The right to adequate food

Un Special Rapporteurs on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, Olivier de Schutter, Hilal Elver

The right to adequate food in international law

The right to food is a human right and is a binding obligation well-established under international law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 first recognized the right to food as a human right. It was then incorporated in the     International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11) adopted in 1966 and ratified by 156 states, which are today legally bound by its provisions.
The most authoritative UN interpretation of the right to food in international law is contained in     General Comment No. 12 of the     Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1999):

"The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement".

States obligations under the right to adequate food

According to the General Comment No. 12, the right to food also implies three types of obligations - the obligations to respect, to protect and to fulfill:

  • The obligation to respect existing access to adequate food requires States parties not to take any measures that result in preventing such access.
  • The obligation to protect requires measures by the State to ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food.
  • The obligation to fulfill (facilitate) means the State must pro-actively engage in activities intended to strengthen people's access to and utilization of resources and means to ensure their livelihood, including food security. Finally, whenever an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to enjoy the right to adequate food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfill (provide) that right directly. This obligation also applies for persons who are victims of natural or other disasters.

FIAN and the right to adequate food

The human right to food is the core of FIAN´s work. In the more than 25 years since our foundation, we have achieved that this right took centre stage in international politics. Successful initiatives where FIAN contributed to were, for instance, the establishment of the complaints mechanism     Optional Protocol within the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the adoption of the     FAO Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security; the     Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial States' Obligations; and the     FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the right to adequate food.