Liam Thornton is a lecturer in law at University of Ulster. This blog post contains a brief and select overview of the right to food as a fundamental human right and forms part of Rights NI contribution to the Blog Action Day on Food.
One out of every six people on the planet are malnourished or seriously lacking access to food. This is not due to a lack of worldwide food supplies. The reasons for persons lacking food range from natural weather phenomena, wars, national governments wanting to buy weapons and armaments rather than feed its people, to the impact of the global food industry on access to cheap and nutritious food. Those States that have signed and ratified international treaties have legal obligations to ensure that all those within its territory have a right to adequate food. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities recognise the human right of all to food.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have stated that the right to food is:
indivisibly linked to the inherent dignity of the human person and is indispensable for the fulfilment of other human rights…
For those States whose economies are seriously under-developed. the right adequate food must be progressively achieved. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have stated that they will look beyond claims by States of inability to ensure this right, and look at how money may be spent on other programmes such as purchase of armaments etc. Food must be adequate, accessible and meet the dietary needs of a population. States obligations to ensure the right to food should not be equated with providing everybody in its territory with food. States have obligations to:
Respect: States should not take measures that prevent a person from accessing food.
Protect: States must engage in activities to ensure that increase peoples resources (i.e. through job creation) so as to protect the right to food and take steps to ensure food security.
Fulfil: Wherever individuals or groups are unable, through their own means and resources, to provide themselves with food, then the State has an obligation to provide that right directly.
However the precision and obligations of law upon States do nothing to relieve the hunger that a large proportion of the population on Earth will face today. In one of the first legal texts to discuss the right to food in 1984, Phillip Alston noted:
It is paradoxical, but hardly surprising, that the right to food has been endorsed more often and with greater unanimity and urgency than most other human rights, while at the same time being violated more comprehensively and systematically than probably any other right.