Response to European Guidelines on Land Policies in developing countries: "Land: Merchandise or Human Right? Promoting rights-based land reform through European land policies for development co-operation"

office at office at
Sun May 2 20:02:01 BST 2004

In response to the development of European Guidelines on Land Policies in developing countries, and especially in response to the lack of transparency with civil society over procedures; FIAN, War on Want, 11.11.11 and Via Campesina organised a seminar in Brussels entitled: "Land: merchandise or human right?".  
The seminar concluded that it is impossible for the European Union to have pro-poor land policies on the one hand, but continue to  maintain its positions on international trade and investment and allow corporations to commit human rights abuses. We called on the EU to adopt clear and unequivocally pro-poor land policy guidelines.  We also lament the opaque nature of the drafting of the guidelines, and the limited consultation there has been with civil society on the guidelines, calling on the EU to organise a prolonged period of consultation, with transparent and clear rules of procedures, and a commitment to ensure adequate coverage.  
We especially call on the EU to open up to the perspectives of landless movements, peasants, rural women, indigenous peoples, minorities and NGO’s who support the rights of peasant families.
Please read the full final statement below and circulate to interested parties. 
Best wishes,
Lies Craeynest (Traidcraft)
Land: Merchandise or Human Right? Promoting rights-based land reform through European land policies for development co-operation

Brussels 13-14 April 2004

Final Statement
We welcome the initiative of the European Union in embarking on a process of drafting common land policy guidelines for development cooperation. The development of a distinctive “European approach” to land reform issues offers good chances to contribute to the realisation of the human rights of rural populations and to guarantee the food sovereignty of all peoples. 

Across the world today, land is being transformed from being the base of communities’ life into a commodity. Governments and transnational corporations continue to put policies into practice which make the elites ever richer and condemn the majority of the rural population to lives of poverty and social exclusion. The policies of market-led land reform promoted by the World Bank and associated bilateral and multilateral agencies have been instrumental in privatising and concentrating land in few hands at an accelerated pace. Of the 842 million people who are hungry in the world today, three quarters live in rural areas. These market-led land reform policies are part of wider neoliberal economic policies that have to a large extent been responsible for the disenfranchisement and landlessness of millions of people. In Brazil 950,000 small farms have disappeared over the past 15 years. In Colombia three million people have been forcibly displaced since 1985, while a very small minority of the  official landowners, 0.4%, now owns 61% of the land compared to 35% of the land ten years ago. 

The implementation of neoliberal policies has fuelled land conflicts and violence in many rural areas throughout the world. Peasants, indigenous people and rural women are often facing political persecution, harassment, death threats and killings because of their struggle for land and for a small holder based agriculture that guarantees economic and social rights of the rural population. While we were holding our seminar in Brussels, for instance, 62 members of the peaceful Landless Peoples Movement of South Africa were arrested on April 14, election day, for criticising land and rural development policies of the government, while they had in no way interfered with the electoral process or violated any law. 

It is equally violent when thousands of small family farms disappear and entire families are forced to migrate to the slums of the cities. Especially dramatic are the massive suicide cases of indebted small farmers in India.  In the federal state of Karnataka alone, last year more than 10,000 desperate peasants saw no other alternative but to commit suicide.

The alarming effects of neoliberal policies are present not only in Southern countries, but also in North America and Europe. Policies like the Farm Bill and the European Common Agricultural Policy are responsible in these parts of the world for forcing millions of small farmers out of agriculture and for concentrating food production and land ownership in few hands with disastrous results like several animal diseases outbreaks and food scandals illustrate. 

Given this situation the drafting process of European land policy guidelines for development cooperation are an excellent opportunity to contribute to the implementation of one key step for the eradication of poverty and hunger and for the realisation of international commitments like the World Food Summit and the Millennium Development Goals. 

However, the draft land policy guidelines are flawed, in both substance and process. The draft largely ignores the interaction between land policies, trade rules, socio-economic policies, investment and macroeconomic policies. It is not possible for the EU to maintain its positions on international trade and investment, and allow corporations to commit human rights abuses, while still claiming to act in defence of peasants’ collective rights. 

The draft ignores the relationship between land and human rights issues. This relationship is crucial in setting standards, in determining the role of different actors and the necessity and priority of certain reforms and policies. These rights bind not only the governments of the South, but the EU as well. 

The EU land policy guidelines need to clearly and unequivocally adopt pro-poor standards, and exclude any land policy that will result into or even encourage elite-to-elite transfers, or worse, poor-to-elite transfers of resources under the guise of land reform. Furthermore, the support of land reform goes beyond the physical infrastructure projects. The EU should implement land and agricultural policies that strengthen small farmers’ economies and safeguard peasants’, indigenous’ and communities’ land from being commodified and taken over by landlords and  agribusiness interests. Without unconditional legal assistance and services, and funding for political mobilizing, the social capital-building vital for successful land reform is impossible.

The drafting process has been technocratic and opaque, marginalising peasants, indigenous people, women and other constituencies. In the document, peasants are mentioned only three times, yet they are the policy’s key actors. Moreover, no single peasant or landless organisation participated in the electronic consultation on the draft guidelines held in March 2004.

We demand that the EU process be opened up to landless movements, peasants, rural women, indigenous peoples, minorities and NGO’s who support the rights of peasant families. The land policy guidelines should not be approved without having taken the views of these key actors into account. Therefore a prolonged period of consultation, with transparent and clear rules of procedure, and a commitment of resources sufficient to ensure adequate coverage, are necessary. The terms of consultation should be drawn up democratically, the consultation should enable discussion at regional and international level and include actual meetings between the EU task force on land and the stakeholders.

We urge the executive, legislative and judiciary powers of the EU to comply with their human rights obligations related to land and to an adequate standard of living of rural populations. We call on the EU to support a land policy that contributes to free the rural population of violence and repression. The rights to produce and to live in dignity and the rights to food sovereignty of all peoples should be guaranteed. This is the only way the European Union can live up to its commitment of a development policy that eradicates the structural causes of poverty.

signed by:

European Farmers Coordination

La Vía Campesina


War on Want 

FIAN International

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