Thu 28 Jun 2007
Filed under: International,News
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vigorously denounced Friday what it described as widespread and systematic human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military regime, running over a period of at least six years.
In an exceptionally strongly worded statement, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger notably accused Myanmar’s armed forces of forcing thousands of detainees to work as porters to the point of exhaustion and malnutrition.
“The persistent use of detainees as porters for the armed forces is a matter of grave humanitarian concern,” it said.
“The actions of the authorities have also resulted in immense suffering for thousands of people in conflict-affected areas.”
Kellenberger added: “The ICRC has repeatedly drawn attention to these abuses, but the authorities have failed to put a stop to them.”
Some of the porters were murdered, according to the ICRC statement that was based on observations and interviews by its own staff in Myanmar, mainly between 2000 and 2005.
The humanitarian agency highlighted repeated abuse against men, women and children in communities along the Thai border, including murder, violence, arbitrary arrests and “large scale” destruction of food supplies.
The military regime is fighting ethnic rebels in the region.
The ICRC said the Myanmar army’s behaviour helped create “constant fear” among the population and forced thousands to flee their homes.
“Despite repeated entreaties by the ICRC, the authorities have consistently refused to enter into a serious discussion of these abuses with a view to putting a stop to them,” Kellenberger said.
“The continuing deadlock with the authorities has led the ICRC to take the exceptional step of making its concerns public.”
The ICRC chief said portering and other abuse against civilians were major violations of international humanitarian law.
The ICRC is normally discreet about its contacts with authorities around the world over humanitarian issues, believing that a low-key approach is a better way to achieve improvements.
Public statements specifically naming culprits of abuse are, in conrast, very rare and are kept as a last resort.
Since late 2005, Myanmar has stopped the ICRC from carrying out independent visits to detention centres and prisons to check on conditions.
The ICRC says its staff have faced growing restrictions on their movements aroudn Myanmar, hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Myanmar has been ruled by military government since 1962.
Although the junta says it has banned forced labour, human rights groups have long said that little action has been taken, especially in areas where foreigners are barred.
The secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Ong Keng Yong, said earlier this month that a decade of US and EU economic sanctions on Myanmar over human rights abuse and political repression was not working since the regime was largely immune to them.