UN expert calls for Human Rights Council to examine global food crisis

2 May 2008 – The Human Rights Council should convene to discuss the current global food crisis because it is important to view the problem of soaring prices as “a massive violation of the right to adequate food,” a United Nations expert on the subject said today.

Speaking in New York, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, called for a special session of the HRC so that the Council can “speak with one single voice.”

Mr. de Schutter said the right to adequate food had been “for the moment totally absent” from the debate about economic and humanitarian aid to meet the current crisis.

“If we had 100 million persons arrested in a dictatorial regime [or] if we had 100 million persons beaten up by police, of course we would be marching on the streets and we'd be convening special sessions of the Human Rights Council,” Mr. de Schutter said. “Every single of these 100 million individuals deserves the same degree of attention from the international community as if the person had been arbitrarily arrested or detained for his or her political opinions.”

The Special Rapporteur, who took over the role yesterday from his predecessor, Jean Ziegler, added that “governments cannot remain passive in the current crisis,” and called for a range of measures to tackle the issue.

He said that States should increase their support to humanitarian agencies and provide cash transfers to the neediest segments of populations in food-insecure countries. In the longer-term he called for greater financial support for small-scale farmers, action to combat climate change, and the phasing out of “market-distorting” agricultural subsidies.

Mr. de Schutter said that the world needed to do much more “not only to respond to this crisis but to prevent further similar crises from occurring. I would not want in 10 years' time to see another crisis of this amplitude. This is not a natural disaster. It's not an earthquake. It's a crisis which is man-made,” he said.

Earlier this week the UN announced that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had assembled an international task force which would prepare a global plan of action to tackle the global rise in food prices.

Writing in an op-ed in today's International Herald Tribune, Mr. Ban said, “we do not know how far food prices might go, nor how far they could eventually fall. But one thing is certain: we have gone from an era of plentitude to one of scarcity. Experts agree that food prices are not likely to return to the levels the world has grown accustomed to any time soon.”

He added that, “we can deal with this crisis. We have the resources. We know what to do. We should consider this not only a problem but as an opportunity. It is a huge chance to address the root problems of many of the world's poorest people, 70 per cent of whom live as small farmers. If we help them – if we offer aid and the right mix of sound local and international policies – the solution will come.”

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