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Burma

Volume 478: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2008

1. What recent representations he has made to the Government of Burma on the renewed detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. (213055)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy of France jointly called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate release on 19 June, her birthday. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary deplored the extension of her house arrest on 27 May. We worked to ensure that the European Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council issued calls for her release in the past week.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for that informative reply. Given that the illegal, immoral and intolerable detention under house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for more than 12 years is but one example of the Burmese Government’s egregious human rights abuses, which include rape as a weapon of war, extra-judicial killings and the active denial of aid to hundreds of thousands of people following Cyclone Nargis, will she work with her international counterparts to press the United Nations Security Council to refer the Burma Government’s conduct to the International Criminal Court?

I am sure that all hon. Members agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. He will appreciate the difficulties of getting a resolution through the Security Council on those matters. At the moment, we are concentrating on seeking an authoritative assessment of the situation on the ground. The UN Human Rights Council agreed a resolution by consensus, which calls for the regime to give full access to all parts of Burma.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate the amount of frustration felt in this country at our inability to effect any change in this wicked regime and its attitude to that fine woman? Does she realise that even moderate Members of Parliament such as me would change their minds about a boycott of the Beijing Olympics if we found that, in Burma, as in Zimbabwe, China is the block on anything being done by the international community?

Of course, I appreciate the frustrations that many people feel in this country about the lack of change in Burma. We have succeeded in getting aid into Burma, especially with the help of the Association of South East Asian Nations countries in the region. China agreed with the consensus on the UN Human Rights Council declaration. On that basis, we believe that we can continue to work with China to put pressure on the Burmese regime.

Will the Government ensure that sanctions are tougher, more targeted and hit the military junta where it hurts, not least on arms? Will they also ensure that international aid from taxes and charities does not unwittingly get into the despicable junta’s hands?

On the latter point, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that aid in Burma goes through the UN and non-governmental organisations on the ground. On the first point, our sanctions in the European Union are designed to do exactly what he said: to be targeted on the regime, through, for example, timber, precious gems and so on. We are also doing further work to ascertain whether any financial sanctions could have the same effect.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that, in Cardiff on Saturday, nearly 200 people attended an event to mark Aung San Suu Kyi’s 63rd birthday. Does my hon. Friend agree that, following the referendum, which many people consider rigged, Burma’s new constitution will effectively debar Aung San Suu Kyi and her party from taking part in the democratic process? What can she do about that?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the people of Cardiff, who keep the issue in the public eye, which is essential. She is right that the constitution has no legitimacy. Indeed, it is incredible that anyone could believe that the referendum was fair. The constitution is flawed and would debar Aung San Suu Kyi, and we continue to call for a proper process, which includes all those in Burma who have an interest in the development of democracy—Aung San Suu Kyi and all the leaders of the different ethnic groupings.

I see that the Foreign Office has a special representative, whose responsibilities cover the wider middle east, including Iraq and Iran, as well as the middle east peace process. He is also responsible—rather bizarrely—for Burma. Has that representative been involved in any negotiations with the Burmese Government on the issue that we are considering and others? When did he last visit Burma?

The hon. Gentleman refers to Michael Williams, who has been very involved in our work on Burma. He has spent a great deal of time travelling in the region and speaking to countries there about the pressure that they can bring to bear. He also attended the donors conference in Burma at the end of May with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development.

My hon. Friend would recognise that Aung San Suu Kyi has been completely failed by the international community. Whichever way we look at it, we see that there have been 12 years of imprisonment and a lot of fine words, but absolutely no movement and an evil regime still in place. What can we do, other than just having fine words from all the different nations? What sanctions can we put in place to overthrow the Government in that country?

The truth is that neither sanctions by the international community nor engagement by countries in the region has brought about the result that we would desire. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, we have seen something of a change in the neighbouring ASEAN countries, which are now indicating more vocally that they believe that things need to change in Burma. We will continue to work with those countries and with the United Nations. Ban Ki-moon has said that he will return to Burma later this year, following up his visit after the cyclone. We are hopeful that that will enable us to move the political process forward in the right direction.