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Report outlines regime’s post-Nargis ‘failure’

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A report just issued by New York-based Human Rights Watch sharply counters claims made by some that following Cyclone Nargis there was a general opening of space across Burma. 

Human Rights Watch notes in its extensive research that despite making some significant gains in fixing areas severely affected by the cyclone the “Burmese government continues to deny basic freedoms and place undue restrictions on aid.”

The rights body’s deputy Asia director, Elaine Pearson, said: “Two years after one of the world’s worst natural disasters, local aid workers still feel the brunt of continued repression by the military authorities.” 

She added:  “Intense international pressure pushed the military government to open the door to foreign aid agencies, but Burma’s generals have kept it shut for domestic critics, many of whom remain in prison for speaking out for fellow citizens in need.”

The interviews and evidence presented in the report paints a stark picture of life in Nargis-affected areas where the Burmese regime’s dictatorial and corrupt methods have severely hampered a rapid recovery.

One of those interviewed for the report was Khin Mar Wai (not her real name), a young woman from an isolated village in Laputta Township.

She failed to receive any assistance of any kind for more than a month after the cyclone and told an interviewer: “No one came to rescue us. When we heard there were donations in other villages we went there and begged for food. We begged from the cars passing on the road. We got [into] trouble from the authorities ... we ran to the cars and asked for donations. Later we were forced to return to our village by the authorities. They said the local officials would come [and] give us donations. We were threatened that we would be arrested if we did not return.”

Her story and the many others presented in the report offer a stark contrast to the glowing claims of some international NGOs who praised the post-Nargis conduct of the Burmese regime.  Last May, in an interview in The New York Times, Oxfam’s former Burma policy adviser Lilianne Fan optimistically claimed that with regards to Nargis, the “overall response of the government has been remarkable”. Fan went as far as to suggest that those in the regime “are ‘getting it’ more and more each day that they are involved in the recovery process”.

The report exposes the Burmese military regime’s obsession with conducting what the group called a “sham” constitutional referendum in the wake of the worst natural disaster to hit the country in decades. A young woman from Dedaye Township described the referendum process to Human Rights Watch this way: “I have no idea what the constitution is. But we did vote after Nargis. We were told just to cast a  ‘Yes’ vote. I don’t know how the result came out. At the time, people were struggling hard to survive. We just did what we were told.”

Documented in the report are the great lengths the Burmese regime undertook to deter private individuals from helping their fellow citizens. “Notice to Philanthropists, Donors” is the title of one of the regime’s pamphlets distributed in Nargis-affected areas that is featured in the report. The pamphlet strongly discourages private donors from giving assistance to those affected by the cyclone claiming that doing so “destroys people’s motivation to return to their previous vocations”.

It is a fitting tribute that the report takes its title from an interview comedian and relief activist Zargana gave with exile media just before his arrest in June 2008. 

“I want to save my own people. That’s why we go with any donations we can get. But the government doesn’t like our work. It is not interested in helping people. It just wants to tell the world and the rest of the country that everything is under control and that it has already saved its people.” 

The much-loved comedian was jailed for 35 years after “illegally” delivering aid to victims of the cyclone.

Last Updated ( Friday, 30 April 2010 12:33 )  

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