Myanmar government puts cyclone survivors at increased risk

Myanmar residents watch a helicopter land to provide relief goods at Bogalay, Myanmar

Myanmar residents watch a helicopter land to provide relief goods at Bogalay, Myanmar

© AP Photo


5 June 2008

Myanmar's government is keeping aid from reaching survivors of Cyclone Nargis and stepping up efforts to force them out of emergency shelters, according to new research published by Amnesty International. The government's actions place tens of thousands of already vulnerable survivors at increased risk of death, disease and hunger.

On 20 May, Myanmar’s government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), announced an end to the rescue and relief phase of the disaster response and the beginning of the reconstruction phase. Since then, the SPDC has launched a campaign to force homeless cyclone survivors out of government and unofficial resettlement camps.

The authorities have targeted schools and monasteries, as both were used as polling stations for the delayed May constitutional referendum, and because the school term began on 2 June.  

Most of the displaced survivors cannot return to their original homes as large swathes of the Irrawaddy delta, which bore the brunt of the cyclone, remain largely uninhabitable.     

"After surviving the cyclone's fury, thousands of cyclone survivors are now suffering at the hands of the SPDC," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher.

Amnesty International’s findings, which include eyewitness accounts and interviews with people with first-hand information from cyclone-hit areas, highlight the urgent need for the SPDC and international donors to adopt human rights standards as safeguards in the disaster response.

Amnesty International is also concerned about aid delivery. On 16 May, the SPDC mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar pledged to "conduct investigation into the cases [of misappropriation of aid] to expose the offenders and take punitive action against them in accordance with the law." Amnesty International has welcomed such steps and calls on the SPDC to strictly monitor the distribution of aid by its officials and to investigate any allegations of theft, abuse of power or other diversion of aid.

"Given the SPDC’s long track record of abuses, humanitarian agencies should be especially alert to the SPDC diverting or obstructing their aid," said Zawacki, who has been in the region for the past month gathering information from the affected areas.

Amnesty International has confirmed more than 30 instances and accounts of people being forcibly removed from emergency shelters in monasteries, schools and other places.

In the last two weeks, the relocation campaign has become more systematic and widespread. The authorities have forcibly relocated people out of Maungmya, Maubin, Pyapon, and Labutta, where they had been originally displaced, back to their original villages.

Of the 45 camps that existed in Pyapon, by 28 May only three remained. On 23 May, authorities in Yangon forcibly removed more than 3,000 cyclone survivors from an official camp in Shwebaukan in North Dagon Myo Thit, and from an unofficial camp in State High School No. 2 in Dala township.

Abuses also include confiscation and misuse of aid. Amnesty International has received over 40 reports or accounts of aid being confiscated by government officials, diverted or withheld instead of being handed to cyclone survivors.

Despite statements against such conduct by senior SPDC leadership, local officials can act with impunity. For example, Amnesty International received eyewitness testimony that on 26 May, at the Pan Hlaing bridge in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township, Police Major U Luu Win stopped 48 trucks carrying supplies from private Myanmar donors. As of 1 June, the police had not released the trucks.

See also:
Myanmar ethnic group faces crimes against humanity (Report, 5 June 2008)

Myanmar Briefing. Human rights concerns a month after Cyclone Nargis

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Index Number: ASA 16/013/2008
Date Published: 5 June 2008
Categories: Myanmar

Amnesty International fears that the humanitarian crisis after Cyclone Nargis may lead to further human rights violations by the SPDC. Transparency and accountability are necessary to ensure that survivors are guaranteed the assistance they need and that such assistance is delivered effectively, equitably, and without discrimination. Amnesty International has confirmed reports of forced displacement and problems with aid distribution; it also fears that the SPDC may begin to use civilians for forced labour in the affected areas.


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