Special rapporteur on the right to food

Special rapporteur on the right to food

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not a staff of the United Nations nor paid for his/her work.

Since 1979, special mechanisms have been created by the United Nations to examine specific country situations or themes from a human rights perspective. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, replaced by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, has mandated experts to study particular human rights issues. These experts constitute what are known as the United Nations human rights mechanisms or mandates, or the system of special procedures.

The human right to food

For the Special Rapporteur, the right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.

This definition is in line with the core elements of the right to food as defined by General Comment No. 12 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in those states which are party to it). The Committee declared that “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. The right to adequate food shall therefore not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with a minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients. The right to adequate food will have to be realized progressively. However, States have a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger even in times of natural or other disasters.

The obligations of States

The nature of the legal obligations of States parties are set out in article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in General Comment No. 12 also defined the obligations that States parties have to fulfill in order to implement the right to adequate food at the national level. These are as follows:

  • 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;
  • 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.

While all the rights under the Covenant are meant to be achieved through progressive realization, States have some minimum core obligations which are of immediate effect. They have the obligation to refrain from any discrimination in access to food as well as to means and entitlements for its procurement, on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, age, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. States are further prohibited to take retrogressive measures, i.e. deliberate measures which result in the deterioration of current level of fulfillment of the right to food.

The Covenant requires that States take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that everyone is free from hunger and as soon as possible can enjoy the right to adequate food but they have a margin of discretion in choosing the ways and means of implementing the right to adequate food. Finally, States have to ensure the satisfaction of the minimum essential level required to be free from hunger.

Implementation of the mandate by the Special Rapporteur

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights in April 2000 by resolution 2000/10. Subsequent to the replacement of the Commission by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, the mandate was endorsed and extended by the Human Rights Council by its resolution 6/2 of 27 September 2007. For more information on the history of the mandate, please refer to the following link: Overview of the mandate.

The Special Rapporteur implements the mandate through different means and activities. As assigned by the different resolutions related to the mandate:

The Special Rapporteur presents annual reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly on the activities and studies undertaken in the view of the implementation of the mandate (See Annual Reports);

He/She monitors the situation of the right to food throughout the world. He/she identifies general trends related to the right to food and undertakes country visits which provide the Special Rapporteur with a firsthand account on the situation concerning the right to food in a specific country (See Country visits;

He/She communicates with States and other concerned parties with regard to alleged cases of violations of the right to food (See Individual complaints) and other issues related to his/her mandate;

He/She promotes the full realization of the right to food through dialogue with relevant actors by participating in seminars, conferences, expert meetings.