Responsibility and Obligation: The Right to Food

In this post I consider the main rights, obligations and responsibilities of right-holders and duty-bearers. The idea of International human rights instruments is to protect the rights of individuals and groups vis-à-vis state governments that have ratified the various agreements, declarations and covenants. When it comes to the right to food, people have the right to access adequate food or the means to procure it.  Because human rights are interrelated, the full realization of the right to adequate food can depend on the realization of other human rights, for example, land, labour, health and education.

Under the terms of Articles 2 and 11 of the ICESCR, general State obligations with respect to the right to food are the following:

  • obligation to take steps to the maximum of available resources to progressively realise the right to food;
  • obligation to take measures needed to ensure the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger;
  • obligation of non-discrimination; and,
  • obligation to co-operate.

In an earlier post, I asked “What about when there is disagreement on approaches of how to achieve adequate food (agroecology vs. green revolution, for example)?”.

The answer is that a for various reasons, states are not able to ensure the full realization of the right to food, in which case they are expected to realize the obligation progressively.

General Comment 3 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) states that when resources are inadequate, States maintain the obligation to try to realize the right to food and must seek to ensure the widest enjoyment of rights under the circumstances. States must also continue to monitor the realization or non-realization of economic, social and cultural rights, and to develop strategies to realize them.

I was interested to learn that under Articles 2 and 11 of the ICESCR States are required to take steps through international cooperation and assistance, especially economic and technical, meaning that countries are obligates to support the realization of the right to food in other countries through financial or technical assistance or aid. The aid has to conform to human rights standards and be culturally appropriate and sustainable. States are also obligates to take the rights of other countries into account in their actions.

The FAO released a study in 2003 that identifies and analyses the applicable principles, rules and standards of international law related to the right to food in emergency situations. Off to read that.

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