Cyclone Nargis – what can be done to help?

Unite for Human Rights

Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.
Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

Handbook for bloggers & cyber-dissidents

Having belonged to Amnesty International for around 30 years, and been “active” in various capacities for most of that time, I felt I couldn’t ignore the “Bloggers Unite for Human Rights Day“. This is joint action by Amnesty International and BlogCatalog, to encourage Bloggers worldwide to blog on a human rights issue on May 15.

And there are many things we could chose to blog about. The most obvious in the context is the case of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, serving a ten-year prison sentence for sending an email to the United States. Yahoo provided information to the Chinese Government that led to his imprisonment.

China currently holds the world record for the imprisonment of journalists and cyber-dissidents – and its record on human rights generally is pretty appalling. Of course, they promised to improve things before the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Perhaps we should write about Tibet! Or send a Mothers Day message to the many Chinese mothers who are still seeking justice for what happened to their children at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

But how can we not mention that one of the worst atrocities and abuses of human rights in the world today is taking place in Darfur, Sudan. The conflict in this country has led to the worst human rights abuses imaginable — the systematic and widespread murder, rape, abduction, and displacement of peaceful citizens.

Or closer to home, the continued illegal detentions at Guantanamo Bay – where the US Government continues to hold detainees beyond the reach of US or international law. Or USA citizen Emanuel Zeltser, who was detained when he flew in to Belarus on 12 March. He has been denied urgent medical attention and reportedly beaten and tortured.

And personally I had thoughts of writing about the death penalty – the ultimate form of State inflicted torture – cruel, inhuman and degrading. It is irrevocable and can be inflicted on the innocent. It has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments.

Cyclone Nargis – appalling human rights catastrophe

I won’t be writing about any of these stories on May 15. Instead, I’m writing today hoping you will take some action. I’m bringing to your attention an appalling human tragedy that has been unfolding over the past week – that can’t wait until Thursday.

On 2 May 2008 Cyclone Nargis ripped across the coast of Myanmar (aka – Burma), bringing misery & devastation to tens of thousands. The United Nations estimates up to 100,000 may have perished and a rough figure of 1.5 million may be affected – as many as 6 million people live in the Irrawaddy Delta that bore the brunt of the storm.

Governments around the world have united to send aid to the stricken country – but most of it sits on runways outside Myanmar without permission to fly in. Planes that have been allowed to land are then seized and foreign charity workers have been unable to distribute the supplies.

What is even more absurd, the military junta is continuing to hold a national referendum on a new constitution despite the country facing this natural disaster and catastrophe. Meanwhile starving survivors are trying to find food amid waterways lined with the rotting bodies of the dead.

The normal reaction – if any – to world disasters is to send money to aid organizations working in the region. At present the military junta is paying lip service, saying they are willing to accept aid “from any corner” – but to date being reluctant to let it in. I want you to call on the government of Myanmar to distribute humanitarian aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

If your country has a representation from the Myanmar Government – i.e. an Embassy – let them know your feelings. Write, fax, phone, email a polite message urging them to let international aid be allowed into their country. Amnesty International USA has a pro forma letter you can email to the US Ambassador – you just add your name & address and press a button. You don’t even have to be a US citizen.

But it should be very easy through the search engines to find the address of your local Embassy (although probably harder to find an email address). And whilst their is a need for urgent action now, this isn’t a problem thats going to be resolved in the short term – so don’t be afraid of snail mail. You can always copy & paste the USA Amnesty letter and adapt as you wish.

There is also a campaign to get the United Nations Security Council — the only body at the UN that can pass binding resolutions – to take action that would allow the international community to send aid to Myanmar whether the Myanmar regime likes it or not. There is a pro forma email you can send to the UN Secretary General.

A final point, if you do want to donate to a charity to help, I’ve sent money to Thirst Aid. From my research they’re a well established, bona fide organization within established links with Myanmar. They have worked inside the country for a number of years and they have a well-established network to get out fresh drinking water – which will be crucial over the next few weeks.

Anna May 10, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Thank you for this. I have also been blogging for Human Rights and I wrote and posted a poem yesterday.

Someone Else’ Crime

I have bookmarked your post. (No objection if you would like to bookmark mine as well). Thank you so much for your efforts.

Robert A. Henru May 11, 2008 at 1:36 am

I’ve got a lot of Burmese colleagues, and they all dislike the government. They are saying that even the alert is not given properly for this disaster. It sounds as if it’s just a normal storm. I’m not sure if it’s right, but I think the government has been very tough with them.

Robert A. Henru’s last blog post..Product Review: Personal branding with The Logo Creator

David May 11, 2008 at 9:38 am

I saw news footage that featured the Indian meteorological service. They say they gave the Myanmar/Burmese Government sufficient warning to have warned those in danger.

Hurricane Katrina Pictures May 12, 2008 at 7:14 am

This is a horrible tragedy. Thank you for information on how we can help drive aid into Myanmar/Burma.

I watched New Orleans suffer for 7 days with little aid. Americans have been through this type of inexcusable red tape about getting the aid they needed right away.

This tragedy is far worse than Hurricane Katrina so I hope others who read this will take action right away to help these people. They will die soon if we can’t get aid to them. It’s been 9 days since the cyclone. I’m sure the death toll has risen considerably since May 2 because of lack of clean water and food.


Hurricane Katrina Pictures’s last blog post..ABC News Footage of Lower 9th Ward Levee Breach

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