Tsering D Gurung, The Kathmandu Post, April 05, 2019
Nepal needs to amend its law on food rights if it is to fulfil its commitment to end hunger by 2025, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The report, which was made public on Thursday, presents a detailed analysis of the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act, enacted last September in order to implement the rights relating to food guaranteed under the Constitution. According to Article 36 of the Constitution, every citizen has the right to be safe from the state of being in danger of life from the scarcity of food, and every citizen has the right to food sovereignty in accordance with law.
While the report describes the Act’s enactment as an “important step forward towards making the right to food a reality”, it notes there are several issues in the Act which needs to be addressed by the government for the right to adequate food to be fully realised by everyone in the country.
“If the government of Nepal wants to ensure that no one goes hungry in the country, it must strengthen the law,” Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “The mechanisms, such as the rules and regulations, need to be crafted in a way that makes the right to food a reality for all.”
The report presents recommendations under 16 different topics, covering a range of issues such as increasing scope of legal protection to ensure that the right to food is extended to non-citizens; amending the Act to require an inquiry into any deaths resulting from starvation; and guaranteeing accountability against breach of duty to prevent starvation.
Many of the recommendations touch upon protecting the right to food sovereignty of people, particularly those from indigenous and marginalised communities.
“Steps should be taken to prohibit public authorities from interfering with people’s efforts to feed themselves,” one of the recommendations states. “This means halting the eviction of people from their lands and allowing people to fish and collect their own resources from forests. The law, in its current form, provides no protection to the people who do.”
Additionally, the report recommends including a provision in the Act to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples to “free, prior and informed consent regarding national parks and other protected areas proposed on their lands, and to restitution or compensation in cases where displacement has previously occurred as a result of such initiatives.”
Other recommendations include defining the right to food as well as other key terms in line with internationally recognised definitions, establishing specialised food councils at all three levels of government, and creating separate administrative or quasi-judicial mechanisms to manage the grievances of the people.
“Denial of economic, social and cultural rights, including freedom from hunger, were recognised as root causes of the decade-long conflict,” said Raju Chapagai, researcher with the organisation who helped prepare the report. “Effectively addressing the situation of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity--including through this law--would therefore contribute in securing sustainable peace and development in the country. If unaddressed, there is always a likelihood for them to contribute in causing any type of social unrest in future.”
Nepal currently ranks 72nd out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) which scores countries based on an assessment of the progress and setbacks they have incurred in combating hunger.
Over 50 percent of the country’s households is food insecure, according to 2016 National Demographic and Health Survey. Nearly two million people are considered undernourished. Stunting among children under five is 36 percent and about 53 percent of children under five are anaemic.
“Without addressing these weaknesses of the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act, and consulting the appropriate stakeholders, Nepal will not be able to bring the estimated two million people out of malnutrition in the country,” said Patnaik.
Right to Food was first recognised as an international human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In 1966, the International Covenant on Socio, Political and Economic Rightsendorsed Right to Adequate Food. Since then, several other international conventions have endorsed this as a fundamental right.
As a party to several international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Economic, Social, Cultural Rights, Nepal is obligated to take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of the right to food by all.
“The government has used the enactment of the Act to pat itself on the back and have presented it at several international platforms as proof of its commitment to ensuring the right to food for all,” said Basanta Adhikari, executive director of Justice and Rights Institute (JuRI)-Nepal during the event. “But the reality on the ground is that it has not brought any difference in the lives of ordinary Nepalis as was evidenced in the aftermath of the windstorm in Bara and Parsa earlier this week."