Friday, 9 March 2012

Food - a fundamental human right?

Food, water, shelter, companionship: these are the basic building blocks without which we can't, as a species, survive.

It follows that if states are to guarantee the universally agreed human right to life itself, they must guarantee these building blocks: it's not enough just not to kill people, or establish a legal framework that stops people directly killing each other.

It has to be observed that most states aren't especially good at this - I recently saw how UK citizens have chipped in to the tune of £73m to buy food and water for starving residents of East Africa. But famines don't just happen in Afrtica - today, for example, I literally encountered a handful of street homeless people begging for food on the streets of Brighton. Real poverty is getting worse here in the UK as the economy continues to struggle and as Government spending cuts bite.

That looks to me pretty much like prima facie evidence that the UK Government is failing in its international duty to protect the right to life - and should face prosecution.

Of course, legal processes themselves don't change anything, and prosecuting the UK Government isn't, in itself, gonna put any food in anyone's mouth.

But it will do something important: make the argument clearer so that cutting housing benefits to the most vulnerable in a way that is bound to lead to an increase in homelessness will be seen in human rights terms, thus changing the nature of the political debate.

The international community isn't much good at speaking with one voice when it comes to upholding the human rights treaties they all keep signing up to: China and Russia have, for example, blocked any UN criticism (let alone action!) of the ongoing massacre of civilians by the Syrian government.

So, I'm not holding my breath: but perhaps recognising that following policies that exacerbate hunger and homelessness breach human rights law might just be something world leaders can agree on: after all, none of them think they actually do this so it's hardly the turkeys voting for Christmas scenario it seems!

Now that would be something positive to come out of the UK's current presidency of the Council of Europe...

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