International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will once again be allowed to visit prisoners in Burma. Former political prisoners have welcomed the resumption of the visits, saying it is an “essential” form of moral and health support for inmates, while human rights advocates say it offers a chance to reform Burma’s notorious penal system.

After 2005, the ICRC continued to facilitate monthly family visits with prisoners and it helped arrange 3,000 of these in 2012. Last year the ICRC was also allowed to enter prisons to renovate infrastructure. It refurbished three prisons with new water, sewage and solar power supplies.

ICRC protocols require that access is confidential and unsupervised. When foreign ICRC workers visit, prisoners are registered and they can air their grievances and personal problems in private, and also request healthcare and improvements in their conditions. It covers anything that they want to discuss with us. And we might address some of these issues with authorities in private,

“They give moral support and kindness to prisoners. And they can protect the political prisoners from mistreatment” by monitoring their condition, said a former political prisoner. “For me and other political prisoners it was essential.”

“The re-introduction of the ICRC into Burma is hopefully a sign that the government of Burma is moving towards dismantling the secrecy and isolation that has long surrounded Burma’s prisons,” added AAPP’s Human Rights Advisor. “We sincerely hope that the ICRC will put an end to the high rate of prisoners dying unnecessary anonymous deaths, and force the government of Burma to seriously reform the prison system.”

2012.12.21 The Irrawaddy