This interview was published on Cetim’s website on September 18, 2023, and can be found here.
Cetim is one of the founders of Defending Peasants’ Rights, and one of its battles is against the impunity of transnational corporations (TNCs) and for a binding treaty on TNCs and human rights. Cetim is part of a coalition of organizations – The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, Dismantle the Power of Transnational Corporations and Stop Impunity – which is participating in the negotiations for this treaty at the UN. As part of these negotiations, Raffaele Morgantini, Cetim’s representative at the UN, was interviewed by MultiWatch. MultiWatch is a coalition of Swiss organizations whose aim is to monitor the activities of multinationals headquartered in Switzerland, to document and publicize human rights violations committed by them, and to support the struggle of those affected to obtain justice. In this interview, Raffaele Morgantini discusses the importance of UNDROP in the fight against multinational impunity.
Multiwatch interview with Raffaele Morgantini, advocacy officer and CETIM representative at the UN.
We take a round-up of each participating organization. Who is CETIM in a few sentences?
CETIM is a centre for study, research and information on the mechanisms at the origin of what we call maldevelopment. “There is not one developed world and one underdeveloped world, but just one maldeveloped”. With this slogan CETIM’s action is willing to tackle the positive preconceptions generally attributed to the Western development model and to deal with the great challanges ahead in terms of social justice, inequalities, North-South relations and the establishment of a equal, just and democratic world order, based on international solidarity and true cooperation.
Enjoying consultative status at the United Nations, the CETIM supports social movements of the Global South in gaining access to the United Nations human rights protection mechanisms and participating in the drafting of new international human rights norms that can support social struggles in a progressive way. It also carries out information and training work on human rights with its partners and the general public.
The UNDROP 2018 was a major success of the peasant movements. What does the UNDROP mean for peasant worldwide?
The UNDROP is the culmination of a long process of advocacy and political struggle, which crystallizes the demands of the peasant movement for the creation of a legal framework enshrining the rights of peasants in international law, thus providing concrete legal and political tools to protect and to promote this rights. It responds to the legitimate and pressing demands of rural populations: to be able to live and work in decent conditions, with respect for their basic fundamental rights, and at the same time to be able to control the process of production and marketing of their products.
This Declaration consists of 28 articles and contains innovative rights (right to land, seeds, biodiversity, traditional knowledge, healty environment, means of production, etc.). It is intended to be inclusive since, in addition to the family peasantry, it also applies to artisanal fisher-folks, pastoralists, rural indigenous peoples and agricultural workers. It also includes civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, that are already recognized as international standards but are revised in the UNDROP from the perspective of peasants, and the obligations of States for its concrete implementation. In addition, the Declaration emphasizes the right of peasants to be able to participate freely and actively in decision-making, as well as their right to seek, receive, produce and disseminate information concerning them.
It is also important to underline and consider the two following elements. First, that the UNDROP, before being a normative framework codified in international human rights law, is a project1 that emerged within peasant communities as a bulwark against the violations of their rights and against an economic system, promoted on a global scale for several decades, that deprives them of their means of subsistence for the benefit of agribusiness corporations. Without the movement’s protagonism and proactivity, we would not have obtained a UN Declaration. Or rather, we would not have obtained this Declaration, i.e. an instrument whose content reflects the reality and needs on the ground. The political pressure generated by the international mobilization of the peasant movement in favor of the UNDROP, added to the social strength of the movement at the local and national levels, made it possible to achieve a content in line with the peasants’ demands. It is in this sense that I would characterize this process as a great example of the construction of international law from below. Second, the highlight on the progressive nature of the Declaration, the latter being a clear tool of struggle against the abuses and power of the agribusiness sector, thus in a perspective of social and economic change.
More particularly, how does the UNDROP already strengthen peasant struggles? If possible, make an example.
The main strenght of the UNDROP is being a very concrete political, and not only legal, instrument in the hands of peasants and other rural communities. It is not only about a series of human rights norms and provisions, but foremost a set of principles and paths that should be intended as a kind of new social contract for the rural areas, in the respect of the specific rights of the people and communities that live and work in the rural areas ; a « common road map » for the conception of just, equal and really sustainable rural food systems, based on food sovereignty and the seek for social and environemental justice.
A political instrument in order to be effective and to produce progressive political outputs for peasants needs to generate a collective social dynamic of appropriation of the UNDROP. It’s precisely why a generalized and wide appropriation of the UNDROP by grassroots peasants movements is needed if we want it to further strengthen peasant struggles and implement the rights enshrined.
