The right to life and the right to health are inextricably connected to the right to food and nutrition. Needless to say, Bangladesh neither explicitly accepts nor implements these rights through any current legislation.
The State is indirectly mandated by Article 15 of the Bangladesh Constitution to ensure the basic necessities, including food for all citizens living within the territory of this country. Articles 16, 18, and 32 of the Constitution also provide opportunities for interpreters to apply the right to food and nutrition in certain contexts.
However, UNCESCR notes that among all human rights, the right to adequate food is essential. The Committee affirms that the right to adequate food is indivisibly connected to a person's intrinsic integrity. It is also necessary if other human rights enshrined in the Universal Charter of Human Rights are to be upheld.
In several binding as well as non-binding international instruments to which Bangladesh is a signatory or a ratifying member, the right to food and nutrition as a human right is acknowledged and reaffirmed.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is among the most important of these. The right to a fair standard of living, including healthy food, is recognised under Article 25 of this declaration.
It should be mentioned that UDHR is such an important piece of international law that it is binding on every country in the world, whether they ratify it or not.
The right to adequate living conditions as well as the fundamental right to remain free of hunger is enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is another international treaty which has 186 state signatories that asserts in Article 12 the right of pregnant women and lactating mothers to special protection in respect to adequate nutrition. Article 14 includes the right of rural women to have access to land, water, credit and facilities as well as social security and adequate living conditions.
The right to the highest achievable health standard for the citizens is recognised in Article 25 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Also, the right to reasonable living conditions is recognised in Article 27 of this Convention. Food and nutrition are mentioned explicitly in both of these articles. The Human Rights Committee expects the States to take positive steps to protect the right to life as part of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966). It also advises the states to fight against malnutrition. This convention and its framework on the elimination of malnutrition provide the under-developed countries a route to follow to achieve those goals..
In compliance with international law, establishing a human rights-based approach to food and nutrition should create the imperativeness to include human rights principles in food security policies of the states. In addition to feasible legislative measures using the best of available resources, the general responsibility of the States to an International Convention, which includes provisions concerning the right to food and nutrition, shall help the States to take efficient and reasonable steps. However, international law alone is not enough to implement these steps which can only be executed by the national governments.
So, national legislations, policies and strategic roadmaps are required to be implemented by the States to meet their human rights obligations. A number of international legal and practical guidance instruments at the international level have developed a framework for Bangladesh to resolve food and nutrition problem on a national level with human rights-based legislations and sound implementation approaches.
In recent years, Bangladesh has made significant advancements in the field of food and nutrition. For example, the percentage of moderately or seriously stunted children under five years of age has declined from 55% in 1997 to 41% in 2011 and to 36% in 2014. This is one of the world's most sustainable declines in child malnutrition.
Nevertheless, the problem lies in the approach of accommodating and implementing these international law principles. There are two approaches to ensuring the right to food. They are Needs-Based Approach and Rights-Based Approach. Bangladesh follows the traditional Needs-Based Approach rather than using the Rights-Based Approach. A Needs-Based Approach does not impose any binding obligation upon the state to enforce the right to food. It lacks informed legislation, political will, and coordinated action, which is available under the Rights-Based Approach.
There are several legislations in Bangladesh such as the Pure Food Act 2005, the Safe Food Act 2013, the Consumers' Rights Protection Act 2009, the Bangladesh Water Act 2013, and the Vitamin A enriched edible Oil Act 2013 and so on. The key problem of these acts remains in the approach as they significantly lack initiatives which are available under a rights-based approach.
There is also a wide range of initiatives and state policies, including The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2005, National Food Policy Action Plan 2008-2015, and National Food Policy 2006. All of these state policies are predominantly premised in the needs-based approach to food and nutrition. In spite of Bangladesh government's hunger-control pledge and the political commitment of the ruling party, the UN Global Food Program's observation reports that these strategies are not sustainable in the socio-economic context of Bangladesh. It has been observed that nutritional supplements are limitedly provided, growth monitoring of these state policies are insufficient and qualified human resources are not recruited in the implementations of these initiatives.
So far, more than twenty-seven Food Security and Social Safety Net programs have been carried out in Bangladesh, including Test Relief, Open Market Selling (OMS), Public Food Distribution (PFDS), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), Integrated Food Security (IFS), and Vulnerable Group Development (VGD). The inflexibility, mismanagement, exploitation of resources and corruption undermine the performance of these programs and make them insufficient in meeting the requirements of the rights-based approach to food and nutrition policies in Bangladesh.
Responsible stakeholders have to enforce these crucial aspects through national policies, invoke a rights-based approach to food and nutrition to create sustainable food security policies in the legal and political atmosphere. In the policies and programs, they must promote transparency by involving policymakers, legal practitioners and competent researchers of Bangladesh. To achieve this goal, it is also essential to know the foundation upon which such kind of approach is established. Therefore, Bangladesh must search for ways to design its national framework according to the principles enshrined in the international human rights instruments and declarations.
The author is a Research Intern, Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.