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Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2015

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Burmese Government on (a) the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and (b) democracy and human rights in that country. (900996)

Human rights and democratic reform are central concerns for us. In this critical election year for Burma, we regularly raise these issues with the Government of Burma. I strongly reiterated our concerns on the Rohingya to the Burmese ambassador on 18 May, which our ambassador in Rangoon repeated to Ministers locally.

Does the Minister agree that reserved parliamentary seats for the military are not compatible with a modern democracy? It is now clear that the military in Burma retains too much power and influence and that it is time for the international community to reassess Burma’s commitment to democracy and human rights.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We have registered our unhappiness with this clause remaining, as indeed we have for the clauses remaining that effectively rule out Aung San Suu Kyi from running as a presidential candidate. Having said that, we have made the point again and again to President Thein Sein—most recently by the Prime Minister—that we expect the elections on 8 November to be inclusive and credible.

Will the Minister raise with the United Nations the possibility of Ban Ki-Moon leading a delegation to Rakhine state to ensure humanitarian access?

We have encouraged the Secretary-General to play a leadership role. With UK support, the situation in Rakhine state was discussed at a UN Security Council briefing on 28 May. We will keep up the pressure on that. It is also worth saying that we support the continuing work of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Professor Yanghee Lee.

The Minister will be aware of the widespread concerns surrounding the recent arrest of five students protesting outside the Parliament in Burma. Will he do what the Burma campaign recently asked him to do in relation to other human rights concerns and summon the Burmese ambassador to express the widest possible concerns about these growing human rights abuses?

We welcome, since 2011, the release of 2,000 political prisoners, increasing press freedoms and the discharging of 500 child soldiers. We have, however, seen some re-arrests and we have not been slow to raise these issues. We are working extraordinarily closely with the Department for International Development to try to ensure that on 8 November Burma can face a democratic election where the people can decide who they wish to govern them. From that will flow greater freedoms and respect for human rights.

Given the continued plight of the Rohingya and the role of the military, not just in Parliament but in its continued use of sexual violence with impunity and the lack of progress on key areas of constitutional reform, it is clear we are not seeing the progress we need in Burma. Does the Minister think that the UK or the EU retain any influence now that sanctions have been lifted?

Yes, I do. Incidentally, I draw the House’s attention to the hon. Lady’s recent article on Burma in the Huffington Post, where she appears to suggest that the Prime Minister took business leaders to Burma before the EU lifted trade sanctions in 2013, implicitly suggesting that somehow the Prime Minister was promoting trade when EU sanctions were in place. I refer her back to a 2012 article in The Guardian, which she would do well to read. She may wish to correct what is effectively rather a misleading comment in her article.

I know that the Prime Minister and the Minister are keen to strengthen our bilateral relationship with Burma, but does he agree there will be serious consequences for that relationship if Burma fails to deliver free, fair and credible elections in November in which the Rohingya can participate and Aung San Suu Kyi can play a full role?

Of course, we work closely with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on all these matters. To repeat, the Prime Minister, with President Thein Sein, said at the G20 that elections should be inclusive and credible, which is what we are working towards on 8 November.