Myanmar: Thousands of people are displaced and starving
Mr. Ali Saleem of the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) made an oral intervention on behalf of the ALRC on ‘Food insecurity in Myanmar’ at the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights under the Agenda Item 10: Economic, social and cultural rights. This intervention was made on the 07 April 2003 and the full text of statement can be found below.
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 People’s 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 People’s 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