The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will be been allowed to resume prison visits in Burma beginning next week following a deal hammered out between President Thein Sein and the organisation’s chair Peter Maurer.
“We agreed to start pilot detention visits as early as next week,” said an ICRC spokesperson in Rangoon Takanori Hosokawa.
“We discussed about broader access to conflict area zones in some parts of the country and also we discussed our current and future activity our operation in Rakhine (Arakan) state.”
Conditions inside Burma’s 43 detention facilities are notoriously poor, with malaria rife and abuse of prisoners by officials is commonplace.
Nyo Htun from the Rangoon-based Former Political Prisoners League welcomed the government’s decision.
“We delightfully welcome the move,” said Nyo Htun. “In Burma, there are very few rights for all prisoners including the political detainees and this is such a positive sign that ICRC is being allowed back in.”
ICRC conducted prison visits in Burma from 1999 to 2005, but the organisation was banned after refusing to let the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (now the Union Solidarity and Development Party) accompany them on visits.
In July 2011, a small number of ICRC staff were informally allowed to visit prisons in Hpa-an, Moulmein and Myaungmya townships but were unable to meet with inmates and inspect prison conditions.
“It will be a very good thing for the prisoners to have the ICRC making visits,” said Tate Naing of Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB). “We see that their rights, living conditions, health care and facilities will be improved.”
On 5 January, AAPPB published an updated list that claims that more than 200 political prisoners still remain behind bars in Burma.