Cablegate: Hrc Special Session On Food

DE RUEHGV #0392/01 1501701
R 291701Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 054658

1. SUMMARY: The Human Rights Council (HRC) special session
on the right to food, called by more than 30 countries, took
place on May 23. Per reftel, USDel attended as notetaker
only. The session featured interventions from many
countries, as well as from international organizations and
other UN entities. All speakers agreed that attention to the
human rights element of the current food crisis was essential
to a proper response, but differed on the degree to which
they thought the HRC could properly diagnose the problem.
Some insisted that political motivation behind economic
policies was clearly to blame, while others felt a thorough
analysis of the complex worldwide issue required more
technical expertise than the HRC possessed. After
modification to Cuba's original text (reducing the
obligations created for other UN bodies), the resolution,
with 78 co-sponsors from all regions, passed by consensus.

2. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour opened
the HRC 7th Special Session, saying that the HRC was throwing
a light on the human rights dimension of the global food
crisis and expressing concern that the crisis could further
entrench long-standing patterns of discrimination. The new
Special Rapporteur (SR) on the Right to Food, Olivier de
Schutter, said the causes of the food crisis were political;
other international organizations were approaching the crisis
as a humanitarian or macroeconomic problem, rather than as an
issue of rights. In de Schutter's view, the right to food
should shape national policies to better shield vulnerable
populations from rising food prices.
3. In the end, 78 countries cosponsored the resolution.
European Union (EU) delegations that had participated in
negotiations on the draft resolution widely agreed that Cuba
had been even-handed and dogged in its pursuit of
cross-regional consensus; while Cuba did not allow many of
the edits proposed by the Western European and Other Group
(WEOG), it also rejected the African Group (AG) push to
assign blame more specifically for the food situation. The
EU did not cosponsor as a bloc; in their interventions,
holdouts like Sweden, Denmark, and Germany cited worries that
by addressing the causes of the crisis, the HRC overstepped
the bounds of its expertise. Canada regretted the
"preponderant emphasis on international cooperation and
assistance over national obligations" in its explanation of
the vote but went on to say that, given the scale of the
problem, it would not block consensus.

4. USDel deployed reftel talking points when asked
informally by several delegations (e.g., Slovenia, Canada,
UK, Mexico, Sweden, Australia, and Egypt) about why our seat
was empty. Representatives of several of those delegations
expressed surprise that the US did not speak on a topic on
which it clearly enjoyed the high ground in terms of aid and

5. Common themes in country statements fell into two general
categories: on one hand, the deleterious effects of biofuel
production, agricultural subsidies and unequal global wealth
distribution and, on the other, the responsibility of
individual governments to provide for their populations.
Cuba stated that the unjust distribution of wealth worldwide
was the real cause of the crisis. Egypt for the AG focused
on structural problems, including the inadequacy of the World
Trade Organization (WTO), biofuel production, and
agricultural subsidies. India and South Africa also pointed
to biofuels and rising oil prices. Pakistan for the
Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) emphasized
underlying structural failings and the need for a sustainable
solution. Brazil said food subsidies were indeed a problem,
but argued that blaming biofuel production was shortsighted.

6. Slovenia for the EU noted the role of other international
organizations in addressing the food crisis and mentioned
that the HRC was not the proper venue to address all aspects
of the problem. Canada's remarks shifted the focus to
governments' responsibility to their own citizens and also
called on all donors to allow the food aid they donate to be
purchased locally (to "untie" the aid), a practice that
Canada had just carried out. The Holy See pointed to issues
of financial and logistical access and called for a renewed
commitment to African agriculture and for the balance of land
use for food and other purposes to be governed by the common
good, rather than relying exclusively on market forces.
There were multiple calls for the international community to
move beyond emergency stop-gap measures to address the
underlying long-term causes.

7. In a number of interventions, international organizations

GENEVA 00000392 002 OF 002

lauded the HRC for highlighting the human rights aspect of
the crisis and highlighted several themes. The World Food
Program, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights, and the Food and Agricultural Organization argued
that the question of cause was a complex technical one, but
that there was a human element, and expressed hope that the
special session would help governments better to distribute
food to their populations. The International Monetary Fund
noted its technical advisory role in the debate. The World
Bank said that imposing export bans was not the proper
response to food shortage; Ukraine was lauded for lifting its
food ban and Thailand drew praise for continuing to export

8. Post has sent the final resolution by email to IO on May
28. That resolution "invites" the FAO to invite SR de
Schutter to its June Rome meeting and otherwise urges
countries to redouble their coordinated efforts to supply
adequate food to all regions.

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