Did you know that the United Nations employs a position entitled, “The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food”? I did not know it either.
Prof. Olivier De Schutter holds that position and his job is to compile reports for the governing body. That is what a Rapporteur does routinely.
Prof. Olivier De Schutter has denounced, according to an Agence France-Presse article appearing in the National Post online, a current UN report which supports the Israeli commando raid on a Turkish “aid flotilla” in May of last year. The “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” was bent on breaking the Gaza blockade; the ensuing skirmish left 9 dead and spurred international controversy.
It is not my objective to examine the merits of the blockade, the true motives of the “aid flotilla” or the UN commission report, which was scheduled for release on 8 July 2011. Prof. Olivier De Schutter received an advance copy and it is the resulting statements attributed to him by his office and his job title incorporating a “human right to food” that I find intriguing.
Needs Are Not Rights
In an email from his office it was stated that, “…Prof. Olivier De Schutter firmly opposes (the report’s) conclusions”. In addition, “…the blockade and the Israeli intervention clearly violate international law and the human right to food”. (Emphasis added.)
Leaving aside the arcane and non-objective nature of most international law for the moment, since when do humans have a right to food? We certainly need food for survival, but that does not constitute a right.
Needs are not rights. No matter the extent of human progress, the need for food must be met by production and trade. To be able to consume food, someone must produce it first.
Stripped to the fundamentals, man has to figure out how to forage, grow, hunt or otherwise produce his food. His ability to conceptually inherit the knowledge of previous generations in history allows the potential for practically unlimited progress in satisfying such needs and wants.
Rights to Action
Rights are moral principles. Morality is what guides man in his actions. Therefore, a right is a call to action. In the context of this article, a man must act in order to satisfy his need for food.
The action taken must not infringe on the right of another to act. To be a right, a moral principle cannot be surrendered either. That is what is meant by the universality of rights. They are part of what makes us human. Acting on the power of his ability to think, man may draw on the knowledge of history, the voluntary cooperation of and trade with his fellow men to achieve great productive capacity.
Part of that voluntary cooperation may involve the charity of one man to another who, through misfortune or disability, has fallen on hard times. The condition of the latter is not however, a moral claim which negates the rights of the former.
Force and Rights
Again, in fundamental terms, if one man produces only enough food for his own survival and another does not, the only way a so-called “human right to food” can be addressed is either by the voluntary charity of the producer or by the hungry man’s use of force to take food away from the other. Forcing one man to give up the fruit of his production against his will makes him a slave with no rights.
Earlier in our history this is likely how things were done most of the time. Particularly before the Enlightenment period, there was little understanding of rights. Rights as a moral principle were, and are still, being discovered. There remains an apparent struggle for understanding, even among luminaries at the level of a “Special Rapporteur” at the United Nations.
©Copyright 2011 Edward Podritske