Myanmar Junta Rejects Red Cross Request to Resume Prison Visits 

By The Irrawaddy 23 June 2022

Myanmar’s military regime has rejected the request of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to resume its prison visits and other humanitarian activities and allow family visits. 

ICRC regional director for Asia-Pacific Christine Cipolla made the request during her visit to Myanmar from June 15-18, when she met junta cabinet members including the defense, home affairs and health ministers, according to a June 20 ICRC statement. 

In the statement, the ICRC said that it regrets that no agreement on these two points was achieved, but the organization remains determined to continue its work in support of people detained and their families. 

Prison visits by the ICRC and families of detainees have been suspended since March 2020, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Correctional Department official told The Irrawaddy that the regime has neither allowed nor given particular instructions about the ICRC’s two requests. 

“We have not yet received any instructions regarding the ICRC’s requests. It has been a while since ICRC visits were barred due to COVID-19,” said the official.

The junta has locked up thousands of people mostly due to their anti-regime activism. As of Wednesday, more than 11,000 people have been arrested since the February 1, 2021 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). 

A relative of an inmate in Dawei Prison called on prison authorities to allow family members to meet their detained relatives. “We can only leave food and other items with prison guards for now,” she said. 

In her meeting with the regime’s cabinet ministers, the ICRC regional director called for the facilitation of humanitarian responses in Chin, Kayah and Karen states, as well as in Magwe and Sagaing regions, including in areas where ethnic armed organizations are present.

“Many communities displaced by violence are in dire need of basic necessities – such as food, water and shelter – and have no access to healthcare and other essential services. Parties to the conflict must do their utmost to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of neutral and impartial humanitarian relief,” the regional director said in the ICRC’s statement. 

On the framework of the ICRC’s bilateral and confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflicts, the regional director also shared the ICRC view on issues pertaining to respect of international humanitarian law and other applicable standards on the use of force by security forces, the statement added. 

The ICRC regional director also met with the leadership of the Myanmar Red Cross Society to discuss further cooperation and coordination. Both organizations reiterated their commitment to upholding principled humanitarian action and acting in line with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s fundamental principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.

In March, rights groups called on the ICRC to probe human rights violations in Myanmar’s jails and the use of sexual violence against political prisoners.

Prison authorities are also committing other human rights violations, especially targeting political prisoners who continue to show their opposition to the military regime while in jail. They have reportedly been placed in solitary confinement, as well as being denied visits by relatives. Some have also been subjected to beatings by inmates imprisoned for criminal offences and denied medical treatment. Prison authorities have also reportedly limited the water supply in jails. 

Last July, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which is made up of ousted lawmakers, urged ICRC Myanmar to address the rights abuses in prisons in line with international humanitarian principles. Political activists detained in prisons, police cells, interrogation camps and military hospitals are not treated with human dignity and are denied the right to defend themselves legally and to receive medical treatment. 

While human rights violations are now widespread in Myanmar since the coup, rights abuses in prisons take place in the shadows, said the AAPP.

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