In light of the above, we can easily say that we are in the right direction. In fact, after the adoption of the UNDROP in 2018, the international peasant movement, lead in particular by La Via Campesina and its allies, immediately started the advocacy and political work to foster the appropriation of the UNDROP by peasants organizations around the world and push for its effective implementation at all levels. In this sense, the adoption of the UNDROP further strenghtened the peasant movement as it began to get organized to claim the respect and implementation of this new legal framework by the respective authorities at the local, national and regional level.
Peasants – and more largely rural – organizations are now in the articulating common strategies on the UNDROP, in the regions and between the regions, within and between national, regional and international foras. They are building alliances with other rural constituencies and with other entities (civil society organizations, progressive foundations, academia, public authorities, etc.).
And more in terms of hopes and visions: how do you hope UNDROP can be used by peasant movements and solidarity groups in concrete struggles?
There is no preconceived model or plan to use and implement the UNDROP in the different countries. Every organization and movement has to conceive its own strategy. However, I would like to put forward a number of points that could be seen as common denominators.
First, develop information and training efforts about the UNDROP as widely as possible. Not only the rural communities but the general public at large. Those concerned have to take ownership of the UNDROP, they have to understand its content and its utility, these are the conditions to be able afterwards to claim effectively its implementation.
Second, advocacy work must continue to defend and promote the rights of peasants with the aim to make the Declaration a key political and legal resource in each country. The advocacy work should be directed towards ensuring compliance and implementation, through the translation of the provisions of the UNDROP into State’s legislations, policies and practices. In other words, local and national legislations should be revised in the light of the content of the UNDROP. There are already many exemples of countries that are advancing towards the revision or elaboration of new norms inspired by the UNDROP. Moreover, in order to become a legal reference, the UNDROP should start being used in courts, to settle arguments in judicial processes in favour of peasants’ rights. Also in this case, judges in different national judicial mechanisms (and even human rights protection mechansisms within the UN system) are using the UNDROP as a reference and an argument to rule decisions, hence concretely promoting peasant’s rights and making them a reality.
Third, the monitoring work. This means that a specific and constant monitoring of the implementation of the UNDROP is necessary. It‘s the way to identify the legal gaps, the misconducts and the violations. Promoting monitoring work could imply various kinds of initiatives, as the elaboration of reports on the situation of peasants’ rights or the development of comparative analyses of the UNDROP and national rural and agricultural policies related, which will then allow to elaborate proposals on how to correct or fill the gaps. The monitoring work should be expanded to the international level. This is the reason why the peasant movement and its allies are advocating for the creation of an international mechanism of follow-up of the UNDROP, which will enhance the monitoring on the implementation of the UNDROP in the different countries.
In a progressive context, the instrumentalization of Human Rights is often critizised. With the UNDROP they become a mean in the global peasant movement. Do you see this is an opportunity also for other anti corporate struggles?
There is an intimate relationship between the UNDROP and the problems caused by the activities of transntional corporations (TNCs). This is the case for obvious reasons: agribusiness TNCs are the main actors of today’s food systems, they excercise a monopolistic power over the food chains at the expenses of peasants. In general, we can say that the practices of agribusiness corporations are in clear contrast with the provisions of the UNDROP. The elaboration of the Declaration was therefore done in the perspective of establishing robust legal norms to tackle corporate power, providing peasants with a concrete kit of norms and principles to be used in the defense of family farming practices.
As a matter of fact, article 2.5 of the Declaration requires States to take action with respect to these entities, in order to ensure that they respect and enhance the rights of peasants and others working in rural areas. But there are other more specific fields and parts of the UNDROP that directly relates with corporate-related issues.
For exemple article 17 which enshrines the right to land and other natural resources, which recognizes the right of peasants to access, use and manage the land and other resources, in order to ensure an adequate standard of living, a place to live in security, peace and dignity, and to develop their cultures. Access to land, water, forests and pastures is one of the most important problems facing rural populations (peasants, fisher-folks, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, etc.), as they are often deprived of a proper distribution and agrarian reforms. Indeed, agribusiness TNCs are taking over arable land to dedicate it to certain commercially profitable intensive crops, to livestock or simply for speculation. The recognition of the right to land and its implementation means that peasants can claim it in court against any type of attempt to evict them from their territories, for example, or they could use it to urge their authorities to foster agrarian reforms in order to redistribute land.
