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We Belong to the Land: 10 Years of the Tenure Guidelines: States Must Address Rising Inequalities and Enact Agrarian Reform to Realize the Right to Land - International Statement

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On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (Tenure Guidelines), we, organizations of small-scale food producers, Indigenous Peoples, workers, urban communities and civil society, underline the critical importance of land, fisheries and forests for achieving social, environmental, gender and intergenerational justice, and demand that States, the FAO and the entire UN system comply with their obligations to realize the right to land.

“No agreement or treaty is enforced automatically, regardless of how positive and progressive its content may be. Popular pressure, mobilization and organization to demand its implementation are the elements that give life to these documents and make them work in the search of societal change.” – With this understanding, many of our organizations welcomed the adoption of the Tenure Guidelines by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in May 2012, after a negotiation process that lasted several years. These Guidelines mark a significant step in grounding the governance of land, fisheries, forests and their associated natural resources in human rights, stating as their paramount objective the improvement of tenure governance “with an emphasis on vulnerable and marginalized people” (para. 1.1). As such, they have contributed to advancing the international recognition of the right to land, which has been explicitly recognized by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); and which was enshrined for other rural communities in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), in 2018.

Many of us engaged in the negotiation process of the Tenure Guidelines as part of our struggles for food sovereignty and agrarian reform, and against land and resource grabbing. Since their adoption, we have used them to strengthen our own capacities, to hold state and corporate actors to account for human rights violations, to monitor and analyze policies, and to develop our own proposals for normative frameworks, which respect, protect and promote the rights of people and communities. In several countries, social organizations have succeeded to influence public policies and open up spaces of dialogue and negotiation with governments, local authorities and regional bodies. In some cases, this has led to new laws and policies that are in line with the content and spirit of the Tenure Guidelines.

We recognize that some governments and international institutions, including the FAO, have put in place programs and funding to promote and implement the Tenure Guidelines. However, most of the times, such programs have focused on technical approaches and measures, without addressing the structural causes of dispossession, land concentration and ecosystem destruction. Furthermore, many programs have failed to ensure coherence between human rights-based governance of tenure with other policy areas, including finance, investment, trade and environmental protection. Moreover, governments and institutions have largely failed to apply the Guidelines’ paramount principle of prioritizing vulnerable and marginalized groups, and have often pursued policies that promote corporate land deals and market-based approaches, thus undermining communities and people’s control over their lands, fisheries, forests and territories. We regret that some governments have only paid lip service to the Guidelines while de facto ignoring them. Many governments of the Global North have further refused to apply them in their own countries, thus contradicting the Tenure Guidelines’ global scope (para. 2.4).