Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director, Amnesty International, writes:
The article Myanmar’s cyclone crisis and India’s aid by P.S. Suryanarayana published in The Hindu on 30 May 2008 quotes India’s Minister of State Jairam Ramesh as having “saluted the people and the Government of Myanmar for their resilience and fortitude in facing [the] devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis” when he attended the 25 May aid conference organised by the United Nations and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at Yangon.
If the Minister is quoted correctly, then his views place India outside the strong consensus of the international community, including China and Myanmar’s fellow ASEAN members, such as Indonesia, which have addressed Myanmar’s failure to assist the cyclone’s 2.5 million survivors. The article goes on to quote the Indian Minister as having urged the international community to keep the aid process “apolitical … in the true humanitarian spirit.”
In fact, it is Myanmar’s leaders who politicised the aid effort by blocking much-needed aid due to their obsession with perpetuating their oppressive rule. For two weeks after the cyclone, The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) not only dismally failed to provide much-needed relief to their own population, it also blocked humanitarian assistance and disaster relief experts from reaching those most in need, amounting to a blatant violation of international human rights obligations. According to reports received by Amnesty International, nearly a month after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar’s coast, no more than 40 per cent of up to 2.5 million survivors of the cyclone have received any international assistance at all. This result stands in stark contrast to the readiness and openness with which the regions’ governments, including India, dealt with the December 2004 tsunami.
“Violation of right to life, adequate food”
The Myanmar government’s obstruction and neglect constitute a violation of the right to life, adequate food and health care. In short, in the past four weeks, the SPDC has proven itself lacking the expertise, infrastructure, equipment, and, so far, the political will, to address the devastation in the Irrawaddy delta.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar desperately need help that only a truly international effort can provide.
A trusted neighbour to Myanmar and one of the closest partners of the SPDC, India could play a tremendously important role in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, and boost its standing as a true global actor, by siding with the people of Myanmar. Instead of saluting the SPDC, India should press the SPDC Myanmar government to allow aid and expertise to reach those who need it most as soon as possible.