international or non-governmental organizations.

  • To submit a sessional report to the Commission on Human Rights.

The same resolution initially called on the chairman of the Commission to appoint an independent expert25 with a mandate to present to the Working Group at each of its sessions a study on the current status of implementation of the right of development. When the mandate of the independent expert ended the Working Group decided to upgrade its status by establishing a High Level Task Force to take its place.

The High Level Task Force

The objective of the High Level Task Force on the implementation of the Right to Development26 is to provide the necessary expertise to the Working Group to enable it to make appropriate recommendations to the various actors on the issues identified for the implementation of the Right to Development.

The task force comprises five experts nominated by the chairperson of the Working Group on the Right to Development in consultation with the regional groups of member-States, and representatives from identified international trade, finance and development institutions.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

In June 1993, representatives of 171 states adopted by consensus the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. This Declaration reaffirmed the Right to Development as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights. It further stated that, while development facilitated the enjoyment of all human rights, lack of development could not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights.27 The Right to Development is articulated in the following Article:  



10. The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the Right to Development, as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.

As stated in the Declaration on the Right to Development, the human person is the central subject of development.

While development facilitates the enjoyment of all human rights, the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights. States should cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development. The international community should promote an effective international cooperation for the realization of the Right to Development and the elimination of obstacles to development.

Lasting progress towards the implementation of the Right to Development requires effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations and a favorable economic environment at the international level.

The Right to Food

The Right to Development is an overarching theme of which the right to food is an integral part. The Right to Food is the right to feed oneself in dignity.28 It is the right to have continuous access to the resources that enable you to produce, earn or purchase enough food, not only to prevent hunger, but also to ensure health and well–being. This Right to Food is articulated in the following Declarations:



  • Rome Declaration 1996

  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966 – Art 11(1)

  • Universal Declaration 1948 – Art 25(1)

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has the task of ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger. The World Food Summit in November 1996 reaffirmed the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. The summit produced a specific mandate to the High Commissioner for human rights to better define the rights related to food and propose ways to implement and realize them.29

The Right to “Adequate” Food

The World Food Summit Plan of Action called upon the Human Rights Commissioner to better define the right of food as contained in Article 11 of the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and establish voluntary guidelines for food security.30 FAO has established a set of guidelines to enable the right to adequate food as “voluntary guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security”.31

The objective of these voluntary guidelines32 is to provide practical guidance to states in their implementation of the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, in order to achieve the goals of the Plan of Action of the World Food Summit. The voluntary guidelines take into account a wide range of important considerations and principles, including equality and non-discrimination, participation and inclusion, accountability and rule of law, and the principle that all human rights are universal, indivisible, inter-related and interdependent. Food should not be used as a tool for political and economic pressure.

The Food Crisis

Today, 862 million people are facing acute food shortages and the price increase of 74 % for rice and 130 % for wheat in the last year.33 Sixty percent of these persons live in Sub-Saharan Africa or in South Asia; 25 million live in transition countries and 9 million in the developed North. In addition, 2 billion persons suffer from under nutrition and malnutrition, due to micronutrient deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) deficiencies of iron, vitamin A, and zinc, rank among the top ten leading causes of death through disease in developing countries.34 The hardest hit will be the poor and vulnerable where it is estimated that the poorest people spend roughly 60-80 % of the incomes on staple foods35 compared with 20 % in the developed world.36

In emerging economies such as India and China, there has been a growth in the middle class as these and other similar countries industrialize. However, as this occurs, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has unfortunately increased as well. This larger middle class is affording a larger food budget and foods such as grains, oilseeds and livestock products37 have seen an upsurge in consumption.

Similarly in the developed world there has been an increase in demand for food as these economies continue to expand.



Underlying conditions of rise in prices

Price is the result of the interaction of demand and supply. The market price of food is set at the level where demand38 meets supply. Therefore, addressing the underlying conditions which drive both supply and demand are necessary. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)39 a Washington based research group financed by governments, has identified the factors affecting the demand and supply side of food and the resulting high price. The combination of new and ongoing forces, are driving the world food situation and in turn the prices of food commodities. Rising energy prices and subsidized bio-fuel production, income and population growth, globalization and urbanization are among the major forces contributing to the surging demand. On the supply side land and water constraints, underinvestment in rural infrastructure and agricultural innovation, lack of access to inputs and weather disruptions are impairing productivity growth and the needed production response.

The fluctuation of price in the agricultural markets is not a rare occurrence, as FAO has indicated the distinguishing current state of the market is the “hike in world prices of not just a selected few, but all major food and feed commodities and the possibility that the prices may continue to remain high after the effects of short-term shocks dissipate”.40

The lack of investment in agriculture in the past years is a factor in successive planting seasons resulting in lower yield. Countries that were self sufficient, such as Somalia, are today reliant on food imports, thus the high prices overseas are felt immediately in those countries.

However countries whose staple foods are not cereals41 are slightly buffered from these international products, but still felt in the imports of new staples foods of milk, butter, and water as a result of a rise in transportation costs resulting from the rise in oil prices which is currently $ 13542 a barrel.

The link with the Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals43 (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDG’s are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 states during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

The food crisis results in compromising Millennium Development Goal 1 on poverty and hunger. The Food Agencies44 have warned that without rapid and lasting reaction the target of MDG-1 to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015 will be missed dramatically. It will affect not only MDG-1 but also other Millennium Development Goals relating to health (nutrition basket) and education (an opportunity cost of food).

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