The crazy world of Burmese PR

Burma’s public relations department really does need a bit of an overhaul. Their PR was bad enough before Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Delta two weeks ago – and it’s only got worse over the last 14 days.When faced with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, what can possibly persuade anyone that they should prioritise the logistics required to run a referendum instead of helping their own citizens? Hello Burma, people are dying.

It was a point well made in The New Statesman.

And then of course there is the issue of aid. What can be going through their minds to make them decide to turn away international experts – some of whom happen to be undergoing an extensive training exercise over the border in Thailand.

Being a bit cynical, it was also a chance to show a human and caring face of Burma that could have softened the global community’s stance towards it, but I don’t suppose that really matters to a regime that’s been isolationist and repressive for the best part of five decades. But then again I’m not a general in the Burmese military junta.

There has been a slight softening in Burma’s hard line over the last 24 hours. They have at last allowed in UN aid, as reported in today’s Independent. And they have also announced three days of public mourning.

Amnesty International, of course, has a lot to say on the matter. Today, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is meeting in Singapore and Amnesty has written an open letter to the group’s Secretary General calling on all ASEAN states to take urgent action to help Burma.

The ASEAN states are one of the few groups that really can make a difference in Burma they’ve all signed up to the ASEAN Charter which talks of “protecting human rights” and “enhancing the well-being and livelihood of the peoples”. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that isn’t happening when it comes to Burma.In the letter Amnesty accuses the Burmese authorities of showing “disregard for their people by impounding aid, raising roadblocks and denying visas to humanitarian workers and relief experts”. Meanwhile, reports from inside the country also suggest some aid has been siphoned off.

If the ASEAN states are to honour their own charter then they really need to start putting the pressure on Burma to ensure that the right experts can get immediate access to all the victims in the disaster area. The fear is that it may already be too late.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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