By Mireille Vermeulen
Last week I went to a lecture on "World citizenship, necessity or wishful thinking?" by Jan Pronk, former Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation and UN special rapporteur for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). According to Mr. Pronk, we all live in a global village, which turns us all into world citizens. Formally, the notion of "citizen" only refers to a person living legally in a nation state. When you think about it, it is actually participation in a society that should determine whether a person is being "citizen-like" or not. For citizens have responsibilities - but also rights. What does this mean for small-scale family farmers in Costa Rica, Uganda or the Philippines? Are they world citizens too? It's funny, but citizenship sounds so urban…
Globalisation started for the Dutch with the exploitation of people and resources in Indonesia, Mr. Pronk subtly recalled. This situation has given Holland a hugely advantageous position in just about everything, a status quo that is safeguarded through advantages in the world market, subsidies and research. Europe and America have initiated and refined the globalisation process, and brought prosperity to their own countries as much as possible. But they never asked the colonised countries, they simply colonised.
In modern society, distance and time are no longer issues. We all operate in one globalised market - family farmers in Costa Rica, Uganda and the Philippines as well. Europe and America designed the current international order and still profit from it. Naturally, big farmers in Germany or Colorado cannot be blamed personally for their privileged situation - but they do bear co-responsibility. All people in the West do.
The implication is simple: Western countries bear responsibility for ordering society in a fair way. Most of them do so in their own countries. For example, all European countries have some mechanism for levelling out incomes and redistributing wealth by way of taxes. But now that we live in a global village with a global market, the contours of ordering our societies are getting clearer too. What is very clear is that good governance is necessary. And there is no need for global legislation, for we already share our Universal Human Rights, even in Costa Rica, Uganda and the Philippines.
So Mr Pronk is calling for a full recognition of world citizenship, starting with the citizens themselves. All of us have a right to live - so if the West is endangering biodiversity or coastal areas because the West is emitting too much CO2 and sea levels are rising, the West should be stopped. We all have a right to food - so when Japan massively grabs land in Kenya, negatively impacting Kenya's food security, Kenyans should be able to make a fist and claim their rights.
This is exactly what special UN rapporteur on the right to food Olivier de Schutter has always argued. In the blog Feeding the world 4, I referred to the discussion paper "Some principles for responsible agricultural investment" which was published in January by the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD. Although the blog named de Schutter as one of the paper's authors, he was not involved. Actually, he is quite critical about the voluntary guidelines. De Schutter insists that all states have existing - and binding - human rights obligations, which they should comply with when managing land deals. Read more about de Schutter's arguments in "Responsibly destroying the world's peasantry", published in June this year. World citizens reclaiming their rights - this is the only thing that can really change the situation for farmers.