Red Cross denounces Myanmar abuses
June 28, 2007
The ICRC said detainees and people
in conflict areas were particularly targeted [EPA]
The International Committee of the Red
Cross has denounced what it says are "major and repeated
violations" of humanitarian law by the government of Myanmar.
The unusually strongly-worded and outspoken criticism from the
Red Cross comes amid mounting international pressure on Myanmar's
In the statement issued on Friday, the
head of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, accused Myanmar of failing
to tackle a range of abuses, particularly towards prisoners and
people living in conflict-torn areas close to the Thai-Myanmar
The Red Cross usually prefers to follow
a more discreet approach in raising humanitarian concerns with
'Exceptional step'__Kellenberger said the ICRC had "repeatedly
drawn attention to these abuses but the authorities have failed
to put a stop to them".
As a result, he said, the Red Cross was taking the "exceptional
step" of speaking out and making its concerns public.
Compounding the problem, he said, were restrictions imposed by
the Myanmar government, making the organisation's work impossible
and hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Michelle Mercier, from the ICRC in Myanmar, said: "The major
concern is the fate of the population.
"It has proven impossible in recent years to have serious
dialoge with the Myanmar authorities."
The criticism from the ICRC head came as it emerged that the US
had held rare face-to-face talks with representatives from Myanmar's
military to press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained
opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The talks, held in Beijing and brokered by China, were "clear
and direct", a spokesman for the US state department told
reporters in Washington, adding that Myanmar had shown no signs
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma has been ruled by a military
government since 1962.
Expressing the Red Cross's frustration with the Myanmar authorities,
Kellenberger said the organisation had been driven to voice its
Normally the ICRC prefers to use confidential and bilateral dialogue
to convey its concerns and achieve results, he said.
"However, this presupposes that parties to a conflict are
willing to enter into a serious discussion and take into account
the ICRC's recommendations.
"This has not been the case with the authorities of Myanmar
and that is why the ICRC has decided to speak out publicly."
The Red Cross said its concerns were based on extensive evidence,
including interviews with thousands of civilians and detainees.
Among abuses highlighted by the ICRC are what it says is the "persistent
use" of prisoners forced to work as porters for the armed
forces - a violation of international humanitarian law.
This not only exposed the prisoners to the dangers of armed conflict,
the Red Cross said, but also led to many suffering exhaustion
Some have also been murdered, it said.
The Myanmar government has said on several occasions that it has
banned forced labour, but human rights groups say that little
action has been taken, especially in areas where foreigners are
In other areas the Red Cross said it had extensive evidence of
Myanmar's armed forces committing repeated abuses against men,
women and children living in conflict-torn areas along the Thai-Myanmar
These have included the large-scale destruction of food supplies
and of means of production.
'Constant fear'__It said the behaviour and actions of the armed
forces had created "a climate of constant fear", forcing
thousands of people to flee their homes.
Kellenberger said that despite repeated entreaties by the Red
Cross over these abuses, the Myanmar government had "consistently
refused to enter into a serious discussion of these abuses with
a view to putting a stop to them".
The Red Cross criticism is likely to add
to international pressure on Myanmar over human rights.
Soe Aung, from the opposition National Council of the Union of
Burma, currently in exile in Thailand, said: "The most important
thing is that the military regime comes to dialogue.
"We need a binding in resolution from the UN security council
which will make the regime come to the dialogue table.
"The stability, peace and prosperity of Burma is important."
Both the European Union and the US have imposed economic sanctions,
and threatened further action unless Myanmar improves its rights
record and frees Aung San Suu Kyi.
There has also been growing pressure for change from Myanmar's
fellow members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations
However, earlier this month Ong Keng Yong, the ASEAN secretary
general, said that more than a decade of US and EU sanctions were
not working against Myanmar since the military government was
largely immune to them.