11/11/2002
Press Release
GA/SHC/3721



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

43rd and 44th Meetings (AM & PM)


‘ANYONE DYING FROM HUNGER WAS DYING FROM MURDER’, SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR


TELLS THIRD COMMITTEE, AS DISCUSSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONTINUES


“Anyone dying from hunger was dying from murder”, said Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, as he addressed the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) in one of two meetings today, stressing that the world was richer than ever before and that adequate food to feed the global population existed.    


The right to food was a right protected by international law  -- governments therefore had a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food, Mr. Ziegler told the Committee.  Yet, hunger and malnutrition still sentenced millions of people to underdevelopment and early deaths.  Every seven seconds, a child under the age of ten died of the direct or indirect effects of hunger.  Hunger was not a question of fate -- it was the result of human action or inaction. 


Agrarian reform and access to land were highlighted as fundamental elements in the realization of the right to food.  Out of the 1.2 billion poorest people in the world, who lived on less than a dollar a day, 75 per cent were rural people, Mr. Ziegler said.  Agrarian reform, when put into place, increased the nutritional values of the population, as demonstrated in China, Cuba, Japan, Republic of Korea and Thailand.  However, where agrarian reform had not taken place -- the figures of malnutrition and death from hunger were catastrophic. 


He stressed that another obstacle to the realization of the right to food was the neo-liberal policy of the Bretton Woods institutions, which claimed that free trade and liberalization would bring about the end of poverty and hunger.  This was absolutely false, he said.  If the silent massacre of hunger was to be conquered, standards must be imposed on neo-liberal theories and initiatives.


During a subsequent interactive dialogue segment with Mr. Ziegler, several delegations recounted national agrarian reform approaches; stressed that the right to food was more than food security and encompassed legal elements; highlighted the famine in some countries and said that structural adjustment programmes contributed to the impoverishment of some countries.


After the interactive segment, Mr. Ziegler responded to the representative of the United States who said that Mr. Ziegler had used his office to challenge the food offered by the American people to avert the scourge of famine in southern


Africa and had encouraged governments to deny the use of bio-tech foods.  Mr. Ziegler said there had been a clear misunderstanding, and at no time did he cast doubt on the extraordinary efforts of the United States, which were welcomed and applauded. 


Still, it needed to be said that, some African leaders had objected to America's provision of genetically modified food.  Personally, he was against genetically modified food, particularly because the scientific community was highly divided over the issue.  He noted that the European Union and its Member countries were also exercising caution on genetically modified foods until such products were proved non-toxic.


Participating in the interactive dialogue today were representatives of Brazil, Bangladesh, Cuba, Mali, and Benin.


In the two meetings of the day, the Committee also continued its consideration of human rights questions.  Speakers on that theme included the representatives of Uganda, Republic of Korea, Syria, Belarus, Russian Federation, Japan, Thailand, and Colombia.


Exercising the right to reply today were the representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Japan.


The Committee will reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. and is expected to conclude its consideration of human rights questions. 


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met today to continue its joint consideration of human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs.


Also, this afternoon, the Committee is expected to hear a presentation from and participate in dialogue with Mr. Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.


In his report on the right to food (document A/57/356), the Special Rapporteur states that hunger and chronic malnutrition still sentence millions of people to underdevelopment and early death, even though the right to food is a human right protected by international law.  The disappointing conclusion of the World Food Summit, five years later, was that little action has been taken to meet the commitment to halve the number of victims of hunger by 2015.  He writes that international cooperation is fundamental, and the primary obligation to realize the right to food rests with national governments.  Access to land is fundamental, and agrarian reform must be a key part of government strategies aimed at reducing hunger.  Agrarian reform must be just, fair and transparent.


Mr. Ziegler recommends that questions must be asked about the current development model based on the “Washington consensus”; that profound internal contradictions within the United Nations system and in the actions of certain States must be reviewed; and that alternative models proposed by global civil society must be given greater attention if hunger in the world is to be seriously addressed.  He further recommends that access to land must be recognized as a fundamental element of the right to food and the rights of women to access to land and water be recognized and guaranteed.


