17 April 2024

Solidarity Statement on the International Day of Peasant’s Struggles

In commemoration of the International Day of Peasant’s Struggles, Focus on the Global South calls for an urgent stop to the criminalisation of small-scale food providers and their advocates across the world, and to ensure their human and collective rights. We ask all governments to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) and to “[Art III, No. 4] take all necessary measures to ensure protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threat, retaliation, de jure or de facto discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise and defence of the rights described in the Declaration”, including the Right to Land. Special attention is needed to protect and advance the rights of women, Indigenous Peoples and all social groups who face historic and contemporary marginalisation. 

Peasant and other small-scale food producing communities engaged in struggles for land, water, the commons, and food sovereignty often face various forms of repression in the exercise of their rights to defend territories and tillages against powerful, deep-pocketed forces from within government ranks and the business sector. Across Asia, criminalization has become a key strategy to disempower, maim and disrupt lawful assertions of rights by food producing communities to their land and territories.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are lawsuits designed to delegitimize rights-based claim making, and create a chilling effect across society as a whole. Criminalization has over the years become a routine tactic to capture and displace farming communities, while maintaining public and/or commercial acceptance for development projects.

Criminalization is also used to silence community journalists and the media that cover peasants’ struggles and provide peoples’ movements with platforms that amplify critiques, calls, and demands from the countryside.

In India, we have seen blatant criminalization of journalists who covered the year-long farmers’ protests against three farm laws that would allow corporations to secure greater control over local food systems and markets, and plunge farmers/peasants into extreme debt. The police have filed criminal charges, jailed, and terror-tagged journalists who reported on state violence. SLAPP cases also targeted farmer union leaders, activists, and advocates that have been critical of the proposed laws.

In the Philippines, a local peasant organization in Bataan province that has been struggling for land has collectively faced over 50 different types of administrative and criminal cases from a real estate developer seeking to circumvent the law on  agrarian reform. These cases have caused the imprisonment of farmer leaders and  stifled local resistance to the conversion of agrarian lands to commercial/industrial zones. The cases also delegitimize peasants from their rightful claims to the land and painted them as criminal entities preventing the so-called ‘development’ of the area. Youth leaders also received a slew of cyber libel and defamation charges from the corporation for expressing grievances on social media and exposing the intimidation tactics used against the community.

In Thailand, whistleblowers exposing corruption and abuse of power in the implementation of agriculture programs face similar threats of SLAPP cases from government officials. In a particular case, an investigative journalist exposing a loan scandal in Korat Province was sued nine times by the local official accused of misconduct, while the supposed farmer-beneficiaries of the said loan were held accountable to pay back the misused funds. This eventually led to a government investigation, leading to the admittance of the said official to some liability for the misused loan. However, the whistleblower was left to fend off the SLAPP cases in court.

The above cases illuminate the increasing trend of criminalization and lawfare that ultimately undermine the pursuit of justice in the countryside as well as upholding individual rights of small-scale food providers as enshrined in various national laws, and in the UNDROP itself. We therefore urge governments, and judicial and legislative bodies to strengthen policies, mechanisms, measures and systems that protect rural peoples against lawfare, ensure adequate and timely legal access and support to those facing or threatened by SLAPPs, and provide urgent attention to those who are unjustly detained or incarcerated due to such cases. Along these lines, we also call for the mainstreaming of UNDROP into jurisprudence, enabling peasants/farmers under threat of lawfare to invoke its provisions in support of their legal defenses.

In the context of  recurring food crises and worsening global hunger, state policies must always put the rights of peasants and other small-scale food providers at the forefront.#