Food Rights Initiative

graphic of women eating
The Food Rights Initiative is based out of Miami Law’s Human Rights Program and is founded and directed by Faculty Advisor Denisse Córdova Montes. Projects focus on the realization of the rights to food and food sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers, and rural women, and on supporting U.S.-based efforts to enshrine the human right to food in state constitutions and local laws.

Advocacy

Realizing the Right to Food of Indigenous Peoples, Peasants, and Rural Women

Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers, and rural women and girls experience poverty and hunger at disproportionate levels around the world, in spite of the international legal frameworks designed to protect them. Although women produce and provide food, they are often the last ones to access food for themselves. Female farmers are responsible for cultivating, ploughing and harvesting more than 50% of the world’s food; however, women account for 70% of the world’s hungry and are disproportionately affected by malnutrition and food insecurity. Institutionalized gender discrimination, racism, new forms of colonialism, and structural violence, including environmental violence, impose barriers that prevent Indigenous Peoples, peasants, and rural women and girls from enjoying their economic, social and cultural rights, and specifically the right to adequate food.

The Food Rights Initiative works to promote and defend the human right to food, in particular as it affects rural and Indigenous women and girls. This work has entailed the documentation of violations of the right to food and related rights as well as advocacy at national, regional and global levels.

In July 2021, the Human Rights Clinic published a report on the rights of rural and Indigenous women in Guatemala, in collaboration with groups in Guatemala and the Clinic of the University of Oviedo School of Law in Spain. The report centered on the right to food and its relationship with the rights to be free from gender violence, access to justice, political participation, and the rights of human rights defenders.

In November 2020, the Clinic published a report on the rights of rural and Indigenous women in Ecuador in collaboration with FIAN Ecuador and Mujeres Rurales del Ecuador. The report focused on the right to food and its relationship with the rights to health, education, political participation, and the rights of Nature. The Clinic also supported local, national, and global advocacy by participating in national-level webinars directed at Ecuadorian decision-makers and drafting a civil society submission to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women for its 80th session review of Ecuador.

The Clinic’s elaboration of the Ecuador and Guatemala reports followed months of virtual consultations with women community leaders from both countries. The methodology for these consultations was the one developed for the Cooking Up Political Agendas publication, which was co-authored and launched by the Clinic together with FIAN International and other women’s rights organizations in September 2020. This methodology seeks to provide practical guidance on how to build a local right to food agenda based on recently-adopted international human rights standards.

In February 2020, the Clinic was invited to participate in the regional gathering of Indigenous women of the Americas hosted by the Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indigenas de las Americas (ECMIA) in Mexico City to conduct interviews and strategize with Indigenous women as part of the Clinic’s work supporting Indigenous women’s advocacy at regional and global levels on the right food. Following our participation in this meeting, the Clinic was asked to work alongside the global network of Indigenous women leaders, FIMI, and women’s rights advocacy organization, MADRE, on a submission to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The submission seeks to inform the development of a new human rights instrument focused on the rights of Indigenous women and girls, including the rights to food and food sovereignty, and the rights to land, water, and seeds. Please find a web story with additional information.

In November 2019, the Clinic filed a submission to the Working Group of the San Salvador Protocol of the Organization of American States focused on rural and Indigenous women’s right to food. The submission specifically asked for the revision of the Protocol’s right to food indicators of progress so that these can be more inclusive of the rights of women who live and/or work in rural areas. Please find a web story with additional information.

In July 2019, the Clinic filed an amicus brief together with FIAN International, FIAN Brazil, and the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and current member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Olivier De Schutter, before the Supreme Court of Brazil concerning the case of the Ibirama-Laklãnõ Indigenous Territory. The brief supported a holistic interpretation of the right to food in the context of Indigenous Peoples’ right to their territories.

In March 2019, the Clinic contributed to an amicus brief presented by the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and current member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Olivier De Schutter, before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in the case of the Indigenous Communities of the Lhaka Honhat Association v. Argentina arguing that Argentina violated the human right to food of the Lhaka Honhat Indigenous communities. In February 2020, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark decision for Indigenous Peoples, where for the first time the Court analyzed the rights to food, a healthy environment, water, and culture based on Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights. In addressing violations of the right to food of Indigenous Peoples, the Court referred to the Clinic’s amicus brief, which explained the links between the right to food and cultural rights. Citing to our Clinic’s brief, the Court noted that “[t]he right to food should not be understood in a restrictive sense. What is being protected by the right is not mere physical subsistence and, particularly in the case of indigenous peoples, it has a significant cultural dimension.”

In March 2018, the Clinic conducted advocacy during the U.N. 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Clinic students participated in side events focused on women’s access to natural resources and health in the context of the right to food. Additionally, the Clinic contributed to a thematic closed consultation on the use and implementation of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. As a result of this consultation, a civil society report on the use and implementation of FAO right to food guidelines, which is also available in Spanish or French, was published. Please find a web story with additional information.

Enshrining the Right to Food in U.S. Law

The COVID-19 crisis has brought to light the stark inequities that leave millions in persistent hunger throughout the U.S. BIPOC groups have been hit particularly hard. Informal labor workers, who account for a large proportion of the workforce in the U.S., saw their sources of income disappear overnight, with little or no social protection to fall back on. Unprecedented staggering waiting lines at food banks exposed gaps in the social protection system, and the vulnerability of the large undocumented migrant population in the U.S. Rural populations, such as farmers, small-scale fishers and Indigenous Peoples have also suffered disproportionately. The magnitude of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the right to food still remains to be fully understood; however, as the pandemic reshapes public life, it also offers an opportunity to organize and protect people’s basic human right to food in the U.S.

