Burmese junta forcing cyclone victims out of emergency camps: Amnesty
Cyclone survivors are being forced out of emergency camps and back to their flattened villages by Burma's military government, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The human rights organization said that since May 19, there have been 30 confirmed reports of people being forcibly removed from places of refuge in Rangoon and the northern part of the Irrawaddy Delta, one of the areas worst hit by the May 3 storm. Many are being relocated to their homes further south, which were destroyed and are yet to be rebuilt, Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki told the CBC.
"This is in violation of their human right to health, to food, and perhaps indeed to the right to life. This is premature, it's arbitrary, and neither are the people prepared to move from an aid and assistance standpoint, nor are their original villages in any condition to receive them."
In a report released Thursday, Amnesty also cited several instances where the military government is offering aid to cyclone victims on the condition they provide physical labour in return.
Survivors have been forced to construct a landing pad for helicopters and construct and take down emergency relief camps, as well as clear debris and help reconstruct rural infrastructure such as roads, Zawacki said.
"Now we don't have a lot of reports of this, but the worrisome aspect of it is that reports are increasing and the fear is that should this continue … [it] could become a full-blown human rights violation on a large scale," he said.
At least 78,000 people were killed and 56,000 deemed missing after Cyclone Nargis, while more than 2.4 million were left homeless.
The Burmese government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of humanitarian relief following the devastating storm. On Thursday, boatfuls of aid literally sailed away after the military junta refused to allow four U.S. navy vessels to unload relief supplies that had been waiting to be delivered for three weeks.
"The ruling military junta in Burma have done nothing to convince us that they intend to reverse their deliberate decision to deny much needed aid to the people of Burma," Lt. Denver Applehans said in an e-mail from the flotilla.
"Based on this, the decision was made to continue with previous operational commitments," Applehans said.
In its report, Amnesty also cited 40 accounts of Burmese soldiers or local officials diverting, confiscating or misusing aid intended for cyclone victims.
Although the junta has granted greater access to the Irrawaddy Delta, "recent incidents of corruption and diversion of aid suggest a potentially serious threat to effective distribution of aid," the report said.
Most of the cases cited involved authorities confiscating aid from private donors or arresting them for refusing to hand the aid over.
Zawacki said that more aid is beginning to flow to survivors of the cyclone, but that his organization fears that relief efforts could go forward without proper consideration for human rights.
With files from the Associated Press