Also article 19 on the right to seeds is very important in the context of anti-corporate struggles. In fact, agribusiness TNCs pose major challanges and problems with regard to the imposal of industrial seeds in the rural areas. A bunch of TNCs impose their monopolistic power on agricultural seed, they impose their selections and their prices. The peasants are forced to use the industrial seeds, thus becoming dependent on the inputs needed (fertilizers, pesticides…). The other consequence of this is the critical loss of biodiversity due to standardization. What is more, these practices are protected by binding laws at the national level and by international conventions (notably TRIPS within the World Trade Organizations and UPOV within WIPO) concerning intellectual property rights. To respond to this situation, the UNDROP set out the right to seeds so to guarantee peasants the right to develop, save, use, protect, exchange and sell their seeds and to reject seeds that are not adapted to their needs and environment. Peasants are now given the chance to wave this right in judicial mechanisms to strengthen their autonomy in relation to TNCs.
Other rights recognized by this historic instrument can today be branded by social movements and organizations to confront corporate power: among others, article 16 (right to an adequate standard of living, a decent livelihood and the means of production) can be used to tackle the monopoly of agribusiness TNCs on the food market by gaining access to the means of production; article 14 (right to a healthy environement), article 20 (right to biological diversity) and article 21 (right to water) can be a tool for rural communities who struggle against TNCs that are threatening their natural resources and environment. Last but not least, the article 2.4 of UNDROP addresses the issue of free trade agreements, which are used by TNCs to gain markets shares and capture States, at the expenses of peasants’ rights. According to this article States are bound to develop, interpret and apply international standards and agreements in consistency with their obligations regarding peasants› rights.
Geneva is the human rights headquarter of the UN. Which opportunities can this bring for anti corporate groups in Switzerland when working in solidarity with affected groups also elsewhere?
The UN system offers different spaces that social movements and organizations can seize in order to feed anti-corporate struggles. There are different human rights protection mechanisms to which submit reports and complaints regarding specific violations committed by these entities. Moreover, it is worth recalling that an international process of negotiation is ongoing within the Human Rights Council to elaborate a UN Binding Treaty on TNCs and human rights. Social movements and affected communities have been demanding for years the creation of a legal framework to bound the activities of these entities and to sanction them in case of non-compliance with the obligations established by the Treaty. However, the process of negotiation is under constant threat, as corporate lobbies and Western States are advocating against the elaboration of a Treaty worth of its name. We need to broaden the support to the process and continue the advocacy work at the States’ level.
If smaller groups want to approach the UN, whom can they contact to help?
CETIM is present in Geneva and works within the UN to promote economic, social, cultural rights, as well as the right to development and to self-determination of the people that struggle for social justice and a more equal international order. We develop this work directly with the right holders, with the social movements and organizations that are willing to seize the UN mechanisms to support their local and national struggles.
Read more :
- CETIM’s training sheets on the key aspects and rights of the UNDROP: https://www.cetim.ch/factsheets-on-peasants-rights/
- The “UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants. A tool in the struggle for our common future”, CETIM’s book on the UNDROP (free acces of the electronic version): https://www.cetim.ch/product/e-book-the-un-declaration-on-the-rights-of-peasants/
1In fact, it is necessary to remember that the process that led to the UNDROP is a process that was born from an idea and proposal formulated from the peasant grassroots. In 1996, during the II International Conference of La Via Campesina (LVC), the peasant movement, faced with the systematic nature of violations against them, began to think of using international law to protect their rights. In 2000, during the 3rd International Conference, a LVC commission on human rights was set up and concluded that it was necessary to fill the existing legal vacuum, thus calling for the elaboration of international law norms specific to peasants’ rights. From there, the idea was introduced at the UN, through CETIM, and Cuba and then Bolivia were identified as countries that could assume international leadership in the negotiation process. This is what actually happened, thanks to the commitment in particular of these two countries. In 2009, Cuba was responsible for bringing the resolution that established the mandate of the UN Advisory Committee to prepare a study on the rights of peasants, an initiative that opened the debates within the UN. As a follow-up, Bolivia agreed to take the lead in the negotiation process and presented the resolution creating the negotiating mandate for the Declaration. The draft Declaration on peasants’ rights was perfectly in line with Bolivia’s policy under the presidency of Evo Morales.