The Food Rights Initiative engages in advocacy to realize the right to food in the U.S. by providing support to grassroot groups’ participation in global human rights accountability processes, as well legislative advocacy efforts seeking to make the right to food justiciable by enshrining it in state constitutions and local laws.

In April 2021, upon request from House Chair Maggie O’Neil of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) of the Maine Legislature and Maine Senator Craig Hickman, the Human Rights Clinic submitted a legal memo to the Maine Attorney General’s office clarifying that the right to save and exchange seeds in the Maine Constitutional Resolution regarding the right to food excludes a right to commercially produce seeds. The memo was explicitly cited during the April 15, 2021 ACF Committee Work Session and was instrumental in achieving a unanimous vote from the ACF Committee for the right to food resolution to be placed on the ballot in November 2021.

In July 2020, the Clinic contributed to the Americas section of the State of the Right to Food and Nutrition Report 2020 with an analysis of the impact of systemic racism on hunger in the U.S.

In June 2019, the Clinic submitted a report to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food on systemic racism and hunger in the context of COVID-19 in the U.S.

In October 2019, the Clinic submitted a report entitled, The Human Right to Food in the Context of Political Participation, Equality and Nondiscrimination as part of the Universal Periodic Review process of the U.S. by the U.N. Human Rights Council. The report provides a human right to food analysis of hunger in the U.S. and its linkages with civil and political rights, as well as provides recommendations to address these issues. Please find a web story on this advocacy at Clinic Submits Four Reports to the United Nations Alleging Violations in the U.S. Please find a blog on “Freedom From Want: Advocating for the Right to Food in the United States,” published with the WhyHunger blog series. The Clinic additionally developed an advocacy factsheet on the Right to Food in the U.S.

Convenings

  • Strategy Meeting on Realizing the Rights to Food, Health and Housing in the U.S.: On November 12-13, 2020, the Human Rights Clinic and Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights hosted a National Strategy Meeting on Realizing the Rights to Food, Health and Housing in the U.S. that brought together advocates and scholars to share strategies and experiences for realizing the rights to housing, health, and food. The meeting provided participants with the opportunity to jointly strategize on cross-cutting issues. For the meeting, the HRC developed factsheets in English and Spanish on the international human rights to food, housing and health. For more information about this meeting, please see the meeting agenda and report, as well as a Human Rights at Home blog and web story.
     
  • Convenings of Indigenous and Rural Women in Guatemala and Ecuador: The Clinic’s elaboration of the Ecuador and Guatemala reports in fall 2020 and spring 2021 followed months of virtual consultations with women community leaders from both countries. The methodology for these consultations followed the methodology developed for the Cooking Up Political Agendas publication, which was co-authored and launched by the Clinic together with FIAN International and other women’s rights organizations in September 2020. This methodology seeks to provide practical guidance on how to build a local right to food agenda based on recently-adopted international human rights standards.
     
  • Online Event “Rights Not Charity! Solutions to Hunger and Malnutrition in the U.S.”: In October 2020, as part of its lobbying work leading up to the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. by the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Clinic co-hosted an online event with the Geneva Academy, FIAN International, and WhyHunger. The event, “Rights Not Charity! Solutions to Hunger and Malnutrition in the U.S.”, engaged in a reflection about the false and true solutions to ending hunger at its root causes in the U.S. The discussion also provided participating member states and civil society organizations with relevant recommendations for the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S.
     
  • Roundtable Workshop on the Rights of Nature in the Food System: On January 23, 2020, the Clinic participated in the Roundtable Workshop on the Rights of Nature in the Food System co-hosted by the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University and the Native American Agriculture Fund. The Roundtable Workshop was part of a broader two-day program that brought together Indigenous leaders, scholars, and international practitioners to discuss how human rights can address structural inequities and environmental impacts in food systems.
     
  • Right to Food Workshop at the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Forum: On June 18-19, 2019, the Clinic co-hosted together with WhyHunger a Right to Food Workshop at the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Forum in Pittsburgh, PA. The forum sought to bring together practitioners, scholars, and community leaders together to discuss strategic and innovative directions to address inequities in the food system in the U.S.
     
  • Right to Food of Rural Women Strategy Meeting: On June 1-3, 2019, the Clinic participated in a strategy meeting of representatives of women’s rights groups around the world. The meeting was held in Mexico City and sought to jointly strategize around the use of the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation No. 34 on rural women and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Peasants at local and national levels. On the basis of this convening, the Cooking Up Political Agendas methodology was developed. The methodology and related materials were co-authored and launched by the Clinic together with FIAN International and other women’s rights organizations in September 2020. This methodology seeks to provide practical guidance on how to build a local right to food agenda based on recently adopted international human rights standards.
     
  • Side Events and Consultations during the U.N. 62nd Commission on the Status of Women: In March 2018, the Clinic conducted advocacy during the U.N. 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Clinic students participated in side events focused on women’s access to natural resources and health in the context of the right to food. Additionally, the Clinic contributed to a thematic closed consultation on the use and implementation of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. As a result of this consultation, a civil society report on the use and implementation of FAO right to food guidelines, which is also available in Spanish or French, was published. Please find a web story with additional information.

Scholarship

Faculty and student scholarship addressing food rights includes:

Blogs:

Resources

Enshrining the Right to Food in U.S. Law

Realizing the Right to Food of Indigenous Peoples, Peasants, and Rural Women

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