Item 10: Economic Social and Cultural Rights

(Note: The following oral presentation was made by Sanjeewa Liyanage of ALRC on April 3, 2001, at the 34th meeting of the 57th session of the UNCHR.)

Presented by: Mr. Sanjeewa Liyanage

Mr. Chairman,

I speak on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC).

Ample evidence suggests that the Government of Myanmar is systematically denying food to its civilian population.

The ALRC brought these concerns to the attention of the Commission’s 56th session in light of findings made by the People’s Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma. The ALRC appreciates the efforts of the former Special Rapporteur to highlight food security concerns in Myanmar and hopes that the new Special Rapporteur will pursue the issue with equal vigour. The ALRC also urges the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to seriously examine conditions in Myanmar as part of his mandate.

The tribunal has recommended that the Government of Myanmar “address widespread food scarcity throughout the country by giving highest priority to food security as a basic human right”. Regrettably, the government has declined to entertain these recommendations. The government’s failure to fulfill its obligations amounts to a breach of international law.

The Government of Myanmar continues to violate the right to food through denying people the right to work, harmful taxation, the confiscation of land and repeated demands for unpaid civilian labour. It prevents people from working freely to achieve their food security. In areas of armed conflict they are subject to unstable life-threatening conditions.

Myanmar’s armed forces are directly responsible for violations of the right to food by destroying food stocks and crops, the displacement and relocation of civilian communities and a mass expropriation of cash and material.

The right to food is universal and fundamental. The international community and particularly UN agencies are obliged to recognise the emerging human-made food security crisis in Myanmar. The ALRC calls upon the Commission to: a. Respond to the recommendations of the tribunal; b. Encourage the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to consider Myanmar as a priority concern; and c. Continue to monitor and pursue the issue through the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

Finally, the ALRC reiterates its call that an international commission be established to examine the food security crisis in Myanmar.

Mr. Chairman,

According to a recently published report, one in eight Cambodian children will die before they are 5 years old (Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey 2000 funded by UNFPA, UNICEF and USAID) (Phnom Penh Post, March 16-29, 2001). An investigation into Cambodia’s health care system conducted by the ALRC last year confirmed the poor state of health and found that this was due to a lack of funds, the poor quality of medical service, corruption and a public distrust of doctors and hospitals.

The monthly salary of a Cambodian doctor in a public hospital is about US. Consequently, doctors in public hospitals refuse to see patients with no money, even in the emergency room. Medicine from donor countries that disappears from hospitals reappears in the black market.Eighty-seven percent of people live in the country’s rural areas, but only 14 percent of Cambodia’s medical staff are based there.

With spending on health amounting to only 0.6 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product, health care in the country is unlikely to improve soon. The Cambodian government is failing to meet its obligations to both protect and fulfill the right to health of its people by failing to prevent violations of people’s right to health and is not taking legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial or other measures to reverse the present situation. The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the Government of Cambodia upholds the right to health while providing financial and technical assistance to improve the situation.

In Sri Lanka, there is much fear regarding a proposal for a National Water Resources Policy, which may impose taxes on the use of water and introduce various types of water cuts. The popular fears are that the farmers will be badly hit and the ordinary citizens will have to bear the burden with payments for water even from their own wells. That water may be made available to bigger companies and hotels and be denied to the citizens, particularly the poor, is another apprehension. The fact that the details of the policy have not been released to the public for discussion has also increased suspicions. The public demand is for an open debate that includes ordinary farmers and citizens, thus enabling a much more workable, economically sustainable, ecologically sound alternative approach for the equitable distribution of water, using the tremendous wealth of knowledge in the ancient history of irrigation development and management which was largely the responsibility of the people.

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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