Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, Challenging Neoliberal Globalization and Corporate Impunity

Translation by Internationalist 360°

Presentation made in the Regional Consultation, Training and Meeting of La Vía Campesina Collective on Human Rights of East and East South Asia, March 27, 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

On behalf of Focus on the Global South, let me begin by praising the hard work that has been put forth in the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants. It is really a remarkable document. Allow me to express our hope not only for the adoption of this Declaration by the United Nations, but for the full realization of these rights for future generations of peasants whose lives depend on the land.

It is an extraordinary effort to assert the rights of the peasants above all in the midst of what is happening in the region and throughout the world, where we are witnessing the continuous erosion, but much more, of the demonization of human rights. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are currently seen as an obstacle to development, they feed on the idea that these rights are not important and can be exchanged for something more tangible such as law and order, fight against drugs and criminality .

We are witnessing the growing emergence of authoritarian populist leaders, strong men, who promise development, while sowing fear and terror, destroying democratic institutions and trampling on the rights of peoples and fundamental freedoms.

Affirming the particular rights of peasants is also a great challenge at a time when the idea that certain people do not have rights at all due to who they are and what they have become, for example people, is increasingly diffused. drug addicts. Extrajudicial executions in the Philippines are sad proof of this. Thousands of lives have been arbitrarily and violently seized without due process of law. Victims have also included human rights defenders, land rights activists, environmentalists-farmers, workers of Indigenous Peoples-all victims of violence that already existed but has been evident during the last few years. two in the Philippines.

Very recently, the Philippine Department of Justice asked the court to declare terrorists to a list of about 600 people (although some say the list can be expanded to a thousand people). The list includes, among others, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The dividing line between legitimate dissent, legitimate affirmation and the defense of the Rights of Peoples and terrorism are becoming blurred, becoming increasingly dangerous for human rights defenders.

This is the sad reality that we face in our defense of the rights of the peasants in the Philippines and the region.

We are also in the midst of what many people call a globalization reaction, where people who have been deprived of rights, dispossessed and negatively affected by the economic policies of globalization such as trade liberalization, deregulation and privatization, are expressing their Discontent through the polls and on the streets. People are tired of not having decent jobs, low wages, rising costs of medical care, education and food, and poor transportation systems.

Regrettably, we resort to right-wing politicians, such as Donald Trump in the US. UU and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, to resolve these concerns. However, a more careful examination of economic policies shows that there has been very little deviation from the neoliberal, pro-corporate and anti-poverty path.

Perhaps the sector hardest hit by globalization is agriculture. Its contribution to development has been constantly decreasing since the 1990s (identified by some as the era of neoliberal globalization). In Indonesia, agriculture accounts for around 14% of GDP, and in the Philippines, even the percentage is lower (9.7%). Even in Thailand, known to be an exporter of agricultural products, the contribution of agriculture has been reduced to around 8% of GDP according to World Bank estimates (2016). (1)

Globalization has changed the field. It has had an impact on agricultural production processes, on the rural economy in general, and on the social relations between people in rural areas.

Several studies point to the extent to which peasant agriculture has been neglected as a result of globalization, as well as the predominance of so-called modern agriculture, intensive agriculture in capital and extensive agriculture in developed countries (2). Imports of cheaper agricultural products by these countries flooded the markets and many small farms could not compete. Meanwhile, governments changed their support policies for agriculture. Peasant agriculture was hit twice as well, so Walden Bello demonized the unmitigated disaster that resulted from trade liberalization combined with declining public investment in agriculture (3).

Some scholars affirm that all these changes – in production processes, in technology, in the entire agricultural economy, and the penetration of capital in rural areas, have diminished the importance of peasant agriculture even in the area of the production of staple foods (4). La Via Campesina challenges this and has given its counter-response on the growing importance of peasant agriculture. In the draft Declaration, La Via Campesina states that “the past, present and future contributions of farmers and other people working in rural areas in all regions of the world to development and to the conservation and improvement of biodiversity, which forms the basis of food and agricultural production throughout the world, and its contribution to guaranteeing the right to adequate food and security
food “(5).

In many respects, this is the essence of the struggle for the recognition of the rights of the peasants: the recognition of the continued importance and relevance of peasant agriculture today and for the future.

There is currently a strong momentum for what is called 21st century trade and investment policies that now give more emphasis to the trade of intermediate goods and global value chains. Much of this political fabric lies in the promotion of mega free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the Regional Economic Integral Association (RCEP), the EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and the revitalized TPP (renamed the integral TPP). and progressive), all of them instruments of the corporate agenda. These FTAs ​​constitute a threat to the rights of the peasants, to human rights in general and to the Sovereignty of the Peoples.

The most ambitious elements of these mega-agreements are particularly problematic, and make them very different from the previous generation of free trade agreements.

The first problem is located in intellectual property rights (IPR). Health advocates have mobilized against these FTAs ​​and their provisions on IPR, as well as their impact on access to medicines and public health.

