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Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

Fifty-eighth General Assembly
Third Committee
39th & 40th Meetings (AM & PM)
11 November 2003

Draft Resolutions Introduced on Office
Of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mercenaries



The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will continue its consideration of human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights, human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives, as well as the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  For additional background, see Press release GA/SHC/3762 of 10 November.


Right to Food

JEAN ZIEGLER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said the right to food was a human right that was protected by international law.  Governments had a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.  According to the World Food Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 100,000 persons were dying from hunger or its related causes every day.  Every seven seconds, a child below the age of 10 was dying from hunger and every four minutes, a person lost his or her eyesight for a lack of vitamin A.  Little progress was currently being made to reduce hunger, despite promises by governments at the Second World Food Summit in 2002 to halve the number of victims of hunger by 2015. 

It was an outrage that hunger persisted in a world where more than enough food was now produced to feed the global population, he said.  It was indeed time to recognize that the dominating neoliberal economic model was producing great wealth but was simultaneously leaving many in great poverty, struggling to feed themselves. 

During the year 2003, the most important country mission was the one conducted to the occupied Palestinian territories, where 61 per cent out of 3.8 million Palestinians were chronically, and for many of them gravely, undernourished.  A humanitarian catastrophe was in the making, due mainly to the closures, curfews, and continuous extensions of the settlements and the military zones.  If the security wall was built, it was clear that the Palestinian people would have even more difficulties in realizing the right to food.  The Palestinian civil population was therefore largely deprived of its right to food. 


Interactive Dialogue

The representative of Italy asked the Special Rapporteur to address discrimination against women as it related to gender discrimination in the fulfilment of the right to food.

The representative of Israel said Israel viewed the statement with serious concern, both in view of its substantive content and its politicized views.  He said the report provided a platform for unsubstantiated allegations against Israel.  It was regretful that the report failed to mention the loss of life due to terrorist attacks and that it completely ignored Israel’s security dilemmas. It depicted the situation in the territories in an oversimplified manner, repeatedly characterizing the humanitarian crisis as man-made, thereby insinuating that Israel was to blame for the crisis.  The report conveyed a clear message to the Palestinian side that the United Nations was a convenient and willing forum for bypassing the peace process.

The representative of Egypt thanked Mr. Ziegler for his report, his integrity and his courage.  The mandate of the Special Rapporteur concerned the right to food, not the right to security.  The Special Rapporteur had appropriately raised the suffering in the occupied Palestinian territories, where 61 per cent of 3.8 million Palestinians were facing a humanitarian catastrophe.  The Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate on how their situation would be affected by the building of a separation wall.

Women were key to food security, said the representative of Liechtenstein, stressing that more focus needed to be paid in the report to women’s role in procuring food.  Secondly, regarding transnational corporations, he asked to what extent such corporations could be held to international human rights standards.  The report seemed to provide contradictory information on the legal obligations of transnational corporations. 

The representative of Tunisia said that the mandate of Mr. Ziegler went in the same direction as all work related to the protection of human rights.

The Observer for Palestine thanked Mr. Ziegler for shedding light on the situation of the Palestinian people and the violation of their right to food under Israeli occupation.  She asked about the status of the report from the visit to the occupied Palestinian territories and when it would be available to Member States.  She expressed concern about the culture of the Israeli delegation in attacking Special Rapporteurs with threats and intimidation, when it was clear that the Special Rapporteurs were only carrying out the mandates given to them by the Member States of the United Nations.

The representative of Canada asked the Special Rapporteur to comment on the proposition that there was a wide range of approaches that could be used to implement the right to adequate food, particularly as there was no agreed definition of the right to adequate food.  Canada also questioned whether attempting to impose obligations on transnational corporations and non-State actors would not ultimately result in diverting the focus of the international community from the responsibility of States to respect human rights. 

The representative of the United States said the report presented by the Special Rapporteur contained useful observations to improve women’s access to food.  However the report’s recommendations and assertions were objectionable, including the mischaracterization of the scope of right to adequate food and its assertion that corporations as opposed to States should be held accountable for the protection of human rights. 

He said the Special Rapporteur was using his platform to promote his own political point of view.  United Nations procedures did not appear to have been followed in producing his report.  For instance, it was made public before the concerned country could comment.  The Special Rapporteur continued to use the United Nations as a cover for his own political perspectives, and the United States delegation had grave reservations about his mandate. 

Mr. ZIEGLER approached the questions asked one by one.  Responding to the questions by the representative of Italy on gender discrimination, he said it was difficult to provide clear answers to some of them.  Even in Switzerland, women performing the same tasks as men were on average paid 30 per cent less.  Such discrimination was not only a concern in developing countries, but all over the world.  There was not one reason for the discrimination against women regarding access to food.  A special emphasis on the reasons behind discrimination against women when it came to food, land and income, was needed.

Concerning obstacles in achieving food security, he stressed the importance of agricultural reform.  It was ironic that those in charge of producing food were also those suffering from hunger.  In this connection, he welcomed the initiatives undertaken by President Lula of Brazil in approaching land reform and rural poverty. 

Addressing Israel’s statement, he said he had been reproached in many ways and responded by saying that he, like any other sensible person, was horrified by the violence that was taken place in the region.  Each victim of the violence in the region, irrespective of his or her nationality or origin, was a tragedy.  He added that he had cooperated with Israeli institutions as well as Palestinian institutions.  He had been openly welcomed by the Department of Defence and had enjoyed frank and good discussions. 

Security remained a concern, he said, and the obligation to provide food security applied across the board.  There were tens of thousands of Palestinian children suffering from malnutrition and anaemia, and that had absolutely nothing to do with the suicide-bombings and the violence in the region.  He concluded by saying that he was just a humble Special Rapporteur and that he did not understand how his report could possibly threaten upcoming negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Concerning the question on the security wall and the consequences on Palestinian people raised by Egypt, he said the fence was being largely built on Palestinian territory.  The building of this wall must be stopped since it ran counter to the purposes of the Road Map.  Already, 200,000 Palestinians had lost their access to land and water due to the construction of the wall.

Responding to Liechtenstein, he said that the role of women and the right to food was indeed important, particularly in terms of underweight childbirth.  When children lacked nutrients, they were maimed for life.  Concerning the second issue on obligations of transnational corporations, he said that there were indeed some contradictions since he was at a preliminary analytical stage.  The international community needed new norms to deal with powerful corporations. 

The report on Palestine was on the United Nations Web site and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Web site, he said, in response to the observer for Palestine.  It was true that the Government of Israel seemed to have bad relations with the Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner.  However, he was the first Special Rapporteur that had been able to move around the occupied Palestinian territories and meet with relevant people.

Canada was indeed a pioneer when it came to the right to food; however the right to water was another story, he said.  A special rapporteur was just a rapporteur – a scholar exposing problems and suggesting solutions.

Turning to the representative of the United States, he paid tribute to the speaker from the United State, who unlike his predecessor had not claimed that there was no such thing as the right to food and that only the market forces could lead to food security.  The neo-liberal vision was very different from the vision on the right to food endorsed by the Commission on Human Rights.

He told the Committee of the privatization of water in Bolivia by a major American multinational that had charged citizens for something that should be a human right.  It was clear that he and the United States held very different views about the very concept of the right to food.  He thanked the representative of the United States for his ongoing attention to the work of the Special Rapporteur.  This would surely make him work harder to ensure that the right to food was attained all over the world.

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