Beyond Eradicating Hunger

The Jakarta Post | Opinion | Tue, September 15 2009, 9:40 AM

Two facts demonstrate the irony of the present global food situation. One is that hunger and malnutrition are very widespread. The other is that there is enough food produced in the world to satisfy the needs of all.

In Indonesia, a similar situation also occurs. Hunger and malnutrition remain an annual problem in many remote areas, such as in East Nusa Tenggara, while the country enjoys self-sufficiency in rice.

Noble laureate Amartya Sen once argued that food problems relate to entitlement failure. This means food supplies are more than just about the commodity, but also about the relationship between people and that commodity.

Here one touches upon the lack of an effective and lawful protection of the individual in the entitlement to food, in the sense that the individual demands for just procedure fail to be honored. The right to food attempts to address this concern.

Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right of everyone to adequate food. This covenant has a binding nature, thus the countries that ratified this treaty, including Indonesia, are obliged to impose coercive action to protect the rights stipulated in this treaty.

On the other hand, the right-holders are entitled to use the right as an instrument to demand realization and to claim for non-fulfilment.

In the Indonesian human rights law, the right to food is not explicitly addressed. Article 9 of Law No. 39/1999 stipulates that “everyone has the right to life, to sustain life, and to improve his or her standard of living”. The term “to sustain life” and “to improve the standard of living” would entail an adequate standard of living, which includes, among others, the entitlement to food.

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

Yet regarding to the problem of hunger in Indonesia, similar responses related to the question of resources are usually given by the government when confronted with its obligations.

Although facts have proven that a strong economic state does not automatically deliver the good protection of economic rights, such as the right to food, it is perceived that promoting the right requires allocation of resources.

Indeed, economic rights are notably dependent on and claimed to be closely related to the economic situation of the state in question. However, with respect to Indonesia, this excuse has been repeated by the government in an attempt to redeem its failure to carry out its obligations in promoting and protecting the entitlement to food for the people. In fact, it is often used for their obligations.

It is important to understand that the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food, is not only about resources, generic fulfilment measured by numbers, but also depends on favourable adopted laws and the enforcement mechanism necessary for rights to be durable.

In this connection, Law No. 7/1996 on food security is outdated and no longer relevant to the obligations of the Indonesian government as per the right to food stipulated in the ICESCR ratified in 2005.

For example, the clauses contained in that law connect the issue of food security with food stability, meaning that attention is given at the national level.

This places the issue of food at the macro level, something that is not effective in improving people’s actual demands for the entitlement to food. The main concern of the human right to food is the fulfillment of the accessibility and availability of food at the household or individual levels.

Moreover, the lack of protection in the right to food is aggravating, as the Human Rights Court Law No. 26/2000 does not have the jurisdiction over economic, social or cultural rights. Hence, although Human Rights Law No. 39/1999 guarantees protection to this right, the enforcement of these rights is practically problematic.

These laws have been important in revealing violations, something that was not possible before. But they only are palliative to the possibility of claims and compensation against violations. The actual struggle for the right to food in Indonesia remains an elusive issue. Without a real procedural arrangement, it is difficult for human rights institutions or civil society organizations to effectively advocate interventions when errant practices occur, such as injustices in food distribution.

In this respect, therefore, official acknowledgements of the right to food lead only to the integration of the discourse of the human right to food in the legal system, but fail to establish a correctional relationship.

The writer is a researcher on the human right to food, at the law and governance group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

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