Statements


HAROLD ACEMAH (Uganda) said, regarding the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that he wished to elaborate on certain concerns that the Special Rapporteur had not addressed.  Parts of the report were one-sided and to a large extent based on hearsay and unreliable information.  The Special Rapporteur did not consult Ugandan authorities on any of the issues she raised in her report.  If such consultations had taken place, she would have formed a more balanced picture of the situation.  Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur did not explain the criteria used to select those she interviewed and why other equally concerned parties were excluded.  These were clear signs of flawed methods of investigation.  It was, therefore, not surprising that the report was unbalanced.


Uganda had ,since May 2001, withdrawn its troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, expect for one battalion stationed in Bunia at the request of the United Nations Secretary-General and in accordance with the provisions of the Luanda Agreement signed in September 2002.  In the future, the Special Rapporteur must focus on the big picture, which included strengthening United Nations Security Council support for the implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and the immediate agreement of the Security Council on the deployment of adequate peacekeeping troops for the maintenance of law and order.  Uganda was committed to the establishment of lasting peace and security in the Great Lakes region.


KANG KYUNG-WHA (Republic of Korea) said, led by the United Nations, the international community had come a long way in promoting the universal and interdependent nature of human rights.  International human rights law had been firmly established and had provided on-going impetus for countries to enhance their own standards for upholding human rights.  However, the Republic of Korea noted with concern that too many people around the world were still being denied their dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms.  Serious human rights abuses and neglect persisted in many parts of the world, including torture, religious intolerance, racial discrimination, violence against vulnerable people and poverty.  She believed that the persistence of such abuses had complex and interrelated causes.  A social climate that perpetuated or condoned a violation of one kind was apt to perpetuate other violations.


Thus, while efforts to protect specific rights and redress abuses must continue, the long-term struggle for human rights must in fact be an enterprise for building and strengthening democratic and tolerant societies based on the rule of law.  She underscored in that sense the importance of incorporating human rights education in schools at all levels, as well as in training programmes for public servants, law enforcement and judicial officials.  During the past year, her country had added a vital dimension to its national capacity in the area of human rights.  The National Human Rights Commission, which would celebrate its first anniversary on 25 November, had already garnered an impressive record of active and effective work in carrying out its mandate as an independent agency to investigate and make recommendations for remedial measures in cases of human rights violations, including discrimination, and to carry out research and raise public awareness on human rights issues.


RANIA AL HAJ ALI (Syria) said peoples and nations attached great importance to human rights values as a result of the direct impact of human rights on daily life.  International instruments had therefore elaborated economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.  Neither set of rights could be successfully implemented without the other.  It was important for the international community to avoid double standards in implementing human rights values.  Some entities seemed unaware of the importance of self-determination and the problem of foreign occupation with regards to human rights.  In such situations, respectful dialogue based on impartiality and transparency, was the only path towards a convergence of views.


The United Nations had a crucial part to play when dealing with human rights issues, starting with the right to self-determination.  Regrettably, today human rights were being violated with the excuse of combating terrorism.  In this context, she stressed the important role played by the World Conference against Racism.  It was important to ensure the implementation of such human rights instruments, while ensuring that elected officials did not exceed their mandate.  It was also important that the work of the United Nations avoid duplication and that the Organization remain the focus of coordination on the implementation of human rights. 


However, she said human rights should not be turned into a political issue.  She warned against the abuse of human rights issues -- a worrying practice engaged in by several States.  Finally, she referred to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories and stressed that the international community must support the human rights of the Palestinian people.


