The Human Right to Land, for Peasants and for All: Tracing the Social Function of Property to 1948


In 1948, Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) pioneered a right to (individual and collective) ownership of property. Today, the right to property—specifically the social function of property, which was a mainstay of the discussions—can be linked to the idea of a human right to land, which has been particularly prevalent in the discourse concerning the creation of human rights protections specific to peasants. The peasant rights process highlights a number of normative and implementation gaps in international human rights law, including relating to land use and tenure. The present contribution will argue that the claims made in this context are neither new nor niche but relate to universal human rights entitlements and have existed at least since the drafting of the UDHR. They are not only an iteration of an age-old class struggle but are at the forefront of a contemporary critique of the existing international legal system as a whole. While existing human rights, including the right to property, can be part of a response to these critiques, however, neither peasant rights nor the activists who promote them can be expected to resolve them alone.