The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas was adopted in September 2018 by the UN Human Rights Council. India became a member of the Human Rights Council, a month later, in October 2018. When the Declaration was put for voting in the UN General Assembly in December 2018, India voted in favour thus ratifying it.
However, in the light of the three farm bills passed by the Parliament, it appears that India has acted in contravention to this Declaration whereby it had affirmed some important and pertinent farmers rights.
The Declaration (UNDRPOWRA) recognises the contributions of peasants to development and to conserving and improving biodiversity, and raises concerns that farmers suffer disproportionately from poverty, hunger and malnutrition. It also raises alarm over the increasing number of farmers forcibly evicted or displaced every year and the increase in farmers suicides across the world. The Declaration also recognises that several factors make it difficult for peasants to make their voices heard, to defend their human rights.
India is, at present, in the midst of an agrarian crisis within which the controversial passage of laws perceived to be anti-farmer have caused anger and protest.
The Indian Parliament, in one of its most controversial sessions of late (Monsoon Session, 2020), has passed three bills that affect farmers and their rights, without giving the Opposition an opportunity to debate and discuss on the same.
Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, are three bills that are set to become laws as they have been passed by both houses of the Parliament where the ruling party, BJP, has a sizeable majority. Despite the massive uproar of the opposition, sustained attempts at dialogue and debate were turned away, democratic attempts to send the controversial laws to a Select Committee of Parliament, were denied. Flouting all rules and norms, the bills were pushed through. These actions have led to widespread farmers protests across the country while bringing in focus the question, do farmers have rights?
Farmers Rights Protected in the UNHRC Resolution
Article 2(3) of the Declaration (UNDRPOWRA) speaks about an inclusive process of decision making by engaging in a dialogues with farmers and their representative institutions to ensure informed participation and to ensure that the interests of farmers are better served. The Article 2(3) states as follows:
3. Without disregarding specific legislation on indigenous peoples, before adopting and implementing legislation and policies, international agreements and other decision-making processes that may affect the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with peasants and other people working in rural areas through their own representative institutions, engaging with and seeking the support of peasants and other people working in rural areas who could be affected by decisions before those decisions are made, and responding to their contributions, taking into consideration existing power imbalances between different parties and ensuring active, free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of individuals and groups in associated decision-making processes.
Article 2(5) of the Declaration speaks about ensuring that private enterprises and corporates act in a manner that does not impede upon the interest of farmers and rather strengthen their rights. It reads as follows:
5. States shall take all necessary measures to ensure that non-State actors that they are in a position to regulate, such as private individuals and organizations, and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, respect and strengthen the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.
Article 3 stresses upon ensuring that farmers enjoy all human rights including fundamental freedoms recognised in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other international human rights instruments, free from any kind of discrimination in the exercise of their rights.
Article 3(2) speaks about farmers’ right to development as well as their right to determine strategies on how to achieve their right to development. It reads as follows:
2. Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies to exercise their right to development.
Article 6 seeks to protect farmers from arbitrary arrest or detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 8 stresses upon farmers’ right to assert their rights and express them through peaceful means.
Article 10 outlines the farmers’ right to actively participate in formulating policies and laws that may affect their lives, land and livelihoods. Article 10 (2) reads as follows:
2. States shall promote the participation, directly and/or through their representative organizations, of peasants and other people working in rural areas in decision-making processes that may affect their lives, land and livelihoods; this includes respecting the establishment and growth of strong and independent organizations of peasants and other people working in rural areas and promoting their participation in the preparation and implementation of food safety, labour and environmental standards that may affect them.
Article 12 (1) elaborates on the farmers’ right to effective and non-discriminatory access to justice and reads as follows:
1. Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to effective and non-discriminatory access to justice, including access to fair procedures for the resolution of disputes and to effective remedies for all infringements of their human rights. Such decisions shall give due consideration to their customs, traditions, rules and legal systems in conformity with relevant obligations under international human rights law.
Article 16 (2) of the Declaration states that the States are obliged to take measures to favour peasants for selling their products in markets. It reads as follows:
2. States shall take appropriate measures to favour the access of peasants and other people working in rural areas to the means of transportation, and processing, drying and storage facilities necessary for selling their products on local, national and regional markets at prices that guarantee them a decent income and livelihood.
3. States shall take appropriate measures to strengthen and support local, national and regional markets in ways that facilitate, and ensure that peasants and other people working in rural areas have full and equitable access and participation in these markets to sell their products at prices that allow them and their families to attain an adequate standard of living.
Apart from the above-mentioned provisions, the Declaration also specifies rights of farmers against displacement, their right to seeds, right to further traditional knowledge, right to standards of physical and mental health, right to adequate housing, right to social security, right to protect and conserve the environment and so on.
These are now among the enumerated Rights that have become the International Standards for the Protection of Farmers Rights, to which India is not a signatory. Notably, all the rights mentioned enumerated by UNDRPOWRA in detail, are the ones that stand to be violated with the passage of three bills that have been hastily passed by the Parliament. The passage of these Bills through Parliament were not preceded by any democratic dialogue with Farmers or Farmer Organisations, violating their right to be heard and be involved in the making of a policy that affects their sustenance and livelihood.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Area may be read here.