In addition, the IPR chapter undermines the rights of farmers. The IPR chapter in RCEP will force countries to comply with UPOV 91 (6) – an international convention that has been highly criticized by farmers’ organizations and support groups for “eliminating the right of farmers to save privatized seeds and establish limits to what other producers can do with these seeds “(7). This contrasts with Article 19 of the Declaration on the Right to Seeds.

Another important problem in the region lies in the State-investor Dispute Resolution (ISDS) mechanism, a provision present in the investment chapter of RCEP and all new generation FTAs. This also goes against the fulfillment of the rights of the peasants.

The Declaration affirms the general obligation of States to take measures to prevent transnational corporations (TNCs) and other companies from impeding or impairing the enjoyment of the rights of peasants and other persons working in rural areas (8).

The ISDS mechanism will give the transnationals, many of which have annual incomes greater than the GDP of most of the ASEAN countries, and therefore have more economic power compared to the governments of these countries: the law and, even more, the power to sue governments for public policies and regulations, before secret ad-hoc tribunals. These courts, or rather, these corporate courts, have handed down sentences of millions of dollars that have penalized governments for regulatory actions designed to defend public health, seek more inclusive development, protect the environment and the public interest in general.

It is important to highlight here the need to link efforts towards a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants with the effort, also present in the Human Rights Council, for a legally binding treaty for transnational corporations in the field of human rights. These are parallel and complementary efforts to affirm Sovereignty and the Rights of Peoples and seek accountability and access to justice for victims of corporate crimes.

21st century trade has strengthened global value chains. In agriculture, if we reflect from the production and use of seeds, access and control of land, access to production technologies, it becomes evident how large corporations dominate the supply chain.

In a document on the corporate capture of agricultural production, Yoke Ling of the Third World Network (TWN) states: “Six companies control the global markets for industrial seeds and agrochemicals with a total sales of more than 65 billion dollars per year. , representing more than 75% of all agricultural research in the private sector in seeds and chemicals. Three of these companies (Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta) control 55% of the world seed market, while three (Syngenta, Bayer and BASF) control 51% of agrochemical production “(9).

Thus, according to Yoke Ling “a handful of corporations control the entire production chain from research to final products. This power over the market also allows them to get legislatures to pass laws that turn seeds into private “intellectual property,” penalize small farmers for saving, replanting and selling seeds and dilute efforts to regulate genetically modified organisms. (10 ).

Another issue that is relevant to the rights of the peasants, as it directly impacts the issue of land and rights over it, is the strong impulse for infrastructure investments. China is pushing through its big belt and roads initiative, and the new silk route; massive infrastructure projects that unite landmasses and maritime routes in the name of development. Investment in infrastructure is also justified by linking to the connectivity agenda. Infrastructure projects are linked to the need for physical connectivity, while the harmonization of standards and standards, such as IPRs, are linked to the need for institutional connectivity. As the National President of the Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Damanik, pointed out today, these infrastructure and development projects threaten to evict people and communities from their lands.

The idea of ​​land management and administration is proposed to facilitate more investments in land and thus grant more land to businesses.

There are important political and economic forces whose agenda goes against the full realization of the rights of the peasants, and who will exercise their power and influence to derail our campaign.

I have described only some of the challenges that undermine the rights of peasants. These are the challenges that our campaign faces. Our firm vindication of the rights of the peasants constitutes a great contribution to roll back the repression and criminalization of the peasants. Our firm appeal on the rights of the peasants represents a contribution to the dismantling of corporate power and to the strengthening of the Sovereignty of the Peoples.

* Text presented by Joseph Purugganan of Focus on the Global South at the La Via Campesina meeting in Jakarta, which links two key processes to the Global Campaign for a United Nations Binding Treaty for Transnational Corporations in the field of Human Rights , which have place in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Persons Working in Rural Areas (led by La Via Campesina and which has the support, among others, of several members of the Global Campaign), and the Binding Treaty on transnationals and human rights.


(1) Value added of agriculture as a percentage of GDP. Data from the World Bank. Query: March 2018.
(2) Quoted by Espinel, Ramon. (2018). Multifunctionality in Peasant Agriculture: a means of
Insertion into Globalization.
(3) Bello, Walden, Multilateral Punishment: The Philippines in the WTO 1995-2003. Focus on the
Global South. June 2003
(4) Referred by Espinel, Ramon. (2018). Multifunctionality in Peasant Agriculture: a means of
Insertion into Globalization.
(5) Revised draft United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and others working in rural areas. February 2018.
(6) UPOV is the French acronym for the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. UPOV91 refers to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention
(7) GRAIN (2015) UPOV 91 and other seed laws: A basic first on how companies intend
control and monopolize seed. Online:
(8) Revised draft of the United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and others working in rural areas. February 2018.
(9) Yoke Ling, Chee. Corporate capture subverts production and transformation.
Spotlights on the Sustainable Development 2016 .. Social Watch.2016.
(10) Yoke Ling, Chee. Corporate capture subverts production and transformation.
Spotlights on the Sustainable Development 2016 .. Social Watch.2016.