DEC 11 – Following the Myanmar government’s announcement that the ICRC is to resume prison visits, Alain Aeschlimann, head of ICRC operations for East and South East Asia and the Pacific, explains what this decision means.
Q: In November, the Myanmar government issued a press release stating that the ICRC was to resume prison visits in the country. Is that correct?
A: Yes. The Myanmar authorities announced their decision at a bilateral meeting in Nay Pyi Taw. Naturally, we are very pleased about this, and we look forward to visiting prisons and other places of detention. During those visits, the ICRC will assess the welfare and living conditions of the inmates and work on various issues related to prison management, in particular the prison health system.
Q: How are you going to put this decision into practice?
A: We intend to start detention visits as soon as possible, rather than sitting in offices discussing the subject. We agreed with the authorities that we would start with a pilot visit, during which we would follow the standard working methods and procedures that we use all over the world. We intend this pilot visit to enhance mutual understanding between the Myanmar government and the ICRC on the benefits of ICRC detention visits. After the pilot visit, we will plan how to expand our prison visits to the rest of the country. This planning operation will include determining the human and financial resources required for this important task.
Q: Does that mean the ICRC is going to adapt its procedures to the situation in Myanmar?
A: No. The procedures for ICRC detention visits are the same everywhere. However, we always adapt our response and our services to the real needs in each context, so that we can work with the authorities and help them improve the treatment of detainees and conditions of detention.
Q: Have you been working in Myanmar prisons over the last few months?
A: We did carry out a number of infrastructure projects during 2011 and 2012. This is not the same as conducting our normal visits, during which we would talk to inmates in private and assess the overall functioning of a place of detention. During this period, the ICRC has replaced the water and sewerage systems in seven places of detention, which represented a major improvement in conditions for the inmates.
And even while the ICRC was not undertaking conventional prison visits, we continued to facilitate visits by families to their relatives detained far from home.
Q: What are you doing in the rest of the country, especially in Rakhine State?
A: The ICRC set up a permanent presence in Sittwe in June 2012, right after the outbreak of violence in the area. Together with the Myanmar Red Cross Society, we are providing basic but vital assistance to the sick, wounded and displaced, regardless of their origins. Both organisations are evacuating patients who cannot get to health facilities on their own and giving first aid to the injured. In addition, we are renovating sanitation facilities and supplying water in camps for displaced persons. Following the last outbreak of violence, in October, we are considering a significant increase in our involvement.
In other parts of the country, we are supporting four rehabilitation workshops for amputees run by the Myanmar Red Cross or the Ministry of Health. We are also waiting for authorisation to carry out assessment missions in the border areas of Kahin and Kayin and would be ready to conduct medical activities in these conflict-affected areas.
The Malaysian Insider/ICRC
11 December 2012