Item 10: Food insecurity in Myanmar — ALRC’s Oral Statement on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

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Food insecurity in Myanmar

Statement read by Ali Saleem of the Asian Legal Resource Centre

Mr. Chairman

I speak on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre.

What is the connection between white elephants and economic development? This March, a prominent Myanmar historian, Dr Than Tun, said that there isn’t any. The Government of Myanmar has now banned him from publishing articles in local magazines.

Dr Than Tun made his observation after the Government of Myanmar captured a number of white elephants, which are considered sacred. State media reported that Myanmar would prosper due to these animals. Dr Than Tun pointed out that this is nonsense. That the government responded so negatively to his common sense speaks to the indivisibility of rights and their ongoing collective violation in Myanmar, which the Asian Legal Resource Centre has again and again drawn to the Commission’s attention in its statements on economic, social and cultural rights.

Since presenting the 1999 findings of the Peoples Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma (E/CN.4/2000/NGO/61), the Centre has repeatedly demonstrated that the military government is not genuine in its stated aspiration to ensure the food security of people in Myanmar (E/CN.4/2003/NGO/84, attached). A government that sanctions a citizen who dares suggest that white elephants have no effect on economic progress cannot be expected also to take the right to food seriously.

But the right to food in Myanmar is denied by more than mere neglect; it is a matter of principle. In every sense the state in Myanmar rests on the preeminence of the armed forces. As noted by the Peoples Tribunal in 1999, Policies [there are] designed at the highest levels to fulfil military needs first without regard to civilian well-being.

It is in the remote parts of Myanmar that the worst abuses of the right to food continue. Within recent weeks, the Asian Legal Resource Centre has spoken with persons travelling in some of these areas. They have told of thousands of people displaced from their lands, some for years, starving in the jungle. One who carried an emaciated child to a Thai town just across the border spoke of the utter shock and disbelief among medical staff at the child’s condition.

That someone literally starving to death can be brought to a hospital in a food secure country only a few miles away speaks to the seemingly incongruous conditions that exist in Myanmar. The land is fertile, yet less and less of it is available to ordinary Myanmar civilians. Farmers work, yet are not adequately compensated. Food is produced, yet people go hungry.

These contradictions are not coincidental. Where a government is concerned more with the welfare of white elephants than that of its own people; more with its own survival than the costs incurred by others, such conditions are virtually guaranteed. Sadly, until the government’s priorities are changed through the will of the international community, people in Myanmar will continue to have less food than they actually need.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

Posted on 2003-04-08

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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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