12/10/10 Kuala Lumpur Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Economic Policy in Agriculture

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Kuala Lumpur Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Economic Policy in Agriculture 

An Overview

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In the context of an unparalleled convergence of food, energy, climate, financial, ecological and economic crises, a group of human rights advocates of various fields of expertise from every region of the global South came together in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to develop the Kuala Lumpur Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Economic Policy in Agriculture. This Overview provides a brief account of the objectives, context and content of the Guidelines.


The three-part Kuala Lumpur Guidelines are designed as a tool to provide basic information and a methodology for use by anyone concerned with ensuring the primacy and centrality of human rights of those affected by trade, investment and finance rules as well as fiscal, monetary and other economic policies related to agriculture. The Kuala Lumpur Guidelines aim to contribute to the further development, application and interpretation of international human rights law in relation to economic law and policy as pertaining to agriculture.

Part I: Guiding Principles for a Human Rights Approach to Economic Law and Policy

Human rights provide a clear and universally-recognized framework founded in international and domestic law for guidance in the design, implementation and monitoring of economic policies.

Part I of the Kuala Lumpur Guidelines presents the general human rights principles available for guiding economic policy in a way which upholds human dignity. Founded in the centrality and primacy of human rights law and norms, this section lays out how the principles of universality, interdependence, indivisibility, non-retrogression, non-discrimination, maximum available resources, minimum core content, participation and accountability relate specifically to economic law and policy.

Part II: Human Rights Actors, Issues and Threats in Agriculture

Agriculture provides economic activity and sustains livelihoods for more than a billion people in the world, significantly contributing to rural development, as well as setting the stage for attaining food security and realizing human rights in rural and urban areas.

Part II of the Kuala Lumpur Guidelines describes in context the crucial and multidimensional role of agriculture in providing a necessary foundation for the enjoyment of a plethora of human rights-from the right to work to the right to food to the right to culture. The key state and non-state actors in agriculture are identified, and the existing threats to realizing human rights in agriculture-from market concentration to genetic modification to agro-fuels-are briefly discussed.

Part III: Human Rights Obligations and Economic Policy Tools in Agriculture

Economic policy is public policy. Fiscal and monetary policy as well as trade, investment and finance policies generate positive or negative outcomes for human rights in agriculture depending on the tools that are chosen, the way they are designed, the way they are implemented, and the way their implementation is monitored over time. State's human rights obligations-not other private or investment commitments-must be the central reference point in deciding upon the correct mix, type and intensity of economic policy tools in agriculture.

Part III of the Kuala Lumpur Guidelines starts by describing a number of economic policy tools affecting agriculture which bears intimately upon a country's capacity to meet its human rights obligations.

The Guidelines then go on to draw the analytical and practical links between the human rights principles and obligations in economic policy as they concretely manifest in agricultural policy domestically and internationally today. In this context, governments' human rights obligations in economic policy within inter-governmental organizations which impact agriculture are also analyzed. UN agencies, the World Trade Organization, multilateral development banks, international financial institutions, regional development banks, regional economic integration programs, and regional political alliances all figure prominently here. As both members and beneficiaries of these organizations, States' duties to human rights, it is argued, supersede other considerations. As both decision-makers over and/or parties to a loan, grant, trade or other economic agreements, States must uphold the primacy of human rights law and principles. Moreover, international economic policies and practices must not affect the ability of States to discharge their human rights obligations at home.

Lastly, the Kuala Lumpur Guidelines explore what a human rights-centered economic policy in agriculture would look like extraterritorially, beyond borders. While the primary duties of governments rest within their borders, and while the fundamental norm of State sovereignty must be respected, the obligations to promote, respect, protect and fulfill human rights are not circumscribed by national borders alone. States also have duties of international cooperation and assistance in economic policy. The Kuala Lumpur Guidelines conclude by exploring this shared responsibility to work actively towards a just and equitable trade, investment and financial system which complies with international human rights laws and principles, and which provides an enabling environment in the full realization of human rights in agriculture.


The Kuala Lumpur Guidelines were jointly elaborated by the following organizations: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development-Forum Asia (Thailand), Center of Concern (US), Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales-CELS (Argentina), Desarrollo, Educación y Cultura Autogestionarios-DECA Equipo Pueblo (Mexico), International Gender and Trade Network, International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights-ESCR-Net, Kenya Human Rights Commission (Kenya), Land Center for Human Rights (Egypt), Southeast Asian Council for Food Security and Fair Trade-SEACON (Malaysia), Southern & Eastern African Trade Information & Negotiations Institute-SEATINI (Uganda), Terra de Direitos (Brazil) and Women and Law in Southern Africa (Zambia). The Kuala Lumpur Guidelines are one concrete outcome of a larger pilot project co-coordinated by ESCR-Net and Center of Concern, entitled Bridging Trade, Investment, Finance and Human Rights: A Pilot Project on Agriculture. For more information on ESCR-Net's Economic Policy and Human Rights Initiative, click here.


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