UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The new U.N. food envoy on Friday sought a special meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council this month to address a global food crisis he said was a “massive violation” of human rights.
Protests, strikes and riots have erupted in developing countries around the world after dramatic rises in the prices of wheat, rice, corn, oils and other essential foods that have made it difficult for poor people to make ends meet.
One day after taking up his new job as U.N. special reporter on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter likened the crisis to a “silent tsunami” affecting 100 million people.
“If we had 100 million persons arrested in a dictatorial regime, if we had 100 million persons beaten up by police, of course we’d be marching in the streets and we’d be convening special sessions,” De Schutter said at a news conference.
He said he wanted the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to hold a special session around May 22 or 23 to complement efforts by other international agencies to tackle the crisis and to establish it as a human rights issue.
One third of the 47 members of the council, or 16 countries, would need to request a special session.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday he was launching a task force to ensure a solid, coordinated international response to the food crisis.
Economists have linked food supply strains to factors including high fuel and fertilizer costs, the use of crops for biofuels and market speculation.
“This is not a natural disaster, it’s not an earthquake, it’s a crisis that is man-made,” said De Schutter.
De Schutter called for urgent action in several areas, including a freeze on new investment in biofuels and for U.S. and European Union targets for biofuel use to be abandoned.
The previous reporter, Jean Ziegler, said last year the conversion of food crops to ethanol production was a “crime against humanity.” De Schutter said he was aware that his predecessor had been seen as divisive and said he did not want to politicize the issue of food.
He urged greater investment in agriculture in developing countries where he said the proportion of overseas aid and World Bank lending for farming had fallen for 25 years.
Another concern, he said, was concentration of economic power in the hands of a few large multinational companies that provide seeds and fertilizer, process food and distribute it. He said states should regulate companies better.
Finally, he said the rise in commodity prices had been fuelled by speculation on the part of investment funds and he wanted to consult with experts on ways “to limit the impact of speculative investors” on food prices.
Editing by Doina Chiacu