Delivered by the U.S. Mission Legal Adviser Katherine Gorove
Geneva, April 11, 2018
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Although we have not been participating in these discussions in recent years, I come this afternoon to give a general statement reiterating the United States’ position regarding the draft Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. One of our major concerns with the Declaration is the issue of collective rights. Thus, I am speaking during this segment, but my statement applies more generally to our position on the Declaration.
The United States is deeply concerned about the challenges faced by persons living and working in rural areas around the world, and we participate in existing discussions in multilateral fora to address these complex issues. Ninety percent of farmers in the United States are considered small family farms. However, we continue to maintain our previously stated views regarding our opposition to this draft Declaration.
While the United States takes very seriously many of the issues covered in this draft Declaration, we continue to believe the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies are not the right fora for discussion of many of these issues. Instead, we believe that these issues would be better considered by other existing UN mechanisms and outlets with specific mandates relating to them.
We have a number of difficulties with the text of this draft declaration. I will just mention a few. First, on so-called “collective human rights,” the United States underscores that human rights are universal rights held and enjoyed by all individuals, regardless of their societal classification or the nature of their work. While the United States is concerned as a matter of policy about challenges confronting people working in rural areas, and undertakes numerous initiatives to improve the circumstances for members of these groups, we do not agree with the suggestion that this category of individuals merits different or special treatment in the international human rights framework. In particular, this draft purports to enumerate new rights for this group, including collective rights, to the exclusion of others. This effort to create human rights for groups is inconsistent with international human rights law, which bestows rights on individuals under international law, whether alone or in community with others, not on groups.
Second, there is no internationally accepted definition for many of the purported “rights” asserted in this text, individual or collective, including a “right to seeds,” a “right to return to the land,” a “right to use traditional ways of farming,” a “right to food sovereignty,” or a “right to biological diversity.” While some may be laudable goals, they are not recognized human rights under international human rights law.
Third, the present Declaration should not be drafted using language such as “shall.” The word “shall” should be reserved for legally binding texts. Declarations are not legally binding documents.
Fourth, the United States does not support the references to technology transfer in this draft, as well as other language that could be used to undermine intellectual property rights. We call for technology transfer only when voluntary and on mutually agreed terms and we embrace policies that allow for a level playing field, that afford equal treatment and do not negatively affect economic interests. A declaration of this sort is not the appropriate vehicle for pronouncements on technology transfer or intellectual property. Attempted inclusion of such language is an attempt to prejudice negotiations underway or anticipated in other more appropriate fora.
People who live and work in rural areas are key to local, regional, and global food security. We recognize the importance of discussing the challenges faced by persons living and working in rural areas and seek ways to protect their human rights. Nonetheless, we believe the draft Declaration distracts from efforts to promote and protect individual human rights, including of persons living and working in rural areas. Moreover, we do not believe that this draft Declaration accurately reflects existing conventional or customary international law nor that it changes the current state of conventional or customary international law. Therefore, we wish to reflect our continued opposition to adoption of this draft Declaration. I wish to request the Secretariat to reflect this statement in the record and to note that the U.S. disassociates itself from any conclusions or recommendations arising from this Intergovernmental Working Group. We believe our efforts should be devoted to identifying challenges to the promotion and protection of universal human rights for those in rural areas, and to finding practical solutions to those challenges, and we welcome opportunities to engage in efforts to do just that.