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Burma: Politics and Government

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) if he will make a statement on the situation in Burma; (158655)

(2) what measures he is taking to promote freedom of speech and expression within Burma;

(3) what pressure is being placed upon the Burmese Government to stop abuses of human rights.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a written ministerial statement on 8 October 2007, Official Report, columns 12-15WS, on the situation in Burma. We placed an updated compilation of reports on the situation in Burma on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website on 15 October.

On 2 October, the Human Rights Council (HRC) passed a resolution sponsored by the EU, with the strong support of the UK, which expressed deep concern about the situation in Burma. In our statement to the HRC, we drew attention to the regime’s violations, including restrictions on the freedom of speech and association, and the suffering of Burma’s ethnic communities.

The UK co-sponsored the presidential statement unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on 11 October. This was the first formal action ever taken by the Security Council on Burma. The statement called upon the Government of Burma to take all necessary measures to address the human rights that are the concern of its people.

On 15 October, the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, at which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK, called for a thorough and impartial investigation of the deaths of demonstrators and other continuing violations of human rights. It also called upon the Burmese regime to co-operate fully with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. In response to the Burmese Government’s failure to exercise restraint in their treatment of the demonstrators, the Council of the EU agreed to implement stronger restrictive measures against the regime. The strengthened measures include a ban on the import of metals, minerals, timber and semi-precious stones and a ban on investment in these sectors. These measures are designed to target the interests of the Generals, rather than to harm the people of Burma.

Our ambassador in Rangoon has also highlighted our concerns in his meetings with the Burmese Government on an ongoing basis, most recently on 25 September.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether a deadline has been set for reconciliation talks between the Burmese regime and opposition party politicians; and what the status is of these talks. (159864)

[holding answer 22 October 2007]: The UN Secretary-General’s envoy to Burma, Professor Gambari, is promoting a process of national reconciliation in Burma which should include the civil opposition, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the minority ethnic groups and the military junta.

We hope that Professor Gambari will shortly return to Burma to take forward this process. No date has been set for meetings, but we want the reconciliation process to begin as soon as possible.