ICRC requests access in Burma

Nov 2, 2007 (DVB), The International Committee of the Red Cross has officially asked the Burmese government for access to all detainees in the country, particularly those arrested in the recent protests.

In a press release issued yesterday, the ICRC noted that the whereabouts of many of those detained since the beginning of the demonstrations remains unclear, causing great anxiety to their families.

The organisation is seeking to restart a programme of regular visits to detention facilities and help family members to find and contact those who are still being held.

"The ICRC is ready to resume all its activities at very short notice, provided it is given the necessary guarantees that it will be able to act as a neutral and independent humanitarian organization," the organisation said.

The ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl, said earlier in an interview on 15 October that the organisation was "deeply worried" about the thousands of people arrested and reported missing.

The ICRC has tried to re-establish dialogue with the Burmese government to address the most immediate humanitarian concerns, but their attempts have so far been unsuccessful.

In June the ICRC took the highly unusual step of publicly denouncing the "systematic abuses" of detainees and civilians by the government and urging immediate action to put and end to these violations.

"The ICRC has repeatedly drawn attention to these abuses but the authorities have failed to put a stop to them," said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the ICRC.

The ICRC usually engages with governments directly and confidentially to highlight and seek to resolve violations of humanitarian norms, but this has not been possible with the Burmese regime.

"[Confidential dialogue] presupposes that parties to a conflict are willing to enter into a serious discussion and take into account the ICRC’s recommendations," said Kellenberger.

"This has not been the case with the authorities of Myanmar and that is why the ICRC has decided to speak out publicly."

The ICRC stopped their regular visits to detainees in prisons and labour camps in December 2005 because they were not able to follow their standards procedures, such as speaking in private with detainees and conducting follow-up visits to see if recommendations are being put into practice.

In November 2006, the Burmese government stated that the ICRC would no longer be able to conduct visits to detainees, and also ordered it to close its five field offices in the country.

Reporting by DVB

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