Burma cyclone response was ‘crime against humanity’
Burma’s regime deliberately blocked international aid getting to victims of last year’s cyclone, a report has claimed.
By Thomas Bell, South East Asia Correspondent
Last Updated: 11:33PM GMT 26 Feb 2009
The first independent inquiry into the aftermath of the disaster has said the authorities should be referred to the International Criminal Court for stopping help getting through and persecuting survivors.
It found the Burmese leadership failed to provide adequate food, shelter and medical care in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which struck the Irrawaddy Delta on May 2 last year, killing at least 140 000 people.
Around 3.4 million people were effected by the disaster, which swept away homes, farms, granaries, livestock and wells.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in America and an organisation of Burmese volunteers called the Emergency Assistance Team – Burma (EAT) have documented what happened in the following weeks.
Military checkpoints were set up across the delta as the regime treated the disaster not as a humanitarian emergency but as a security crisis.
The report claims some people who attempted to distribute private aid were arrested. It details allegations of aid being stolen and resold by the military authorities.
The researchers also claim the army used forced labour, including of children, in the aftermath of the disaster.
According to one survivor: “[The army] did not help us, they threatened us. Everyone in the village was required to work for five days, morning and evening, without compensation. Children were required to work too.
“A boy got injured in his leg and he got fever. After two or three days he was taken to Rangoon, but in a few [days] he died.”
There were also anecdotal accounts of people dying in the aftermath of the cyclone due to the actions of the army.
But restrictions in the country mean no one has been able to estimate how many died in a supposed “second wave” of deaths in the period after the cyclone.
Under international law, creating conditions where the basic survival needs of civilians cannot be adequately met, “intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health,” is considered a crime against humanity.
The report concludes that the United Nations Security Council should refer the junta for investigation by the International Criminal Court.