By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News
Burmese and international human rights groups have accused Burma’s ruling junta of committing serious rights violations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, heightening concerns that the regime’s refusal to allow an open and transparent international relief effort is endangering the safety of victims of the deadly storm.
In a statement released on Friday, the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) said that inmates of Rangoon’s Insein Prison were being forced to eat spoiled rice, even after the International Committee of the Red Cross replaced “moldy, foul and inedible rice” damaged by exposure to rain.
AAPP said that a few days after prison authorities received the new rice, they reverted to using rice that had been stored in a warehouse when Cyclone Nargis ripped the roof off the building.
According to the group, the spoiled rice was causing intestinal problems such as diarrhea and dysentery, as well as other symptoms, including vomiting, dizziness, rashes and stomach swelling.
Meanwhile, leading international human rights advocacy group Amnesty International (AI) claimed on Thursday that the Burmese military junta has been misusing international aid and forcing cyclone victims out of emergency shelters.
In a report titled “Myanmar Briefing: Human rights concerns a month after Cyclone Nargis,” AI said that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) began evicting homeless cyclone survivors from government and unofficial relief camps after it declared an end to the rescue and relief phase of its disaster response on May 20.
The report also details cases of local officials “obstructing or misusing aid.” Despite statements against such conduct by senior leaders, corruption continues to go unpunished, according to the report.
The group said that it had received over 40 reports or accounts of aid being confiscated by government officials, diverted or withheld instead of being handed to cyclone survivors.
AI’s Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the report aims to alert the donor community of ongoing human right abuses and “ideally, to ensure that they will stop.”
The main human rights concern after the cyclone was displacement in the affected areas, he said.
Zawacki also said that claims by the United Nations that its agencies had provided relief goods to one million survivors needed to be put into context.
“Even if it is correct that one million people have been reached, that simply means that they have received some formal assistance.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been comprehensive or sufficient. Some formal assistance—that could be a single bottle of water for a single person,” he said.
He also noted that more than 2.4 million were affected by the cyclone.
“So even if the UN’s one million figure is correct, that is still less than half of all the people who need to have assistance,” he said. “That is a really huge concern, as it shows that access to the Irrawady delta is still not what it should be.”
Zawacki described the arrest of Burmese comedian Maung Thura, also known as Zarganar, on Thursday as a “message of intimidation” directed at political activists.
“By detaining him, the SPDC is seeking to send the message that political dissidents and people who are politically active should not be involved,” the AI researcher said.
He added that by arresting Zarganar, the junta was contradicting an announcement it made on May 27, when it declared that individual donor were free to carry out relief work.
AI also published another Burma-related report on Thursday.
“Crimes against humanity in eastern Burma” deals with the Burmese army’s ongoing military offensive against ethnic Karen civilians.
The offensive, which began two years ago, has involved widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, according to the report.