ANZHELA K. KORNELIOUK (Belarus) said ensuring and promoting the fundamental freedoms of all citizens, regardless of ethnic origin, would lead to the political, economic and social stability of nations.  To that end, Belarus had established focused measures to uphold the rights of all its religious, ethnic and cultural minorities.  It was important to recognize that Belarus’ political situation had therefore been marked by stability.  Since achieving independence, Belarus had faced no inter-ethnic or religious strife.  According to the Constitution, each citizen was entitled to enjoy his or her own heritage.  The history and culture of all national minorities was celebrated in schools, particularly in language and social studies programmes.  Religious organizations were actively involved in charity and social services. 


The Constitution allowed all citizens to choose their faith and to participate in the religion of their choice.  She added that changes and additions to laws on faith and religious organizations established a barrier for destructive sects or cults.  Belarus condemned human rights violations wherever they occurred.  It supported the notion that the work of the Commission on Human Rights should not be politicized.  That important body should focus on new trends, such as organizations which promoted or supported terrorism, groups of racist and nationalist bent, and maintaining rights and freedoms in the war on terrorism.


Mr. TSEPOV (Russian Federation) said the creation, in 1993, of the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was an important step in the implementation of human rights.  Since then, the issue of human rights had become more comprehensive and was better integrated in the United Nations activities as a whole.  Today, there was an increasing responsibility of the High Commissioner to promote and protect human rights.  This responsibility needed to be approached without double standards, in an open, transparent and effective manner.  Everything needed to be done to ensure that human rights became universal, interdisciplinary and complementary.  In this context, he stressed the importance of technical assistance and international cooperation between countries in the universal implementation of human rights.  Developing countries or countries in economic transition often needed the technical assistance in order to strengthen and reform national institutions.


The High Commissioner must have resources to deal with new challenges, he said.  The Russian delegation believed that global security needed to be secured by respecting human rights, the rule of law and the consolidation of democracy.  In this regard, it was important to fight against terrorism since terrorists violated the most basic human right -- the right to life.  The United Nations had an important role to play in the fight against terrorism.


KOICHI HARAGUCHI (Japan) said his Government would reaffirm its strong belief that human rights should be promoted and protected in every part of the world.  The entire international community agreed that each and every State had the responsibility for promoting and protecting the rights and freedoms of its nationals.  With that in mind, he turned to the recent developments in the case of the abduction of Japanese nationals.  It went without saying that any abduction was a grave violation of human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Last September, North Korea had finally admitted after more than 20 years of denial, that it had abducted Japanese citizens.  Those abductions clearly constituted internationally wrongful acts.


Deeply concerned about the situation of enforced disappearances around the world, including the abduction of Japanese citizens, the Government of Japan would call upon all States to respect the Declaration on the Protection from Enforced Disappearances, to conduct thorough investigations, disclose information, promptly release victims and ensure their return to their place of origin.  Japan would also strongly request the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to take prompt effective action in response to the cases recently submitted again by the families of the victims on 7 November in Geneva.


On the human rights situations in countries of concern to Japan, he said it was essential that the actual human rights situation in each State improve.  Japan attached great importance to the practical and balanced improvement of human rights situations, as well as to constructive dialogue, cooperation and engagement.  On Cambodia, he stressed that the atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge should be addressed, and senior Khmer Rouge officials be brought to justice.


With respect to Myanmar, Japan supported that country's efforts toward democratization and nation-building.  Japan intended to enhance its support to meet basic human needs of the people of Myanmar in accordance with future developments there.  It fully supported the work of the Secretary-General's Special Representative in that Country, particularly efforts leading to restoring freedom of movement for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  It also welcomed some positive developments over the past year regarding the release of political prisoners and reopening of NLD local branches.  He strongly appealed to the Government of Myanmar to commence a substantive dialogue towards democratization with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi without delay.


Introductory Statement by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food


JEAN ZIEGLER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, presented his report and said the right to food was a right protected by international law.  Governments therefore had a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food.  Yet, hunger and malnutrition still sentenced millions of people to underdevelopment and early death.  Every seven seconds, a child under the age of ten died of the direct or indirect effect of hunger.  All this happened in a world that was richer than ever before and already produced more than enough food to feed the global population.  Hunger was not a question of fate -- it was the result of human action or inaction. 


