International Standards on the Right to Food
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed:
(a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;
(b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
Common provision of the International Covenants
Article 1.2 states that “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their naturalwealth and resources. ... In no case may a people be deprived of its ownmeans of subsistence.”
Food Aid Convention, 1999
Article I – Objectives
The objectives of this Convention are to contribute to world food security and to improve the ability of the international community to respond to emergency food situations and other food needs of developing countries by:
(a) making appropriate levels of food aid available on a predictable basis, as determined by the provisions of this Convention;
(b) encouraging members to ensure that the food aid provided is aimed particularly at the alleviation of poverty and hunger of the most vulnerable groups, and is consistent with agricultural development in those countries,
(c) including principles for maximising the impact, the effectiveness and quality of the food aid provided as a tool in support of food security; and,
(d) providing a framework for cooperation, coordination and information-sharing among members on food aid related matters to achieve greater efficiency in all aspects of food aid operations and better coherence between food aid and other policy instruments.
Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition, 1974
(b) [Recognizing that] The elimination of hunger and malnutrition ... and the elimination of the causes that determine this situation are the common objectives of all nations;
1. Every man, woman, and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties. Society today already possesses sufficient : resources, organisational ability and technology and hence the competence to achieve this objective. Accordingly, the eradication of hunger is a common objective of all the countries of the international community, especially of the developed countries and others in a position to help.
2. It is a fundamental responsibility of Governments to work together for higher food production and a more equitable and efficient distribution of food between countries and within countries. ...
World Declaration on Nutrition, 1992
1. ... We recognize that access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of each individual. We recognize that globally there is enough food for all and that inequitable access is the main problem. Bearing in mind the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we pledge to act in solidarity to ensure that freedom from hunger becomes a reality.
Declaration on the Right to Development
1. States should undertake, at the national level, all necessary measures for the realization of the right to development and shall ensure, inter alia, equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income. [...]
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Rome Declaration on World Food Security, 1996
Plan of Action of the World Food Summit, 1996
Declaration of the World Food Summit: five years later, 2002
Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
31. The World Conference on Human Rights calls upon States to refrain from any unilateral measure not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations that creates obstacles to trade relations among States and impedes the full realization of the human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments, in particular the rights of everyone to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including food and medical care, housing and the necessary social services. The World Conference on Human Rights affirms that food should not be used as a tool for political pressure.
General Assembly Resolution 39/12, December 2018--United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas
General Assembly Resolution 51/171, 1996 - Food and sustainable agricultural development
The General Assembly…reaffirm[s] the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger…
International Humanitarian Law
Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
Article 20 states that “The Detaining Power shall supply prisoners of war who are being evacuated with sufficient food and potable water, …“
Article 26 states that “The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners.
The Detaining Power shall supply prisoners of war who work with such additional rations as are necessary for the labour on which they are employed. Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war. The use of tobacco shall be permitted. Prisoners of war shall, as far as possible, be associated with the preparation of their meals; they may be employed for that purpose in the kitchens. Furthermore, they shall be given the means of preparing, themselves, the additional food in their possession. Collective disciplinary measures affecting food are prohibited.”
Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War
Article 23 states that “Each High Contracting Party … shall likewise permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and maternity cases.”
Article 36 states that “Departures permitted under the foregoing Article shall be carried out in satisfactory conditions as regards safety, hygiene, sanitation and food. “
Article 49 states that “The Occupying Power undertaking such transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition,…”
Article 55 states that “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate. The Occupying Power may not requisition foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies available in the occupied territory, except for use by the occupation forces and administration personnel, and then only if the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account. … The Protecting Power shall, at any time, be at liberty to verify the state of the food and medical supplies in occupied territories, except where temporary restrictions are made necessary by imperative military requirements.”
Article 89 states that “Daily food rations for internees shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep internees in a good state of health and prevent the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the customary diet of the internees. Internees shall also be given the means by which they can prepare for themselves any additional food in their possession. Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to internees. … Internees who work shall receive additional rations in proportion to the kind of labour which they perform. Expectant and nursing mothers and children under fifteen years of age, shall be given additional food, in proportion to their physiological needs.”
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I)
Article 54 - Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population provides at its first alinea that “Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited.” and at its second alinea that “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.”
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II)
Article 14 - Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population
states that “Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.”
Convention on the Rights of the Child
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:
(c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;
(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;
1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children, 1990
(3) We will work for optimal growth and development in childhood, through measures to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and famine, and thus to relieve millions of children of tragic sufferings in a world that has the means to feed all its citizens.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
2. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph I of this article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:
(h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Article 25 - Health
States Parties recognize that persons with disabilities have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities to health services that are gender-sensitive, including health-related rehabilitation. In particular, States Parties shall:
(f) Prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.
Article 28 - Adequate standard of living and social protection
1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability.
2. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination on the basis of disability, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right, including measures:
(a) To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to clean water services, and to ensure access to appropriate and affordable services, devices and other assistance for disability-related needs; …
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals. Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services.
2. Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of this right.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Article 20 - Rationing
Where a rationing system exists, which applies to the population at large and regulates the general distribution of products in short supply, refugees shall be accorded the same treatment as nationals.
Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons
Article 20 - Rationing
Where a rationing system exists, which applies to the population at large and regulates the general distribution of products in short supply, stateless persons shall be accorded the same treatment as nationals.
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
20. (1) Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.
(2) Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
Principle 18 states that “All internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living.” and that “At the minimum, regardless of the circumstances, and without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to: (a) Essential food and potable water;…”
United Nations Principles for Older Persons adopted by General Assembly resolution 46/91 of 16 December 1991
“(o)lder persons should have access to adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and health care through the provision of income, family and community support and self-help”.
Other legal sources
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
General Comment No. 12: The right to adequate food
General Comment No. 15: The right to water
Human Rights Committee
General Comment No. 6: The right to life (Article 6)…
5. Moreover, the Committee has noted that the right to life has been too often narrowly interpreted. The expression "inherent right to life" cannot properly be understood in a restrictive manner, and the protection of this right requires that States adopt positive measures. In this connection, the Committee considers that it would be desirable for States parties to take all possible measures to reduce infant mortality and to increase life expectancy, especially in adopting measures to eliminate malnutrition and epidemics.
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the “Protocol of San Salvador”) of 1988
Article 12 - Right to Food
1. Everyone has the right to adequate nutrition which guarantees the possibility of enjoying the highest level of physical, emotional and intellectual development.
2. In order to promote the exercise of this right and eradicate malnutrition, the States Parties undertake to improve methods of production, supply and distribution of food, and to this end, agree to promote greater international cooperation in support of the relevant national policies.
Article 17 - Protection of the Elderly states that “…States Parties agree to …: a. Provide suitable facilities, as well as food and specialized medical care, for elderly individuals who lack them and are unable to provide them for themselves; …“
African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
1. Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.
1. All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind.
2. States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
Article 15 - Right to Food Security obliges States to ”provide women with access to clean drinking water, sources of domestic fuel, land, and the means of producing nutritious food;” and to ”establish adequate systems of supply and storage to ensure food security.“
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Article 14 - Health and Health Services states that “Every child shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health.” and that “State Parties to the present Charter shall undertake to pursue the full implementation of this right and in particular shall take measures … (c) to ensure the provision of adequate nutrition and safe drinking water; (d) to combat disease and malnutrition within the framework of primary health care through the application of appropriate technology; … (h) to ensure that all sectors of the society, in particular, parents, children, community leaders and community workers are informed and supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of domestic and other accidents; …”