Rights claims

By Benedicto Q Sánchez

ONE aspect that I find missing in the discourse on building the Negrense green economy, say the organic industry, is the human rights dimension. Or, as the UN and even the World Bank put it, the human rights-based approach to sustainable development.

To understand the linkages between human rights and sustainable development is to take any local issue on the environment and pose these questions: who benefits; the negative consequences of a situation and who bears the burden; the interests of the actors identified above equally represented in the decision-making process; and the consequences of this event, and the actions taken to moderate it, have an impact on future generations.

What are the human rights dimension of Provincial Ordinance 007, Series of 2007 banning the entry of living GMOs? The GMO BT corn can cross pollinate and contaminate natural-growing corn. For organic farmers, contamination will deprive them of the right to grow organic crops. GM crops deprive farmers of the right to choose between organic and conventional agriculture.

It would be a different case with NON-living GMOs. It becomes a personal choice to select one’s poison.

As the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements emphasized: “Access to adequate food of the quality and diversity to maintain an active and healthy life is a basic human right.” Contaminating all corn varieties with GMOs depletes this diversity, especially of non-GM food.

Tobacco smoking is a personal choice. Smoking inside smoking lounges protect their right to choose. But exhaling second-hand smoke deprives non-smokers their right to breathe clean air. The win-win situation in this case is to ban smoking inside public buildings but allow them special areas for smoking.

In the human rights world, we have the rights holders and the duty bearers. The plain citizen like you and me are the rights holders. Like winning the lotto, we have the right to claim what rightfully belongs to us according to law.

To summarize. The obligation to respect requires the State and all its organs and agents to abstain from carrying out, sponsoring or tolerating any practice, policy or legal measure violating the integrity of individuals or impinging on their freedom to access resources to satisfy their needs. It also requires that legislative and administrative codes take account of guaranteed rights.

That is why the country has the clean air act, the national organic agricultural law, ecological solid waste act, and a host of green legislation as basis for fulfilling State obligations. Our rights are violated when the State allow non-state actors such as sugar centrals to clean up its act. That is tantamount to allowing to commit these environmental crimes with impunity.

The obligation to protect these rights demand – not request – the State and its agents to prevent the violation of rights by other individuals or non-state actors. Where violations do occur the State must guarantee access to legal remedies.

Failure of the State to stop polluters, or neglect children to attain elementary education or failure to monitor the entry of living GMOs in the province are thus examples of human rights violations.

The obligation to fulfill involves issues of advocacy, public expenditure, State regulation of the economy, the provision of basic services and related infrastructure and redistributive measures. The duty of fulfillment comprises those active measures necessary for guaranteeing opportunities to access entitlements.

In the case of Negros Occidental, the province has the investment incentives for building a green economy as examples of rights-based approach to sustainable development in determining entitlements such as tax breaks or access to soft loans.

As rights holders, our Juan and María de la Cruzes should ever be alert to cash in our claims and demand protection from the State against those who deprive us of these rights.

Source: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/bacolod/opinion/2015/01/07/sanchez-rights-claims-385376