U.S. Explanation of Vote on the Right to Food

Explanation of  Vote by the United States of America

A/HRC/34/L.21

Human Rights Council 34th session
Geneva, March 23, 2017

This Council is meeting at a time when the international community is confronting what could be the modern era’s most serious food security emergency.  Under Secretary-General O’Brien warned the Security Council earlier this month that more than 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, and Yemen are facing famine and starvation.  The United States, working with concerned partners and relevant international institutions, is fully engaged on addressing this crisis.

This Council, should be outraged that so many people are facing famine because of a manmade crisis caused by, among other things , armed conflict in these four areas.  The resolution before us today rightfully acknowledges the calamity facing millions of people and importantly calls on states to support the United Nations’ emergency humanitarian appeal.  However, the resolution also contains many unbalanced, inaccurate, and unwise provisions that the United States cannot support.  This resolution does not articulate meaningful solutions for preventing hunger and malnutrition or avoiding its devastating consequences.  This resolution distracts attention from important and relevant challenges that contribute significantly to the recurring state of regional food insecurity, including endemic conflict, and the lack of strong governing institutions.  Instead, this resolution contains problematic, inappropriate language that does not belong in a resolution focused on human rights.

For the following reasons, we will call a vote and vote “no” on this resolution.  First, drawing on the Special Rapporteur’s recent report, this resolution inappropriately introduces a new focus on pesticides.  Pesticide-related matters fall within the mandates of several multilateral bodies and fora, including the Food and Agricultural Organization, World Health Organization, and United Nations Environment Program, and are addressed thoroughly in these other contexts.  Existing international health and food safety standards provide states with guidance on protecting consumers from pesticide residues in food.  Moreover, pesticides are often a critical component of agricultural production, which in turn is crucial to preventing food insecurity.

Second, this resolution inappropriately discusses trade-related issues, which fall outside the subject-matter and the expertise of this Council.  The language in paragraph 28 in no way supersedes or otherwise undermines the World Trade Organization (WTO) Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, which all WTO Members adopted by consensus and accurately reflects the current status of the issues in those negotiations.  At the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015, WTO Members could not agree to reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).  As a result, WTO Members are no longer negotiating under the DDA framework.  The United States also does not support the resolution’s numerous references to technology transfer.

We also underscore our disagreement with other inaccurate or imbalanced language in this text.  We regret that this resolution contains no reference to the importance of agricultural innovations, which bring wide-ranging benefits to farmers, consumers, and innovators.  Strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, including through the international rules-based intellectual property system, provide critical incentives needed to generate the innovation that is crucial to addressing the development challenges of today and tomorrow.  In our view, this resolution also draws inaccurate linkages between climate change and human rights related to food.

Furthermore, we reiterate that states are responsible for implementing their human rights obligations.  This is true of all obligations that a state has assumed, regardless of external factors, including, for example, the availability of technical and other assistance.

We also do not accept any reading of this resolution or related documents that would suggest that States have particular extraterritorial obligations arising from any concept of a right to food.

Lastly, we wish to clarify our understandings with respect to certain language in this resolution.  The United States supports the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including food, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Domestically, the United States pursues policies that promote access to food, and it is our objective to achieve a world where everyone has adequate access to food, but we do not treat the right to food as an enforceable obligation.  The United States does not recognize any change in the current state of conventional or customary international law regarding rights related to food.  The United States is not a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Accordingly, we interpret this resolution’s references to the right to food, with respect to States Parties to that covenant, in light of its Article 2(1).  We also construe this resolution’s references to member states’ obligations regarding the right to food as applicable to the extent they have assumed such obligations.

Finally, we interpret this resolution’s reaffirmation of previous documents, resolutions, and related human rights mechanisms as applicable to the extent countries affirmed them in the first place.

As for other references to previous documents, resolutions, and related human rights mechanisms, we reiterate any views we expressed upon their adoption.