A UN human rights expert welcomed India’s decision to repeal three contentious farm laws that sparked a year of nationwide protests which left 600 people dead.
In a statement released this Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, also urged the Government to ensure accountability for the casualties.
“To truly turn the page on this painful chapter, it is incumbent on the authorities to heed calls for accountability concerning the casualties reported during the protests, and guarantee measures to prevent any repetition of such events”, he argued.
The three agricultural laws which had the goal of deregulating the market, were passed in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They were widely criticised for having been rushed through Parliament without enough consultation with affected communities.
In a surprise announcement on 19 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the laws would be repealed at the next session of the legislative body.
“What was at stake with these laws was the stability of India’s entire food system,” Mr. Fakhri said. “Let’s hope that subsequent actions on reforming Indian agriculture are informed by the country’s human rights commitments and taken through meaningful consultations with farmers, communities and unions”.
Along with other UN experts, the Special Rapporteur had spoken to the Government about the laws’ potential to impact the right to food, and the severe restrictions imposed during the demonstrations.
Mr. Fakhri acknowledged the lengthy process of passing of the laws but said that what followed “is an indication of the deep dissatisfaction felt by hundreds of thousands of people”.
For him, it also shows that freedom of expression “is a valuable tool for empowering people to influence policy change through mobilisation and peaceful protest”.
Looking ahead, the UN expert suggested learning important lessons for public decision-making.
“We should reflect on questions on what meaningful public consultations should ideally entail, and how a more participatory approach could lead to more popular decisions”, he said.
The Government should also consider how agricultural reforms can be implemented in full respect and fulfilment of the country’s economic, social and cultural rights.
As a final note, Mr. Fakhri highlighted the “important role” India’s Supreme Court played earlier in the year, when it ordered the Government to provide more time and space to hear farmers’ grievances.
The call was also endorsed by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.