Anyone dying from hunger was dying from murder, he said since today, there was no reason for any one to go hungry.  The World Food Summit had been a failure -- virtually no Heads of State or Government from developed countries had been present, in contrast to the real presence of Heads of State or Government of developing countries.  He added that the international community had not, as was planned, reduced by half those who went hungry.  Unfortunately, there was a tremendous lag in the work on the right to food by the international community.


He stressed that access to land must be recognized as a fundamental element of the right to food and that it must be taken seriously as a policy instrument to reduce hunger and poverty.  It was ironic that out of the 1.2 billion poorest people in the world, who lived on less than a dollar a day, 75 per cent were rural people.  This was a paradox -- those who produced food were those suffering most from hunger.  Access to land and agrarian reform was essential to battle the silent murder of hunger.  Agrarian reform, when put into place, increased the nutritional values of the population as demonstrated in China, Cuba, Japan,

Republic of Korea and Thailand.  However, where agrarian reform had not taken place -- the figures of malnutrition and death from hunger were catastrophic. 


One of the obstacles to the realization of the right to food was the neo-liberal policy of the Bretton Woods institutions which claimed that free trade and liberalization would bring about the end of poverty and hunger.  This was absolutely false, he said.  Figures showed that during and after structural adjustment programs malnutrition increased.  In these instances it was the cash crops which earned foreign currency.  If the silent massacre of hunger was to be conquered, standards must be imposed on neo-liberal theories and initiatives.


Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur


The representative of Brazil opened the dialogue with Mr. ZIEGLER by recounting the Special Rapporteur’s visit to his country and highlighting the significant achievements toward ensuring food security and the right to food of all its citizens.  Addressing the sections in Mr. ZIEGLER’s report which commented on Brazil's social, agrarian and land rights reforms, he said he hoped the subsequent report would reflect the responses that had readily been supplied by the Brazilian Government.


The representative of Bangladesh agreed with the Rapporteur that the right to food was more than food security and now encompassed legal elements.  He said his country had undertaken pioneering methods to move from a food dependent nations to a secure one in a short amount of time.


The representative of Cuba asked the Rapporteur to expound on efforts to evolve guidelines on adequate nutrition.  He also noted that very little had been done to address the situation of famine around the world.  What was the Rapporteur's assessment of that trend?


The representative of Mali said that although his country did not face the agrarian or land rights problems of some, it was dependent on the vagaries of climate and weather.


The representative of Benin said that Mr. ZIEGLER had noted that structural adjustment programmes contributed to the impoverishment of some countries, did he think that the “poverty reduction strategy” initiative was a better option?


Responding to those questions and comments, Mr. ZIEGLER thanked Brazil for its transparency and cooperation during his Office's visit.  The report under preparation would be presented to the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights, and he would elaborate on the information contained therein at that time.  He acknowledged the tremendous social and economic difficulties Brazil faced, but he welcomed that the country's new President had vowed to make fighting hunger a first priority.  To Bangladesh, he also said he would address his visit to that country once the report had been completed and was before delegations.


To Cuba, he said food security was a political goal, but by contrast, the “right to food” was a universal and indivisible human right, which allowed every individual to invoke certain measures to achieve and attain access to adequate nutrition.  In some countries, citizens could come before a supreme court or judicial body and invoke that right.  Certain measures had not been adopted at the Rome meeting, namely a “code of conduct” that had been drawn up and was considered a sort of “gentleman's agreement” that would lead to the eventual broad acceptance of the right to food.


That code had been rejected by the majority of States present at the June meeting.  Still, that meeting had succeeded in setting up a two-year working group to draw up guidelines, or possible strategies that might lead to the possible acceptance of the right to food.  That group, therefore, should be allowed to carry out its mandate, and he looked forward to its results.


