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Southeast Asian MPs condemn the Myanmar military’s response to Cyclone Mocha and urge support for local organizations

14/06/2023

Southeast Asian MPs condemn the Myanmar military’s response to Cyclone Mocha and urge support for local organizations

JAKARTA – The Myanmar junta’s inadequate and discriminatory response to Cyclone Mocha must prompt  ASEAN, ASEAN member states, and the wider international community to bypass the junta and provide more aid and support through local ethnic and civil society organizations, parliamentarians from Southeast Asia said today.

One month has passed since Cyclone Mocha landed and caused devastation in western Myanmar on 14 June 2023. Since then, at least 145 people and likely hundreds more have been killed with many more injured and suffering from a lack of food, clean water and shelter. At least 1.6 million people were affected by the hurricane in Chin, Sagaing, Magway, Kachin, and Rakhine, which has a large Rohingya Muslim community that has long been the target of discrimination and persecution.

We are deeply concerned about the welfare of Cyclone Mocha survivors, especially those located in ethnic minority regions,” APHR Chairperson and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives Mercy Barends said today. “Vulnerable communities such as the Rohingya are once again the victims of the junta’s incompetence and callous disregard for human life.”

The Myanmar junta’s failure to respond promptly and effectively to the cyclone has left the lives of thousands in limbo. Their negligence has been compounded by the absurd decision to block access to Rakhine state for aid workers and humanitarian groups, including the United Nations, in clear violation of humanitarian norms and international human rights laws. The junta has made their bad faith clear by the use of racist language in state-run media, calling the Rohingya in Rakhine state ‘Bengalis.’

Meanwhile Chin, Sagaing, and Magway have all been the target of a devastating campaign of airstrikes, raids, and arson by the Myanmar junta in recent months, and residents have even alleged that the military conducted attacks while the cyclone was happening.

Myanmar’s past history with natural disasters and health crises show that this type of ineffective and at times malicious response is unfortunately nothing new. 

During the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the Myanmar military largely rejected the assistance of international relief efforts. It prolonged response times by “delaying the issuance of visas to aid workers, prohibiting foreign helicopters and boats from making deliveries to support the relief operation, obstructing travel by aid agencies to affected areas, and preventing local and international media.”

In the same vein, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the military weaponized the virus by attempting to control the population, attacking medics and first responders while also prioritizing their own access to personal protective equipment and other key COVID-19 supplies. 

In stark contrast, ethnic revolutionary organizations (EROs) and humanitarian responders have proven integral to the disaster response so far. Days after the cyclone hit, the Arakan Army and the United League of Arakan formed the Cyclone Mocha Emergency Rescue and Rehabilitation Committee for Arakan. The Arakan Army also assisted with relocation efforts for approximately 100,000 civilians before the storm hit. Other EROs and the National Unity Government (NUG) have also donated significant funds to the relief effort.

Past experience has shown that the Myanmar military’s response to any crisis is inept at best and inhumane at worst. The junta clearly cannot be trusted to facilitate any form of aid, and certainly not in regions where it has only weeks ago conducted brutal airstrikes,” said Barends. “Donor countries and institutions should urgently divert their aid to local ethnic and civil society organizations that have a proven track record of helping those most in need. Failure to do so would be a grave disservice to the thousands of people that have fallen victim not only to a deadly disaster, but also to a murderous authoritarian regime.”

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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