Marginalized groups must not be forgotten in response to food crisis – UN rights chief

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

1 May 2008 – Solutions to the current food crisis spurred by soaring global food prices must include marginalized groups, the top United Nations human rights official said today, joining the call issued by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the international community to respond to the problem.

While acknowledging that addressing the crisis is fundamentally humanitarian in nature, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour stressed in a statement issued in Geneva that it is also an obligation, thus requiring non-discriminatory food distributions and analysis of communities' needs.

“More fundamentally, and for the more medium and longer term, the underlying inequalities and inabilities to access food must be addressed by a comprehensive solution,” she noted. “When we focus on those most in need, we must include not only the poorest but also those that are particularly vulnerable to discrimination on any other grounds, including gender, ethnicity, or disability."

Ms. Arbour underscored that all voices must be heard – directly or through representative organizations – in tackling the food crisis.

She also pointed out that food-related social unrest could potentially threaten other human rights, such as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes announced that the UN is aiming to have a comprehensive plan to tackle the global food crisis in place by the beginning of June “around which the institutions and leaders around the world can coalesce.”

Mr. Holmes is one of two coordinators, along with UN System Influenza Coordinator David Nabarro, of a new high-powered task force that was announced yesterday by the Secretary-General to organize responses to the global rise in food prices.

Speaking at a news conference today in Geneva, Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that although the breadth and complexity of the issue needed to be recognized, there was no need to panic.

“I think it is clear we can fix these problems,” he said. The solutions can be found; the solutions are there. They are very difficult, some of them, in the short term, but they can be done.”

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