He said it was true that the least developed countries (LDCs) faced the obligation of preparing a plan for debt reduction that was subsequently to be presented to the international financial institutions.  Still, the LDCs were faced with trade issues -- agricultural exports with little added value balanced against critically needed imports such as medicines which were constantly increasing in price.  The international community was really watching poor countries decline without taking any action and that needed to change.  


Statements


APIRATH VIENRAVI (Thailand) said evidence of violation and abuse of human rights against individuals continued unabated all over the world.  Moreover, terrorism of today had become a pressing concern, which had affected everyone’s way of life as well as human rights.  Everyone had felt the enormity of hatred, desperation and fear.  However, such fear must not lead to countering violence with violence.  Human rights must not be sacrificed.  Thailand subscribed to the right to development which encompassed civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  Individuals must be at the centre of human rights promotion and development efforts, he added.


He said that even though the law in Thailand permitted the death penalty, the Government had always used the greatest caution and ensured due process with maximum safeguards in the exercise of such a penalty.  The penalty was imposed on heinous crimes such as serious drug trafficking, and never had the sentence been passed on persons under the age of 18 years of age.  The retention of the death penalty was indeed the general wish of the Thai public at large as a crime deterrent and for the protection of the rights of the victims and their families.  The international community had a moral obligation to promote and protect human rights worldwide.  Yet, the primary responsibility remained with the State.  The international community must, therefore, assist States in their endeavours to promote and protect the human rights of their citizens, while respecting their social and cultural values.


SICHAN SIV (United States) said nearly 15 million people were facing starvation in southern Africa.  Since the first of the year, the United States had pledged over half a million tons of food to meet that crisis.  That food, mostly corn, came from the country's own stocks and silos and was identical to the food which Americans ate every day.  Everyone was also aware that some countries in southern Africa had raised questions about the safety or environmental risks posed by American corn because it contained biotechnology corn.  Of course, he went on, that corn complied with all United States safety standards, which were some of the most rigorous in the world.  The grain in question had been consumed not only by millions of Americans, but also Canadians, Australians, South Africans and others around the world for years, without one known case of apparent ill effect.


Earlier this year, the Secretary-General requested United Nations agencies to review their policies on biotech food aid.  And in August, the head of the World Heath Organization (WHO) had stressed in a meeting with African leaders at a regional ministerial meeting that they must consider carefully the severe and immediate consequences of limiting food aid that had been made available for millions of people so desperately in need.  Other major international and United Nations agencies had affirmed that genetically modified food aid was not likely to cause heath risks.  Yet, in a 15 October press release, Mr. ZIEGLER had informed the world that scientific evidence on biotechnology was wrong, taking the word of non-governmental organizations, who believed that humans were at risk if they consumed genetically modified food, over that of the WHO.


In the face of imminent famine in southern Africa, with hundreds of thousands of tons of food arriving in the region, Mr. ZIEGLER’s response was that there was plenty of natural, normal food in the world to nourish the double of humanity.  Instead of adhering to his mandate, Mr. ZIEGLER had called on governments to starve their people by denying them access to food available right now.  He had used his office to challenge the food offered by the American people to avert the scourge of famine and to encourage governments to deny food to their hungry citizens.  By ignoring both science and the considered policies of the United Nations, Mr. Zeigler bore the responsibility for placing millions in greater peril.


Special Rapporteur’s Response


Following the statement by the representative of the United States, Mr. ZIEGLER said there had been a clear misunderstanding.  The comments quoted by the United States had been made at a press conference held in Geneva on World Food Day.  They were not based on information included in his report.  Subsequent to that press conference, he had been repeatedly attacked and misrepresented in the English-speaking press.  At no time did he cast doubt on the extraordinary efforts of the United States, which had consistently funded often up to 80 per cent of World Food Programme initiatives.  That effort was to be welcomed and applauded by all.


