ICRC should visit prison labour camps in Burma: Political prisoner

ew Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma’s many prisons give prisoners poor food and bad health services, and prisoners need the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a former political prisoner and families of political prisoners said.

icrc“I had to serve my prison term when the ICRC did not come to the prison, so we had to fight for our basic rights regarding the food. Usually we only got very low quality vegetable soup called ‘talabaw’ and low-quality rice,” a former political prisoner Kyaw Win Tun told Mizzima.

icrcKyaw Win Tun, an NLD member, was charged under section 505 (b) of the Penal Code and sentenced to two years in prison. In May 2011, he was released under the one-year commutation ordered by new President Thein Sein.

Political prisoner Pannate Tun, an “88 Generation” student who is now serving his prison term in Bhamo Prison in Kachin State, said he wanted the ICRC to go to prison labour camps, according to Pannate Tun’s mother, Nyunt Nyunt Oo, who visited him last month at Bhamo Prison. Pannate Tun was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

She said her son passed on this message: “If the ICRC doesn’t come to us, let it be. But, they really need to go to the prisoners’ labour camps. Prisoners died because of insufficient food, ruthless exploitation, and very hard work.”

The Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) said that the Burmese government needs to provide prisoners with healthy food by modern standards.

“The standards set in Burma’s prison manual were set in British colonial times, so they do not conform to today’s prices. And the Directorate of Prison Administration cannot provide the prisoners with enough food at today’s prices,” AAPP-B joint secretary Bo Kyi told Mizzima. He said the Burmese government should let the ICRC work freely in Burma.

From 1999 to late 2005, the ICRC was allowed to visit prisons across Burma and give prisoners help in order that they could get healthy food and good health services in accordance with international standards. Moreover, the ICRC gave money to families of political prisoners in order that the families could visit their loved ones.

But at the end 2005, the former junta told the ICRC that if it wanted to visit prisons across Burma, it must be accompanied by a member of the now-defunct Union Solidarity and Development Association. As a result, the ICRC stopped visiting prisons across Burma.

In early June, US Senator John McCain visited Burma for three days and urged the Burmese government to let the ICRC visit prisons in Burma freely.

On Thursday, the state-run newpaper New Light of Myanmar reported that an engineer and officers from the ICRC were allowed to visit Mawlamyine, Hpaan and Myaungmya Prisons on July 1, where they inspected the situation regarding accessibility of water and electric power in the prisons. The newspaper did not mention whether the ICRC met with prisoners or not.

Since 1986, the ICRC has provided help to mine victims and the handicapped in Burma.

There are 42 prisons and 109 prison labour camps in Burma. There are total 1,994 political prisoners in Burma, according to AAPP-B.

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