‘Belgrade Call to Action’ urges governments to address rural repression

An international movement of grassroots groups of small food producers and food sovereignty advocates lauded the launching of a global action agenda that seeks to protect and promote civil society amid growing attacks.

The “Belgrade Call to Action” presses governments and members states of the United Nations to act upon the deteriorating conditions for civil society and the growing human rights violations targeting rights defenders in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. The Civil Society Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), CIVICUS, Action for Sustainable Development, Civic Initiatives and the Balkan Civil Society Development Network initiated the launching of the action agenda on 8 April 2019, while civil society organizations worldwide are gathered in Belgrade, Serbia for the 2019 International Civil Society Week.

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) finds the Belgrade Call to Action timely and relevant especially to land rights defenders including farmers and Indigenous Peoples groups who brave repression for their opposition to state-sponsored and corporate-backed development ‘aggression’ projects.

According to Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of PCFS, the Belgrade Call to Action lays down practical measures for UN member states and international organizations to address the shrinking space of and foster an enabling environment for civil society organizations and human rights defenders, which would significantly advance the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs.

“It is unfortunate that civil society organizations have to remind the States of their mandate to serve and protect their peoples through the Belgrade Call to Action, and that the state of today’s rural peoples warrants their attention,” said Sylvia Mallari, PCFS global co-chairperson.

Mallari said many rural communities in the world face displacement due to various investment projects sugarcoated as contributing to development, on top of the hunger, poverty, and landlessness they already experience. However, she stressed the global trend of worsening attacks in response to their resistance especially the killings.

“We hope that the Belgrade Call to Action will push the governments of these countries to undertake appropriate measures that will put an end to the phenomenon of peasant killings and promote genuine agrarian reform to uplift farmers from their dire conditions,” Mallari stressed.

The PCFS official mentioned the Philippines in particular due to its rising death toll of farmers politically killed and the recurrence of farmers massacres carried out by police and military. She also said the country is the deadliest for farmers in Asia and among the top five in the world.

Mallari cited the three massacres that happened in the province of Negros, central Philippines in the past six months, most recent of which is the massacre of 14 farmers on March 30 resulting from a joint police and military operation to neutralize alleged communist rebels in the country. Twelve farmers were also arrested during the operation.

She also noted that farmers killings are also high in Latin America, particularly in Colombia and Brazil.

Mallari also discussed the harassments against rural communities in Cambodia and Zimbabwe. The criminalization of dissent has a become a common means to stifle local struggles against landgrabbing, she said.

“For instance, the government of Cambodia should look into the reported crackdown happening in Preah Vihear province,” referring to the court summon issued to ten IP Kuys and two staff of local NGO Ponlok Khmer, a PCFS member organization, in Prame commune, Tbeng Meanchey district and the arrest of 15 villagers in Yeang commune, Choam Khsant district. Chinese company Guangdong Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co., Ltd. in Prame and local agribusiness Metrei Pheap Kase-Oushakam Co. Ltd. in Yeang filed the charges against the villagers.

“Meanwhile, we call on the government of Zimbabwe to review their land policies that give premium to corporations,” said Mallari. According to her, thousands of families from eight provinces face forced eviction to give way to the construction and operations of a number of megadam and energy projects in the country, including the Mutirikwi Dam in Masvingo West, Zimbabwe Bio Energy ethanol plant in Naunetsi Ranch, and Tokwe-Mukosi Dam in Masvingo to name a few. The families are alleged of violating Gazetted Lands (Consequential Provisions) Act [Chapter 20:28], occupying the land without lawful authority, even if they have been living on the land for almost two decades even before the projects came.

“Development cooperation should be about giving priority to the interests and welfare of the people. Governments should welcome criticisms from the ground and work with civil society. We are not the enemies,” she said.

“We hope that through the Belgrade Call to Action, rural repression will end and land conflicts will be addressed. We appeal to the member states of the UN and the international community to support and adhere to the Belgrade Call to Action,” Mallari said. ###

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