Report of Founding General Assembly and Inaugural ESCR-Net Conference - June 2003

Creating New Paths towards Social Justice.

From 8 to 11 of June, over 250 representatives of social movements, human rights groups, and other civil society organizations from around the world gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand to launch the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, known also as ESCR-Net. In various plenaries, workshops and other sessions, the participants, representing over 50 countries from Asia, Africa, America, the Caribbean, Australia, the Pacific, and Europe, discussed strategies to advance universal human rights to food, water, housing, health, education, social security, employment, and fair labor conditions in a new era of economic globalization and of heightened concern about terrorism and armed conflict.

On the 2nd day of the conference, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson delivered the keynote address. She applauded the emergence of a new network dedicated to securing economic, social and cultural rights for all people: “I believe we are witnessing a significant step forward in building a forum – a new space – for the human rights, women's rights, sustainable development and social justice movements worldwide to develop their collective strength.” She added, “We can shape a more values-led, ethical globalization….networks like [ESCR-Net] are a crucial part of making this change come about.”

The conference was co-hosted by Asian Forum for Human Rights & Development, a network of human rights organizations and the Center for Social Development Studies of the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

New Board Elected
The Network's first governing board was also elected at the conference.

Social Movements
The experiences and concerns of social movements featured prominently. Before the conference, the Assembly of the Poor, one of the region's largest social movements, hosted solidarity exposure visits in 3 areas of Thailand for those from other countries to witness first-hand local struggles for ESC rights. After the visits, the Assembly convened, with support from ESCR-Net and Forum Asia, the Peoples Movement Forum for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, bringing together local Thai social movements and social movements from around the world to share grassroots strategies to advance ESC rights.

Groups participating in the Forum drafted the Lanna Declaration on ESC Rights (named after the traditional name for northern Thailand). The Declaration demands that all governments fulfill “the obligation to implement and protect ESCR…and to carry out development projects and multilateral agreements in conformity with these international human rights standards.” Furthermore, it declares, “international financial institutions (IFIs), international trade organizations and agreements, transnational corporations (TNCs) and donor agencies must comply with the requirements of economic, social and cultural rights.”

Thematic Areas
In over 40 separate sessions throughout the conference, participants discussed a wide variety of issues and topics related to ESCR. Sessions were divided into various tracks, including:

  • Trade and Development - a track focused on the policies and institutions of globalization, such as the World Bank and trade liberalization
  • Tools - workshops focused on different strategies and methods to protect or achieve rights
  • Components - sessions focused on specific rights, such as the right to food, the right to health, or the right to housing
  • Communities - sessions with topics such as migrants' rights, the rights of sexual minorities, indigenous peoples' rights, and women's rights

Going Forward
The various workshops and interactive sessions brought together diverse groups from around the world working on a common set of issues. Out of these sessions emerged a set of recommendations on how groups can work together through the network to advance work in each of these areas. For more information, please see the reportbacks posted on the Conference page of the website. We welcome your thoughts, feedback and recommendations on how to carry this work and these ideas forward.

Moreover, many sessions generated an interest and request by groups to initiate new thematic working groups in areas such as Corporate Accountability; Budget Analysis and ESCR; Foreign Debt; Human Rights Education; ESCR of Indigenous Peoples; Human Rights & Environment; Trade, Finance, & Investment; Video Advocacy & Media; and the Right to Health.