GSO Commentary — Resolutions of the first 2012 Human Rights Council

reprinted from the CMBD News

We have been following the right to food, human rights and the environment and good governance at the most recent session of the Human Rights Council, the first of three regular sessions per year.  This is the session that features the high-level segment for foreign affairs ministers to lay out their human rights priorities, and we recognize that the political and civil human rights issues are the ones that get the most diplomatic attention.

A commission of inquiry on Syria has dominated the deliberations, to be sure.  On the other hand, we also think it is important to appreciate how the economic, social and cultural aspects of human rights are influencing policy debates in the Human Rights Council.  While it is true that respecting all human rights is a fundamental tenet of the Council’s approach to business and human rights, the economic, social and cultural aspects of human rights are where business has been more frequently in the limelight.   Our main interest during this session has been on the implications for business of the Council’s approach to the right to food, but we have also been interested in the environmental and good governance debates.

Two issues are worthy of note regarding the latest policy considerations at the Human Rights Council on the right to food.  First, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, had included considerable detail in his annual report to the Council on the implications of the risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases to the right to food.  That is to say, the linkages between under-nutrition of infants and children and later problems with obesity have been well established in the campaign to mobilize awareness about the risk factors and their impact on chronic diseases like diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases.   So the resolution to approve continued involvement of the Council on the right to food has included references to the right to food and nutrition security since it isn’t just access to food that is implied here.  The high-calorie content of cheap foods would suggest the need to deliver nutrition security as well as just food security.  The second issue is whether to associate the “current distortions in the agricultural trading system” as blocking the ability of poor farmers and producers to compete and sell their products and thereby restricting the realization of the right to adequate food by these same producers and farmers.  Beyond these issues, the resolution is fairly balanced and requests all States, private actors and international organizations (within their mandates) to “take fully into account the need to promote the effective realization of the right to food for all”.  It encourages cooperation with the Working Group on Human Rights and Business on the contribution of the private sector to food, “including the importance of ensuring sustainable water resources for human consumption and agriculture”.  See the draft resolution here.

We note two other resolutions of interest.  As we had reported two weeks ago, the Human Rights Council had requested a special workshop in the relationship between human rights and the environment, and we reported that the workshop included discussion of a proposal to establish a “special rapporteur” on this matter.  There is now a resolution to create an “independent expert” on the right to a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment”.  We see this as contributing to the momentum to infuse a human rights perspective in the Rio+20 Summit.  A final resolution of note has to do with promoting good governance, and this one emphasizes the importance of combating corruption and promoting the UN Convention on Corruption.  There are others, of course – on minority rights, on the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights generally – but we think these three on the right to food, on environment and on governance are especially pertinent for CMBD News readers.