United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver visited the Illinois campus in early November to speak as part of the Fall 2017 Right to Food, Food Assistance, and the Biological Consequences of Malnutrition seminar series. Her visit was hosted by the ACES Office of International Programs.

Watch the recorded lecture here

Elver is a professor of law and has served in her role for the UN since June 2014. She is a research professor at UC Santa Barbara and global distinguished fellow at the UCLA Law School Resnicks Food Law and Policy Center.

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.

As part of this honorary position, she:

  • Presents annual reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly on the activities and studies undertaken in the view of the implementation of the mandate (See Annual Reports).
  • Monitors the situation of the right to food throughout the world and identifies general trends related to the right to food and undertakes country visits to experience a firsthand account on the situation concerning the right to food in a specific country (See Country visits).
  • Communicates with States and other concerned parties with regard to alleged cases of violations of the right to food (See Individual complaints) and other issues related to his/her mandate;
  • Promotes the full realization of the right to food through dialogue with relevant actors by participating in seminars, conferences, expert meetings.

During her visit to Illinois, Elver interacted with ACES faculty and students, representatives from International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI), an environmental law class, and the Women and Gender in Global Perspectives Program.

In her seminar, “Natural Disasters, Governmental Duties, and Food Emergencies,” she warned, “After prolonged decline, world hunger appears to be on the rise again.” She listed the driving forces of slowed progress as:

  • Conflict
  • Climate change and extreme weather events
  • Economic impacts
  • Migration

Though most famine events can be traced back to these forces, some famine events are created intentionally. 

“Deliberate famine is a crime against humanity or war crime. We need to make this more clear,” she said while also noting that deliberate action is an important and sometimes difficult distinction to make.

Her talk ended with a question and answer session that led to extensive discussion on ethical and legal components of a right to food around the world.

Later this month, she will travel to Viet Nam to gather first-hand information on the country’s food situation, including the impact of climate change. Her observations and recommendations from this and other visits will be reflected in her final report, which will be presented to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.


More about Elver: Besides her teaching career, Elver has done extensive work with governmental and international organizations, as well as human rights and environmental NGOs. Her publications have focused mainly on international environmental law, international human rights law, particularly women’s rights and right to food. Among her publications Peaceful Uses of International Rivers: Euphrates and Tigris River Basins published in (2002); The Headscarf Controversy, Secularism and Freedom of Religion published in 2012 by the Oxford University Press, and her most recent co-edited book with Paul Wapner, Reimagining Climate Change was published in 2016. For more information on the work of the UN Special Rapporteur visit the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner website.