By WAI MOE
The researchers of a report, “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta,” which details human rights issues in the cyclone-affected areas of southwestern Burma, responded on Tuesday to criticism by 21 international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) by defending their report, saying “we stand by the integrity of our methods.”
The researchers of the report, the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Thailand-based Emergency Assistance Team-Burma (EAT), said they recognized that INGOs in Burma are motivated by real concern for the welfare of the people affected by the cyclone and called on the INGOs to “engage in open dialogue with our organization ... to create a more complex picture ... Of the situation in the cyclone-affected areas.”
The Johns Hopkins-EAT statement said that the INGOs’ criticism of the “After the Storm” report was based on “a fundamental misunderstanding” of the report’s premise.
The researchers’ statement came after a joint letter was sent on April 8 by a group of 21 INGOs based in Burma claiming that the post-cyclone report published by the Johns Hopkins-EAT researchers is “inaccurate and does a disservice to the courageous and resilient survivors of Cyclone Nargis.”
The INGOs said the Johns Hopkins-EAT report contained “a number of shortcomings, including its premise, methodology and most of its findings.”
The report, released on February 27, focuses on human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese military authorities in areas affected by Cyclone Nargis, which swept through southwestern Burma on May 2-3 last year. The authors of the report stated that “assessments done [by INGOs] with the collaboration of the junta have reported little on the human rights situation for cyclone survivors and relief workers.”
The INGOs said in response that dozens of international and local relief agencies, alongside foreign embassies, are continually examining humanitarian aid and delivery from inside Burma and that they are able to do so independently and first-hand.
Among the 21 INGOs that signed the joint letter criticizing the “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta” report are Merlin, World Vision, Save the Children, Care and Relief International.
In its response to the INGOs’ joint letter, Johns Hopkins and EAT said that they advocate increased humanitarian aid, but recognize the need for transparency and accountability in the distribution and use of funds.
They also said they understand why it would be difficult for the agencies operating in Burma and thousands of local staff to report in an uncensored manner on cyclone relief aid constraints and issues of forced labor and other human rights violations.
The response was signed by: Dr Cynthia Maung, founder and director of the Mae Tao Clinic at the Thai-Burmese border and winner of the Jonathan Mann Prize for Heath and Human Rights; Dr Chris Beyrer, professor of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Mahn Mahn, the secretary of the EAT.
Meanwhile, Koos Richelle, a senior aid official representing the European Union, said on Tuesday in Manila that the bloc did not see any chance of formal talks with the Burmese junta regarding the funding of development projects in the country until the government introduced democratic reforms.