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ICRC Denounces Rights Violations in Burma

The International Committee of the Red Cross has strongly denounced the government of Burma for major and repeated violations of human rights committed against civilians and detainees. The group is asking Burma to end the infringements of international humanitarian law. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

ICRC spokeswoman for Asia and the Pacific, Carla Haddad, tells VOA the organization has run out of patience with the government's stonewalling. Therefore, she says, the ICRC is taking the rare step of publicly condemning the abusive treatment of citizens by Burma, which it calls Myanmar.

"The ICRC has reached the step of resorting to public denunciation because it has exhausted all possibilities to restore dialogue with the government of Myanmar," said Carla Haddad. "And, in the face of this persisting deadlock there was no way to raise awareness of other states and the international community on the situation in Myanmar, whether for civilians or for detainees."

Haddad says the Red Cross is especially concerned about systematic abuses committed against prisoners and civilians. But, for the past two years, she says the Burmese authorities have rebuffed all efforts to discuss these pressing humanitarian issues.

She says Red Cross delegates have not even been able to meet with the top authorities to talk about the situation.

She says the ICRC has uncovered the abuse of thousands of prisoners who are forced to support the armed forces by serving as porters.

"By porters, it means that they are asked to carry heavy loads," she said. "It is an institutionalized and widespread practice. This practice has led to the abuse of detainees who are exposed to the dangers of armed conflict because they are used to support the military effort. Many detainees used as porters have suffered from exhaustion, malnutrition, and have been subjected to degrading treatment. Some have even been murdered."

Haddad says civilians also are in peril. She says men, women and children living along the Thai-Burma border are subjected to repeated abuse by the army. She says they too are used as porters.

She says the army has severely restricted their freedom of movement, making it impossible for many villagers to work their fields. She says civilians are victims of arbitrary arrest, detention and murder.

The Red Cross has been present in Burma since 1985. For several years, it has operated with a skeletal staff. In mid-March, the ICRC closed its three offices in the country because, Haddad says, the government imposed too many restrictions on its staff.