The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries: applying the human rights based approach to the fishing sector

Written by: Michele Pentorieri

Panel at the CFS side-event. ©IFAD/M. Pentorieri

On 19th October, a side event at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS43) called "Human rights, food security and nutrition and small-scale fisheries" took place in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Headquarter in Rome. The event was organised by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the IPC (International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty) Fisheries Working Group. Representatives from World Forum of Fisher Peoples, OHCHR, FAO and IPC Fisheries Working Group together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Hilal Elver had the opportunity to talk about the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines). 

Naseegh Jaffer, of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, stressed that for several communities fishing is a constitutive part of their life and culture. In presenting the Guidelines, he underlined that they are particularly focused on implementation, and support a mechanism that goes beyond the mere ratification, to address the accountability of the duty-bearers, such as multinational enterprises but especially the states. He concluded by reminding the audience that the Guidelines are not only specific to the fishing context, as they "seek food security for everyone."

"Fishing is not about property rights, but about human rights" stated Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, introducing one of the main themes of the event: the human rights based approach that characterises the Guidelines. She also recognised that a great focus should be put on including small-scale fisheries in decision-making processes and protecting women, who play a crucial role in fisheries.

Women's role was also mentioned by Stefania Tripodi of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Guidelines also represent a way to fight the gender inequality that persists in the sector and to involve all the levels of the society in the decisions that will directly affect them. "The Guidelines are a unique opportunity to apply the human rights based approach on fisheries", she stated, marking once more the importance of the new approach adopted by the Guidelines. This way, unlike the old needs-oriented approach, they constitute a weapon to fight and try to defeat patterns of exclusion.

©IFAD/M. Pentorieri
Sisay Yeshanew, of the FAO Legal Department, highlighted the disadvantaged and marginalised people. They represent the main focus of the Guidelines and they should participate in any decision-making process. He also introduced two categories: the right holders and the duty bearers. The former are especially represented by small-scale fishers, while the latter are primarily the states. In order to stress once again the importance of the new approach followed by the document, Yeshanew said that "differently from any other normative instrument, the Guidelines specifically mandate the application of the human rights based approach".    

The importance of participation was also stressed by Editrudith Lukanga, of the IPC (International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty) Fisheries Workgroup. She said that all the actors, such as "fishing communities, indigenous people and youth (including both men and women)" should be fully included in the decision-making processes. She commended IFAD for leading the way in practical terms by providing resources to support the participation of fishers and fish worker organizations globally in implementing the SSF guidelines. The grant project approved by the agency last year with a budget of USD 350,000 supports capacity building of fisheries organizations at different levels towards the implementation of SSF Guidelines and several training workshops have been organized in Africa and Asia as outputs of this intervention. This is in fact the third grant by IFAD in support of SSF Guidelines development and implementation; the first one in 2008 (USD 200,000) to support the participation of CSOs in high-level consultations and the second (USD 240,000) which ensured the inclusion of fishers and fishers organizations in preparing the Guidelines.

For the last part of the event, a Q&A session was opened, where the audience was encouraged to ask questions or to simply comment on the issues that came out during the discussion. Some of the most stimulating questions were about the link between the human rights based approach and poverty reduction and about how much the states are receptive to the Guidelines. The first question was effectively answered by Stefania Tripodi, who made it clear that human right based approach and poverty reduction are strongly linked. This is essentially because to empower all people (including the poorest) to fully participate in decision-making processes is equal to help them improving their living conditions. Finally, Hilal Ever recognised that one of the main challenges regarding the issue is to make sure states are aware of the Guidelines and use them to effectively protect people and the environment where they live. Hence, she wished for a push for the Guidelines, so as to disseminate them as much as possible.

In conclusion, the forum reaffirmed the need for states to comply with their obligations under international human rights treaties and to support policies, interventions and investments which have direct and indirect positive impacts on fisheries and the right to food of fishing communities. Fishing communities and all fish workers, including the indigenous and tribal peoples, should be actively involved in the decisions that affect their enjoyment of the right to food, security of tenure and access to fisheries resources.

Learn more about the Guidelines on FAO's website.