Item 10: ALRC’s Oral Statement on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Item 10: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 

Presented by: Asmin Franciska

Mr. Chairman,

I speak on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre wishes to bring to the attention of the commission the decision of the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China to deny right of abode to thousands of people from mainland China. Most of these cases involve the children of Hong Kong families who have at least one parent who is a permanent resident of the HKSAR. The result of this decision is to separate members of these families in contravention of Article 10 of the ICESCR which calls on signatories, such as the Hong Kong SAR, to protect and assist families, not to separate them.

On March 31, 2002, the deadline expired for these families to return to the mainland. We ask the commission to call on the Hong Kong SAR government to grant right of abode to all of the right-of-abode seekers in order meet its obligations under Article 10 of the ICESCR and on humanitarian grounds. We believe it is inhumane to separate identical twins, to refuse a woman in her 60s the ability to care for her blind and deaf mother who is 101 years old, to force a girl with physical and mental disabilities to return to the mainland. We thus ask the commission to take action on this matter.

Mr. Chairman,

On 29 November 2001 Dr Salai Tun Than appeared in front of Yangon Town Hall, Myanmar, in his academic gown. There he began handing out a petition calling for the military government of Myanmar to step down and allow for multi-party elections within one year. His petition urged the military to kill him if unwilling to meet his demands as “it is better to die than live under the military regime”. Within minutes he was taken away by members of the security forces. He has since been held in Insein Prison, where in February he was sentenced to seven years. He is now seventy-four.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre draws the Commission’s attention to Dr Salai Tun Than’s case as a matter of economic, social and cultural rights rather than civil and political rights as it illustrates the indivisibility of all human rights. His case also speaks to issues of food security raised by the Centre in previous submissions.

Dr Salai Tun Than is an agricultural scientist who devoted his life to rural development in Myanmar. For most of his forty years service he worked within state institutions, and received government awards in recognition of his efforts. In many respects he was the model citizen: science-educated, motivated towards the social and economic betterment of his folk, and without political aspirations.

In 1993, after his retirement, Dr Salai Tun Than established a non-government organisation for agricultural development in the remote hilly regions of Myanmar. Although its work was highly successful and attracted the attention and support of international agencies, the organisation was not recognised by the government. Instead, its activities were subject to interference and its orchards destroyed by military operations. Dr Salai Tun Than was prohibited from personally conducting training programmes. Finally he was driven to protest on November 29.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre has repeatedly drawn the Commission’s attention to the problems of food security and concomitant absence of fundamental rights to food and to work in Myanmar. Since presenting the 1999 findings of the People’s Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma (E/CN.4/2000/NGO/61), the Centre has challenged the legitimacy of claims by the military government in Myanmar to be working for agricultural and social development (see further E/CN.4/2001/NGO/108 and E/CN.4/2002/NGO/66).

The arrest of Dr Salai Tun Than reinforces the validity of the Asian Legal Resource Centre’s earlier interventions. It exposes the regime’s rhetorical pretensions towards economic and social development as fraudulent. It also demonstrates the patent absurdity of an authoritarian military government talking about fundamental economic rights first, democratization later.

Dr Salai Tun Than spent his life working under the auspices of the state for the social and economic betterment of his people, yet at the instant that he moved outside its structure and attempted to operate semi-autonomously he became an enemy. In a society where any demonstration of independence is seen as a potential threat to the state it is no more possible to talk of protection of economic, social and cultural rights than it is civil and political rights: neither are guaranteed.

In Myanmar the specious statistical indicators of agricultural expansion and economic progress projected by state agencies are all made a mockery by the seven years handed down to this seventy-four year old agricultural scientist. It is a sentence handed down not only against Dr Salai Tun Than but against all those with whom he worked and who benefited from his endeavours. Ultimately, it is a sentence against the fundamental economic and social rights of the people of Myanmar, for which the military government there must stand condemned.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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