At the same time, it was totally ridiculous to say that he accepted millions of people starving to death in Africa.  Indeed, he was just as disturbed and troubled by the dire situation in Southern Africa as anyone else in the international community. Still, it needed to be said that some African leaders had objected to America's provision of genetically modified food. It was not his place to counter or object to the beliefs of sovereign leaders.  And personally, he was against genetically modified foodstocks, particularly because the scientific community was highly divided on the issue.  Some felt there was no danger, but others felt there were most likely long-term risks in consuming such food.  It was not up to him to say who was right and who was wrong, but he himself was cautious concerning genetically modified products.  He noted that the European Union and its Member countries were also exercising caution on genetically modified foods until such products were proved non-toxic. 


He added that his mandate also allowed him to discuss his work as well as current trends with representatives of civil society, so he had an obligation to echo those concerns.  People much more intelligent than he had said there was sufficient non-genetically modified food on the Earth to feed everyone.  Further, concern had been expressed that if aid organizations and even large farmers became too dependent on the genetically modified food industry, the poverty of the world's small farmers would deepen even more.  He reiterated that he had at no time cast doubt on the motives of the United States.  All should welcome that generosity and be grateful. Still, it was his duty to express his concerns.


The representative of the United States said that his intervention stood.  He asked if Mr. ZIEGLER would indeed recommend that people eat the genetically modified food today, if they were going to die tomorrow.


“If it was my child”, Mr. ZIEGLER responded, “it's clear that I would say ‘eat what you must to survive’”.  But that did not mitigate the health, medical or economic concerns he had about genetically modified food.  He had critical questions that should be put forth, on a personal level and under his mandate.  He stood by his intervention as well.


ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia) said his delegation attached high importance to the strengthening of the rule of law, and welcomed the High Commissioner’s focus on this issue.  Armed conflict was a result of the weakening of the rule of law.  His Government had set as a priority the establishment of a democratic security system aiming to strengthen the rule of law, with a view to protecting and promoting human rights.  He stressed the importance of human rights issues not becoming a source for social and political polarization.  It was also important that human rights became a uniting force for peace in Colombia.  The Government of Colombia condemned violence, massacres, and kidnappings on the part of guerrilla groups and armed forces. 


Colombia was committed to security, but security could not be achieved by compromising human rights, he said.  It was essential that the protection of human rights and democracy be at the centre of security and peace.  The Government of Colombia recognized the fundamental role played by human rights defenders and therefore rejected all threats, assaults and undermining of human rights defenders. 


Referring to one of the problems facing Colombia -- internally displaced persons -- he said these persons, unfortunately mostly women and children, had become internally displaced as a result of the internal conflict.  The Government was therefore actively working with United Nations agencies to care for the victims and establish solidarity networks.


Right of Reply


The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, exercising his right of reply to the statement made earlier in the day by Japan, said it was a historical fact that Japan had invaded the Korean peninsula countless times over the years, and had committed innumerable grave crimes against humanity during its illegal military occupation of the country at the first half of the twentieth century.  Millions had been massacred and, among other atrocities, countless women and teenage girls had been forced into sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military.


Nevertheless, he continued, Japan had been struggling to evade accusations about its violent past acts and had consistently pursued hostile policies against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  Japan should be acting in the spirit of the principles of the agreement between the two countries signed in Pyonyang.  The key to the implementation of the DPRK/Japan Pyonyang Declaration was for Japan

to settle its crime-ridden past.  If that occurred, then any pending unpleasant issues could be smoothly resolved.


In response, the representative Japan said that it was true that the joint Summit meeting held in September had been a significant step by both sides in attempts to resolve the issue.  Still, that meeting could not be an end to the myriad of issues surrounding the abductions of Japanese nationals.  She urged North Korea once again to disclose all relevant information on those still missing.  Japan hoped that North Korea would act in the spirit of the Pyonyang Declaration.


The representative of the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea said his delegation did not see any need to argue with Japan on the issues existing between the two countries in the Third Committee.  He would remind Japan, however, that the name of his country was the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea", not "North Korea".


* *** *