Burma/Burma: Cyclone relief- Asian governments must insist on swift action

Leaders of Amnesty International in the Asia Pacific region, who are meeting in Hong Kong, have called on their governments to use every means possible to pressure the Burmese authorities to focus on disaster relief and facilitate international assistance to protect the rights to life, food and health of its citizens.

The chair of Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Forum, Mika Kamae said:
“Our governments, from the ASEAN countries, Japan, India, South Korea and China are best placed to influence the Burma authorities to lift the blockages and allow aid, expertise and materials to reach the millions now in need. Time is of the essence if lives are to be saved.”

It is now over a week since Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawady delta, killing tens of thousands and leaving over a million homeless, without essential food, shelter or healthcare.

A UN flash appeal has attracted millions of dollars in government donations, and many disaster relief agencies are assembled on standby in Thailand. However, the Burmese government is still impeding such life-saving assistance. It has yet to issue sufficient visas to the three international agencies it has approached for assistance (World Vision, Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and UNICEF).

Amnesty International believes that by deliberately blocking life-sustaining aid, the government of Burma may be violating the right of its citizens to life, food, and health.

Milabel Cristobal, Director of the Amnesty International Hong Kong section said:
“The Burma authorities must also give complete priority to mobilising their own resources for disaster response.

“Instead considerable government resources have been tied up conducting the constitutional referendum, even in close proximity to the devastation. There can be no clearer message to the destitute about the priorities of those in power.”

Children's rights are the most vulnerable to the after effects of natural disasters. As a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Burmese authorities also have legal obligations to uphold their rights to life, food and health “to the maximum extent of their available resources, and where needed within the framework of international co-operation”.

Swift facilitation of assistance from the region is also necessary to uphold the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (2005) which Burma has ratified.

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