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Land is a human right

The time has come to challenge the dominant understanding of land as a globalized economic and financial asset, and to recognize that land sustains life, shapes identity and culture.

The current dynamics of dispossession of communities, ecological destruction and privatization of nature require the  strengthening of the human rights framing of land and other natural resources, putting the rights and aspirations of people and communities on center stage. This is one of the main conclusions of “The Human Right to Land”, a new publication that FIAN International launches today in Bucharest, Romania, at a conference on the rights of peasants, amid negotiations towards a Declaration on the rights of the rural world.

As echoed by the publication, the human right to land challenges the dominant understanding of land as a globalized economic and financial asset and contributes to closing existing normative gaps in international human rights law. As such, it constitutes a powerful legal tool for peoples‘ and communities‘ struggles in rural, peri-urban and urban contexts.

Access to, control over and use of land are fundamental for people and communities throughout the world, especially for small-scale food producers, who feed the world’s population. As it is increasingly recognized that land is crucial for the realization of human rights, the time has come to give the right to land full recognition as a human right in itself.

“Social movements and grassroots organizations around the world have been claiming the human right to land for a long time in their struggles, building on the concept and vision of food sovereignty.  For indigenous peoples and small-scale food producers, land, oceans, rivers, forests, and all of nature are much more than a means of production. They are the very basis of life, culture and identity, and fulfil crucial social, cultural, spiritual and environmental functions,” says Sofía Monsalve, Secretary General of FIAN International.

The new publication proposes to recognize the human right to land as the right of every human being to effectively access, use and control – individually or in community – land and related natural resources in order to feed and house themselves, and to live and develop their cultures. Based on the fact that all human beings rely, directly or indirectly, on land and other natural resources for their survival, States are obliged to strengthen the recognition, respect, protection and fulfilment of this right.

While an increasing number of human rights instruments as well as observations by UN human rights treaty bodies recognize the inextricable connection between land and the realization of human rights, existing international human rights law guarantees only limited land rights to date. “The time has come to evolve from an instrumentalist approach to land – which considers land as a gateway to the realization of other rights – to the recognition that land sustains life and shapes identity and culture. Recognizing the human right to land strengthens the human rights framework as such, including the right to food and nutrition,” adds Monsalve.

“The ongoing process at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) towards a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas and the deliberations in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) about a General Comment on land are big opportunities to advance the right to land. FIAN International will continue advocating for the recognition of land as a human right, while supporting social movements of small-scale food producers and indigenous peoples,” she concludes.

You can access the publication here.

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