Right to Food, Food Security and Food Aid Under International Law, or the Limits of a right-based approach

Donato Gualtieri


The right to food has become a pillar of international humanitarian and human rights law. The increasing number of food-related emergencies and the evolution of the international order brought the more precise notion of food security and made a potential right to receive food aid emerge. Despite this apparent centrality, recent statistics show that a life free from hunger is for many people all over the world still a utopian idea. The paper will explore nature and content of the right to food, food security and food aid under international law in order to understand the reasons behind the substantial failure of this right-centred approach, emphasising the lack of legal effects of many food-related provisions because of  excessive moral connotations of the right to be free from hunger. Bearing in mind the three-dimensional nature of food security, the paper will also suggest that all attention has been focused on the availability of food, while real difficulties arise in terms of accessibility and adequacy. Emergency situations provide an excellent example of this unbalance, as the emerging right to receive food aid focus itself on the availability of food, without improving local production and adequacy. Looking at other evolving sectors of international law, such as the protection of the environment, and particularly the safeguard of biological diversity, alternative solutions will be envisaged in order to “feed” the right to food.


Keywords: Right to food; Food security; Food aid; International law; human rights; Biological diversity

Submitted: 20 November 2012; Revised: 10December 2013; Accepted for publication:12 December 2013; Published: 20 December 2013


Full Text:



Alfredsson, G., Eide, A. (1999). “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Common Standard of Achievement”, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, p. 523

Alston, P. (2004). “A Human Rights Perspective on the Millennium Development Goals”. Millennium Project Task Force on Poverty and Economic Development, p. 12

Clay, E. et al. (1998). “The future of food aid: a policy review”. Overseas Development Institute

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1990). “General Comment n. 3 on the Nature of State Parties Obligations”. Available on http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/94bdbaf59b43a424c12563ed0052b664

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1999). “General Comment n. 12 on the Right to Adequate Food”. Available on http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/3d02758c707031d58025677f003b73b9

Convention on Biological Diversity (1992). Available on www.cbd.org

Council of Europe (2009). “The protection of human rights in emergency situations”.

Crowell, L. (1955). “The Building of the Four Freedom Speech”, Speech Monographs 22, November 1955, pp. 266-283

D’Amato A. (1986). “International Law: Process and Prospect”. Brill

De Schutter, O. (2010). “Access to Land and the Right to Food”. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food presented at the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations [A/65/281], 21 October 2010

Ecker O. and Breisinger C. (2012). “The Food Security System. A new conceptual framework”. Washington, D.D.: International Food Policy Research Institute. pp. 1–14.

Available on http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/ifpridp01166.pdf

FAO (2002). “Food, Security, Justice and Peace”. WFS Five Years Later Official Documents

Food Aid Convention (1999). Available on www.foodaidconvention.org

FAO (1996). “World Food Summit and Plan of Action 1996”. FAO, Rome, 1996. Available on ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/Meeting/018/k6050e.pdf

FAO (1998). “State of food and agriculture 1998”. FAO, Rome, 1998. Available on http://www.fao.org/docrep/w9500e/w9500e00.htm

FAO (2002). “The right to food in emergency situations”. FAO, Rome

FAO (2006). “Food Security”. FAO Agricultural and Development Economic Division. FAO, Rome, June 2006

FAO, Fact Sheet n.34 (2010). “The Right to Adequate Food”. FAO, Rome

FAO, IFAD, WFP (2013). “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013. The multiple dimensions of food security”. Rome, 2013. Available on http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3434e/i3434e.pdf

FAO, News Article (2012). “Globally almost 870 million chronically undernourished – new hunger report”. Rome, FAO, 9 October 2012. Available on http://www.fao.org/news/story/jp/item/161819/icode/

Gregory, P. J.; Ingram, J. S. I.; Brklacich, M. (2005). "Climate change and food security". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 360 (1463): 2139–2148

Hannum, H. (1998). The Status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in National and International Law (1998). Health & Human Rights, Vol. 3, p. 144, 1998; Interights Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998/1999; Peking University International & Comparative Law, Vol. 2, p. 28, 1998; Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 25, p. 287, 1995. Available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1957798

ICRC (1989). Commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions

International Court of Justice (1970). “Case concerning the Barcelona Traction Light and Power Company, Ltd. (Belgium v. Spain)”. Available on http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/50/5387.pdf

International Court of Justice (1980). “Case concerning United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran (United States of America v. Iran)”. Available on http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/64/6291.pdf

International Court of Justice (1986). “Case concerning the military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America)”. Available on http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/70/6503.pdf

Kamminga M. (1992). “Inter-State accountability for violation of human rights”. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia

Kautilya (150 A.D.). “The Arthashastra” (Edited, Rearranged, Translated and Introduced by L. N. Rangarajan). Penguin Books, London, 1992

Sohn, L. (1967), “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a Common Standard of Achievement? The Status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. International Commission of Jurists, pp. 1-26

UN (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Available at http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr

Whiteman M.M. (1965). “Digest of International Law”. Department of State Publications, Washington D.C.

UN (1966). “The International Covenant on Social, Economical and Cultural Rights”. Available on http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

UN (1992). “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development”. Available on http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=78&articleid=1163

UN Human Rights Committee (1998). “Report on the 54th Session”.

WHO (2013). “Food Security”. Available on http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/

Ziegler, J. (2011). “Preliminary Study on Severe Malnutrition and Childhood Diseases with Children Affected by Noma as an Example”, Human Rights Advisory Committee on the Right to Food, A/HRC/AC/7/CRP.2

Ziegler, J. (2012). “What is the right to food?” Available on http://www.righttofood.org


  • There are currently no refbacks.




 Google Scholar H5 index 5 


The contributions of the peer reviewers for the journal are acknowledged in the 


Sponsoring Organisations

Logo Agrarekologie Uni Kassel