Myanmar: the head of delegation talks about ICRC activities
The ICRC's head of delegation in Myanmar, Patrick Vial, talks about the ICRC's activities in the country and explains why the organization has been unable to carry out detention visits since the end of last year.
Patrick Vial, head of delegation in Myanmar
What are the activities carried out by the ICRC in Myanmar?
The ICRC's role in conflict-affected areas in Myanmar is to assess the security and living conditions of civilian populations. In support of this role, the ICRC also carries out health, water and sanitation programmes, assisting the most affected villages. The ICRC used to conduct such activities in eastern and southern Shan State, Kayin State and Tanintharyi Division but is now predominantly restricted to certain areas of Kayin State.
The ICRC started a physical rehabilitation programme in Myanmar in 1986 that continues to support seven orthopaedic centres around the country. This support includes providing material, equipment, technical expertise and training in prosthesis manufacture and the physical rehabilitation of amputees. The ICRC also runs an outreach programme with the Myanmar Red Cross Society that refers amputees living in remote areas to orthopaedic services.
As to detention activities, the ICRC was visiting 90 prisons and labour camps throughout the country that fall under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Since the programme began in 1999, the ICRC has carried out over 450 such visits.
In addition, the ICRC is engaged in promoting knowledge of international humanitarian law among government officials and academics, and supports the development of the Myanmar Red Cross Society, including in disaster management and first aid training.
What has the ICRC achieved in 6 years of visiting prisons and labour camps?
Good cooperation between the ICRC and the prison department enabled the achievement of significant improvements in the physical and psychological conditions of detention in Myanmar.
The creation of a Red Cross message (RCM) network allowed all detainees to re-establish and maintain contact with their families. The ICRC also assisted certain categories of detainees to receive monthly visits from family members. Such detainees include those arrested in relation to conflict and internal disturbances or those requiring special attention such as minors, the elderl y, the sick or vulnerable.
As to health matters, the ICRC cooperates with the Ministry of Health and prison department in improving detainees'access to health care. The organization provided half of the essential medicines and hygiene needs of all detention facilities in Myanmar that it regularly visits. Furthermore, the ICRC has undertaken several infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to clean water and sanitation, as well as health facilities. All this has been possible through a continuous and constructive dialogue with the prison authorities and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
What about detention activities today?
The ICRC detention teams faced increasing difficulties towards the end of last year in conducting detention visits: some of the standard working modalities that the ICRC applies to its operations around the world had been challenged by the authorities since mid-2005. As a result, the ICRC has been unable to visit detention facilities since the end of 2005.
The ICRC is currently engaged in ongoing discussions and negotiations with the Government authorities to resolve the situation. We remain optimistic and hope to resume detention activities as soon as possible for the sake of detainees and their families.