03/03/2009, 00.00
MYANMAR

Burmese junta should answer for crimes against humanity concerning cyclone victims

This is the charge of an NGO, which accuses the military junta of exploiting labor - including that of minors - confiscating humanitarian aid, and forced evictions. The report is based on interviews with volunteers and victims involved in cyclone Nargis. In Laputta, there is a shortage of drinking water and the risk of disease is high.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Burmese government should appear before the International Criminal Court to face human rights charges; the dictatorship committed abuses and crimes in the months following the tragedy of Nargis. This is the harsh condemnation from a humanitarian association that has documented the violations committed by the military toward victims of the cyclone.

"The charge of crimes against humanity is a very grave and serious one," says Chris Beyrer, director of the U.S.-based Center for Public Health and Human Rights, an NGO. "But in the context of a relief effort like this, where you have evidence of forced labour, forced relocation and confiscation of relief aid, these are documented violations that need to be taken seriously."

"After the Storm: Voices from the Delta" is the first independent report - free from censorship by the Burmese military dictatorship - recounting the drama of cyclone victims. It is based on material collected in 90 interviews with volunteers and survivors. It details obstacles and threats directed against volunteers, cases of the disappearance of humanitarian aid that was later resold, and the use of forced labor for reconstruction, including the exploitation of child labor.

For 20 villages in the area of Laputta, in the Irrawaddy delta, there is also the risk of a shortage of drinking water, because of contamination of collection basins and sources. The NGO Emergency Assistance Team says that many people are forced to use drinking water mixed with sea water. Families in the villages are allowed two bottles of drinking water a day - at fifty cents each - and about 4 liters of non-potable water for personal hygiene and laundry purposes. The arrival of summer and the lack of desalination facilities could lead to the deterioration of the situation; cases of diarrhea have emerged among children, and there are fears of widespread disease.

A recent report drafted by the UN and ASEAN - the association that unites 10 countries of Southeast Asia - estimates that 700 million dollars will be needed over the next three years to guarantee reconstruction work in the areas hit by Nargis. The cyclone caused the death of about 140,000 people, but it is estimated that more than 2.4 million Burmese suffered damages of various kinds, and the devastating effects of the cyclone are still being felt.

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