human rights - even more important in a crisis

The term humanitarian aid tells its own story. That when disasters happen it is a basic, and inherently human, response to rush to help the victims.

Cyclone Nargis killed tens of thousands of people, and displaced around a million more, when it hit the delta of the Irrawaddy river last weekend. Yet as we catch increasing glimpses of the devastation it left behind there is one group who seem willing to stand apart while the Burmese people suffer. Indeed their efforts seem more directed towards preventing others from arriving to help.

The unelected military leaders who rule Burma (or Myanmar, as they renamed the country some years ago) are stalling on issuing visas to humanitarian relief staff and refusing to allow planes carrying emergency supplies to land.

Leave aside for a moment how a Government could act with such disregard for the wellbeing of its people. It is happening, so how should we respond?

Sadly this behaviour is of little surprise to us at Amnesty International. This after all is a regime which brutally crushed last Septembers so-called Saffron Revolution. Back then peaceful protests led by thousands of monks, were met with violence. Dozens were killed and hundreds detained.

The United Nations and the European Union were up in arms at the time, and they even forced a promise out of the military junta. They promised that they would fully cooperate with the United Nations and stop their politically-motivated arrests and trials.

For a brief moment progess seemed to be on the cards. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, visited Burma back in November. His recommendations were adopted by the UN Human Rights Council a month later.

And then nothing.

Arrests linked to the Saffron Revolution continue to this day. Reports continue to flood in to Amnesty International of people involved in the protests being physically attacked by the authorities late at night and out of sight of witnesses.

To make a difference the global community needs to resurrect the memories of last autumn and put the heat back on to the Burmese military junta over human rights.

It might seem as if the current turmoil supercedes any concerns over what might seem more abstract human rights. Yet human rights are more important at times of crisis, not less.

It is the human right to freedom of expression that enables people to stand up and demand action. It is the human right to food, clothing and shelter that provides the moral and legal framework that underpins a humanitarian aid effort. And it is the human right to take part in the government of ones country that has the potential to make even the most despotic of regimes take heed of the needs of its people.

Of course direct material aid is needed right now. You can access the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee here .

This piece is largely cribbed from an article I wrote for the Herald. See here

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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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