Int’l Red Cross Asks Myanmar Junta Chief for Access to Prisons

By The Irrawaddy 4 June 2021

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged Myanmar’s coup leader to allow the organization to resume its prison visits and other humanitarian activities that were halted last year due to COVID-19.

The request came at a time when the regime has locked up thousands of people mostly due to their anti-regime activism. As of Thursday, more than 4,500 people had been arrested since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), an activist group monitoring arrests and fatalities committed by the regime. The detainees include the country’s ousted de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other pro-democracy activists.

In his meeting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on Thursday, ICRC president Peter Maurer said it was important that the organization be allowed to resume its purely humanitarian visits and activities in places of detention, according to a statement released by the Geneva-based NGO.

“Such visits and activities are essential to secure humane treatment and condition of detention for all detainees and to restore communication between detainees and their families,” the ICRC said.

Maurer said the people of Myanmar are caught between armed conflict, COVID-19 and the disruptions resulting from the coup and are in need of urgent assistance and protection.

He is the most senior representative of an international organization to meet the coup leader since the military takeover in February.

During his meeting, the ICRC president also raised key humanitarian issues including “the use of force during security operations.”

Apart from prison visits, Maurer made a case for broader humanitarian access in Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Shan and Rakhine states.

The regime leader was “noncommittal” on Maurer’s requests but did not refuse them, according to Nikkei Asia, citing people familiar with the meeting.

Ko Bo Kyi, co-founder and joint secretary of the AAPP, said that despite the ICRC chief’s direct appeal, it remained unclear to what extent the ICRC would be free to visit and meet with prisoners.

“If they are not allowed, there’s nothing they can do,” he said, citing previous incidents under the former military regime.

Given the nature of the ICRC, he said, its presence in the prisons wouldn’t make much difference in terms of the conditions experienced by political prisoners.

“They are a humanitarian association. All they can do is facilitate communication between detainees and their families, as well as donate medicines to prison hospitals. You can’t expect much more,” Ko Bo Kyi said.

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