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Comments on the Zero Draft of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests

Concerns Regarding the Food and Agriculture Organization's Draft "Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible governance on the Tenure of Land, Forestry and Fisheries”.

The Peoples’ Coalition on Food Sovereignty expresses concern with regards to UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Zero Draft on the “Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible governance on the Tenure of Land, Forestry and Fisheries”. When these guidelines neither includes enforceable implementation and complaints mechanisms nor any mention of internationally legally binding human rights conventions, it fails to address the realities of rural communities worldwide - small farmers and pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, tribal peoples – whose very rights to survival (including rights to land, food and water) are denied by corporations that consistently engage in forceful landgrabbing.

We acknowledge the mention of there being widespread interest and concern regarding tenure governance, but this terminology fails to describe the fact that the concerns about tenure governance in fact are rooted in the advent of the global food crisis, and the fact that large agri-corporations, investment firms and nations of the Global North are systematically engaging in the takeover of farmlands in impoverished communities within  Asia, Africa and Latin America. Meanwhile, popular mass uprisings and food riots have become common occurrences in countries throughout the Global South.

In our understanding, a Zero Draft should serve the purpose of identifying and defining the specific issues to address, beyond stating general humanitarian goals such as food security and poverty alleviation. Unless the guidelines articulate the specifics of the tenuous existence of marginalized rural communities, their non-derogable right to life, inequitable and unjust resource distribution, and the additional layer of state complicity that results in the militarization and criminalization of these communities, the whole process of developing guidelines risks prescribing token and non-binding procedural and framework improvements that can ultimately serve to legitimize landgrabbing.

We therefore recommend that the preface of the draft include the references to the phenomenon of landgrabbing and genuinely elaborate on the resulting devastating impacts on the rights and livelihood of peoples’ of the Global South. Correspondingly, the guidelines' objectives must also address this context.

We likewise recommend that by having widespread landgrabbing as a rationale, the policy should also state the principal drivers and motives behind the proliferation of such practices namely:
a) private investments for speculative financial gain;
b) rising demand for agrofuels and raw materials for manufacturing goods; and,
c) securing food supplies by wealthy but resources-poor countries.

In order to truly reflect the interests of vulnerable and marginalized groups, we also suggest that the draft recognize that weak tenure governance has already resulted in extensive denial of the rights and livelihoods of rural peoples, particularly those who identify as Indigenous Peoples, Tribal, Dalits, and others who have been displaced or face militarization – and amongst them, specifically women - within these communities. If a complaints-based mechanism for communities and individual families to seek reparations and justice is not included in the draft, we believe there would be significant oversights and a severe gap in addressing the realities of communities affected. Furthermore, we would recommend that the draft create provisions that recognize the rights of people to defend their human rights and seek redress for violations of these rights (as outlined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders) reflected in the tone of the guidelines.

Lastly,  we are deeply concerned by the fact that the guidelines remain voluntary and non-binding, especially given the fact that states, and actors that are not signatories to international human rights conventions, including institutions as well as private sectors

  • Are all actively engaged in landgrabbing and other forms of violations of the land tenure rights of rural communities.

In terms of specific language, we hope you will consider the following points:

  • Include references to binding UN Human Rights Conventions, including but not limited to ICESCR, ICCPR, CEDAW, and CAT, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ILO 164 and also the relevant African, EU and Inter-American human rights conventions and agreements.
  • Include provisions related to circumstances when women's access to land is barred by law, and the corresponding need for states to reform laws to ensure equitable land holding rights. Specific references must be made in relation to the universal human rights of women as outlined in CEDAW and the Beijing Program of Action.
  • Include provisions related to Indigenous and tribal land sovereignty.
  • Include provisions that ensure respect of diverse forms of landholding, including cooperatives, collectives, community and areas of the commons.-
  • Include provisions related to water as a transboundary concern, and also as a resource within the land title held, and integral to all land tenure rights (consider adding “water” to the title of the proposed guidelines)
  • Address land holders’ rights to protect the speculative sub-soil resources from being bought from under them (including groundwater as well as oil, gas and mineral reserves).
  • Adjust the terminology of "Responsible governance" of tenure. Additional provisions must be connected to address the need for tenure to be subject to relations of equity and human rights.
  • The safeguarding of land tenure "from threats" (3.1.2) must include a proviso to exclude circumstances when actions are initiated by subjugated and marginalised communities to reclaim their rightful property.
  • Information related to land tenure laws should be accessible (as stated in the draft), but a proviso must be added to ensure this information is distributed in local languages and dialects and disseminated in forms and processes sensitive to their local decision making processes. 
  • Spatial planning processes described in the zero draft need to be articulated with specific provisions for meaningful involvement of communities affected, including forums and decision making bodies. 
  • The section on land tenure disputes must address the absolute prohibition of military forces and proviso to safeguard against citizen advocates being criminalised for defending their rightful land rights. Cease all forms of military occupation of agricultural land and conversion of prime agricultural land to military complexes.
  • Any reference to land holders as "customers" must be withdrawn. The land holders in rural communities whose rights should be adequately protected by these guidelines are citizens with universal, indivisible and non-derogable rights.
  • Provisions on displacement must also address the occurrence of one-time and ongoing environmental contamination (for ex. Related to leaching of nearby waste dumps, pesticide contamination through indiscriminate spraying, and gas flaring operations)
  • The Zero Draft’s current references to making sure national priorities are met must be accompanied by a proviso to ensure that at no point shall projects and initiatives to fulfil national priorities lead to violations of the legally binding human rights of individuals within communities affected.
  • Implementation measures need to be clarified. International bodies that include meaningful participation of human rights organisations must be identified and articulated so that remedial action, restitution, compensation and justice can be sought by communities affected by violations of their rights to land.  Due consideration to mechanisms that would allow for affected communities to voice their concerns within these processes must be made.
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