Freedom from Want

The Human Right to Adequate Food

George Kent

"George Kent's book makes it clear that an individual's right to adequate food is a legal human right, grounded in law and public justice."
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There is, literally, a world of difference between the statements "Everyone should have adequate food," and "Everyone has the right to adequate food." In George Kent's view, the lofty rhetoric of the first statement will not be fulfilled until we take the second statement seriously. Kent sees hunger as a deeply political problem. Too many people do not have adequate control over local resources and cannot create the circumstances that would allow them to do meaningful, productive work and provide for themselves. The human right to an adequate livelihood, including the human right to adequate food, needs to be implemented worldwide in a systematic way.

Freedom from Want makes it clear that feeding people will not solve the problem of hunger, for feeding programs can only be a short-term treatment of a symptom, not a cure. The real solution lies in empowering the poor. Governments, in particular, must ensure that their people face enabling conditions that allow citizens to provide for themselves.

In a wider sense, Kent brings an understanding of human rights as a universal system, applicable to all nations on a global scale. If, as Kent argues, everyone has a human right to adequate food, it follows that those who can empower the poor have a duty to see that right implemented, and the obligation to be held morally and legally accountable, for seeing that that right is realized for everyone, everywhere.

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
Foreword by Jean Ziegler

Introduction: Taking Rights Seriously

Part I. Foundations

Chapter 1. Food and Nutrition
Causes of Malnutrition
Growth Measurement
Numbers of Malnourished People
Malnutrition and Mortality
Comparative Morality
Food and Nutrition Security
Varieties of Government Action

Chapter 2. The International Human Rights System
Historical Foundations
International Humanitarian Law
The International Bill of Human Rights
Children's Rights
Regional Human Rights Agreements
Human Rights Agencies
United Nations Charter Bodies
United Nations Treaty Bodies
Civil Society Organizations
Informal Civil Society

Chapter 3. Adequate Food is a Human Right
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
Food in International Human Rights Law
Food in International Humanitarian Law
Global Declarations and Commitments
General Comment 12
The Special Rapporteur
The Voluntary Guidelines

Part II. Human Rights Systems

Chapter 4. Human Rights, Governance, and Law
Human Rights and Governance
Studying Human Rights in National Governance
The Role of National Law
Universal Human Rights and the Role of International Law

Chapter 5. Rights/Entitlements
Moral versus Legal Rights
Soft versus Hard Rights
Rights as Goals
Rights Imply Entitlements
Determining Local Entitlements
Having versus Realizing Rights

Chapter 6. Obligations and Commitments
Moral Responsibilities
When Do Governments Do Human Rights Work?
Levels of Government Obligation
Economic Rights
The Obligation of Good Governance
Obligations of Nonstate Actors
Questionable Charity

Chapter 7. Accountability Mechanisms
Varieties of Accountability
Remedies for Rights Holders
National and Local Human Rights Agencies
Accountability through Public Action

Chapter 8. India
The Supreme Court Case
Starvation is Not the Problem
The Missing Piece in India's Rights System
The Tamil Nadu Integrated Nutrition Project

Chapter 9. Brazil

Chapter 10. The United States

Chapter 11. Feeding Infants
Breast-Feeding Rights
Infants' Human Right to Adequate Food
Women's Right to Breast-Feed versus Infants' Right to be Breast-Fed

Chapter 12. Feeding Infants of HIV-Positive Mothers
Official Guidance on HIV/AIDS and Infant Feeding
A Court Case
Informed Choice

Chapter 13. Water
The Household Water Problem
Water Rights are Different
General Comment 15

Chapter 14. Trade
The Human Right to Adequate Food in Relation to Trade
Reconciling Different Frameworks
Food Sovereignty

Chapter 15. Refugees
Issues in Refugee Nutrition
Explanations and Justifications for Uneven Services
The Human Right to Adequate Food
The Adequacy Question
Specifying the Obligations
Limiting the Obligations
The Work Ahead

Chapter 16. International Humanitarian Assistance
Rights to Assistance
The Provider's Motivation

Chapter 17. Global Human Rights
Global Rights and Global Obligations
Global Accountability
Strategic Planning



"As a legal claim, the 'human right to adequate food' may seem thin gruel, but George Kent enriches the concept with data-based policy analysis, compelling ethical arguments, and a full review of concerned international, national, and nongovernmental organizations. He persuasively makes the case for accountability where the face of famine, malnutrition, and starvation confront the hands of those who hold political power at every level in our new global economy."—Richard Pierre Claude, founding editor of Human Rights Quarterly and professor emeritus, University of Maryland

"George Kent's book makes it clear that an individual's right to adequate food is a legal human right, grounded in law and public justice."—Rev. David Beckmann, president, Bread for the World


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

George Kent is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawai'i, and author of The Politics of Children's Survival and Children in the International Political Economy.

290 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-055-0
Jun 2005

290 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-056-7
Jun 2005

290 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-325-4
Jun 2005

Advancing Human Rights series
Sumner B. Twiss, John Kelsay, and Terry Coonan, Series Editors

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