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Public Health School Calls for Investigation into Burma's Handling of Cyclone Recovery


A report led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine has called for a United Nations investigation into Burma's handling of aid and assistance to cyclone hit regions last year, accusing the military government of crimes against humanity. Relief groups are calling on Asian countries and the international community to press Burma's military government towards greater transparency and accountability in receiving assistance.

The report, a joint project of aid workers from the Thai-Burma border and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, charges Burma's military government with abuse and corruption in its handling of aid and recovery to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region hit by last year's cyclone Nargis.

The report charges Burma's military of resisting international and regional aid, interference in assistance, confiscation of aid and resale, arrest of aid workers, discrimination in aid along ethnic lines, forced labor and confiscation of land.

Chris Beyer, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the key recommendation is for a United Nations investigation into the charges that may represent "crimes against humanity."

"Taken together there is an argument to be made for an assessment and we call for an investigation of crimes against humanity - that is based on the Rome Statute article 7-IK - essentially its based on the argument that there has been intentionally great suffering, mental and physical health," he said.

The project report, After the Storm: Voices from the Delta, was centered on interviews with relief workers and Burmese army defectors over several months after the devastation of the cyclone in May that claimed tens of thousand of lives.

Immediately after the cyclone, over 300 Burma aid workers from the Thai-Burma border worked as teams delivering assistance into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region, often undercover to avoid military checkpoints and arrest.

Burma's military government has been widely criticized for its slow response to the disaster and restrictions it placed on access of assistance to the region, including direct aid from neighboring Asian countries.

Beyer says, based on the interviews with aid workers, the allegations of misconduct and abuse highlighted in the report appeared to be widespread throughout the Delta Region.

"We can say with some confidence that most of what was being reported was common," he said. "Force relocation, virtually everybody we interviewed reported forced relocation, forced labor was also common, forced child labor less common. The confiscation, thefts and resale of relief aid was ubiquitous - that appeared to be very much standard operating procedure throughout the area."

Dr. Cynthia Maung, who oversees a Burmese health clinic in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, said the Association of South East Asian Nations - ASEAN - and international community had to pressure the military to be held accountable in the delivery of aid.

"As you see in the report and as we found out in the information inside Burma - the relief effort should be more thorough and more accountable," she said. "Our aim is to how to become more effective to deliver assistance as well as for the reconstruction of the country, how to rebuild or broaden the cooperation between the community organization and the international comunity".

The report stands in contrast to a recent positive review by the tripartite U.N, ASEAN and Burma's military, that the leadership "had gained a higher degree of confidence" in working with the international community. The tripartite assistance group called for a further $700 million in funding over three years to assist in longer term recovery to cyclone affected regions.

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