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BURMA: The Catastrophe Continues

Asian Legal Resource Centre

[Excerpts from the  Oral Statement to the 8th Session of the UN Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC); dated 6 June 2008)]

Thank you Mr. Special Rapporteur & Mr. President.

The details of the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar last year, the ongoing plight of political prisoners and the disaster resulting from Cyclone Nargis, as a result of which over 200,000 persons have died, are well known to you and to this Council.

The reaction of the junta has been a disaster in itself. Not only has Myanmar obstructed international relief efforts, but it is also preventing local attempts by the public to address the crisis.

Zarganar, a famous public figure in Myanmar has organized hundreds of volunteers in the country to provide relief work. He was taken into custody by the police and money dedicated for relief efforts was confiscated on June 4. The reason given was that he was in the possession of videos that documented the cyclone’s damage and other material.

Private local donors have hired vehicles to deliver aid. On May 25, a group of 70 relief vehicles was stopped, vehicles were confiscated and workers were charged with criminal offences. This action has put a halt to many other local relief efforts out of fear of similar repercussions.

Senior General Than Shwe had just given assurances to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that the regime would allow all aid workers access into the country. It is reported that during Ban's visit, fake victims were paid to give the staged impression of progress being made by the government.

Local officials have been selling food rather than distributing it to those in need. Hundreds that have sought shelter in public buildings have been forced to leave the shelters by the authorities.

On May 3, after a hall in the notorious Insein prison collapsed, hundreds of prisoners were squeezed into the remaining space, and were held in the cold, wet, cramped space, without food. As a result, the inmates protested and tried to break out. Instead of providing medical aid and transporting the inmates to safety, the police fired into the crowd, killing many.

Survivors were thrown into punishment cells and are being denied food. We are shocked by Myanmar's election to the Vice Presidency of the UN General Assembly.

We would like to ask the Special Rapporteur, how this Council could make use of all possible measures available to it, to demand that Myanmar live up to its promises and allow relief to take place unhindered, and that it halt the aforementioned continuing abuses of the rights of its people.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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