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Volume 552: debated on Tuesday 30 October 2012

13. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on sectarian violence in Rakhine state in Burma. (125221)

Yesterday, I called the Burmese chargé d’affaires into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss our serious concerns about the violence in Rakhine state. This follows the meeting of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with Burma’s Foreign Minister in New York in September, and my own meetings during the UN General Assembly. There is an urgent need for an end to the violence, for the Burmese authorities to ensure security in the region, and for humanitarian access.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Given the levels of sectarian violence that have unfolded in recent days, particularly against the Rohingya community, but also against all communities, with thousands of homes destroyed and thousands of people displaced, and people being killed, do we not need the clearest possible assurances from the Burmese Government that they will end the violence, ensure an end to impunity and work with the UN to address the underlying causes of the tension in that region?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing a Westminster Hall debate on the Rohingya community a few weeks ago. It is worth pointing out that any suggestion that the violence has been orchestrated by the Burmese Government is erroneous. We look forward to hearing from their independent investigation commission, which will shortly report on what has caused the violence. In early October, the British ambassador led the first independent diplomatic mission to Rakhine state to meet key leaders and visit camps sheltering internally displaced people from both communities. I am pleased to say that we are doing a lot on aid, but we need this to be settled, as it is extremely worrying to everyone who is following these events.

Burma’s failure to address the welfare of the Rohingya people and, indeed, Bangladesh’s failure to recognise them at all, means that they are virtually stateless. Will the Minister ensure that he takes a bilateral approach to the problem, so that we can secure the safety of people in Rakhine state?

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The British high commission in Dhaka, along with our EU partners, has had regular conversations on the matter. It is important to talk to Bangladesh, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Sheikh Hasina, as has the Prime Minister. It is important on two counts: first, to ensure that those people receive humanitarian aid on the Bangladeshi border and, secondly, that people are allowed free movement across the border, because there is a serious humanitarian problem there.

With reports by Human Rights Watch of major human rights violations, along with the displacement and the killing of 78 people, what action has the Foreign Secretary taken to secure international pressure on the Burmese Government, because previous representations have clearly not worked, and we need urgent action?

I do not think that that is particularly fair on the Burmese Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed these matters extensively in New York. We await the report from the Burmese Government, and our ambassador has been to the area. We think that the Burmese Government are doing what they can with their army and police. Inter-communal violence has gone on for a number of years in that part of the world, as the hon. Lady will be aware. The matter needs to be resolved, not least the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya people.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent support for a review of the 1982 Citizenship Act which, as we have already heard, is one of the underlying factors rendering the Rohingya stateless. It is also important that Bangladesh is brought into discussions about citizenships. Will the Minister tell the House what efforts are being made to bring those parties to the table?

The hon. Lady is right. I alluded to that in my earlier remarks. We think citizenship is important. We have been pressing for many years for the Burmese Government to recognise this. The Foreign Secretary raised the matter with his opposite number back in September. On Bangladesh, yes, again the hon. Lady is right. Bangladesh does have a role to play. The first thing is to solve and to stop the violence that flared up again as recently as a few days ago. That must come to an end. We must make sure that there is proper humanitarian access and that aid gets in to those people who are displaced and homeless, and then we must see the report that comes out from the Burmese Government. Certainly, any long-term solution needs to address the long-standing issue that has too often been ignored about the right of those people to have a state. That needs to be resolved in the round. I wholly concur with the hon. Lady’s remarks.