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Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017


Monday 6 November 2017


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Rohingya in Myanmar

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that urgent action should be taken to stop the violence against Myanmar’s Muslim ethnic minority, the Rohingya i.e. genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity; further that the petitioners cannot continue to watch the beheading of babies and children, gang rapes, and the displacement of hundreds and thousands as a genocide unfolds; further to impose conditions or sanctions on trade with Myanmar; further that Aung San Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize; further to ensure the UK does not supply arms or military training to the military; further to bring the perpetrators to the international court of justice for crimes against humanity; further to send a UN peacekeeping force to Rakhine state (Myanmar); further to establish safe haven areas within Rakhine state to stop the mass forced exodus; further to stop any arms getting to Burma junta (arms embargo); further to implement the Rakhine commission recommendations chaired by ex UN secretary Kofi Annan; further to allow in UN observers, humanitarian aid charities (British and others) and journalists; further to send emergency aid to all victims and refugees in neighbouring countries, especially Bangladesh; further that it is time for the Foreign Minister to ensure that there is not a repeat of Srebrenica or Rwanda.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to issue an urgent statement calling for an immediate end to all violence in Myanmar; and further calling for immediate entry of aid into Myanmar (which has been suspended).

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Eleanor Smith, Official Report, 14 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 1084.]


Observations from the Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field):

We are deeply concerned by violence against the Rohingya. The disproportionate security response to the attacks by Rohingya militants has led to a humanitarian crisis, with over 608,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh since 25 August. This looks like ethnic cleansing; we need to see these people able to return to their homes in Burma safely. Any judgement on whether crimes under international law have been committed, such as genocide, is a matter for international courts, not Governments or NGOs to determine. The UK continues to call for an end to the violence, and to prevent escalation, irrespective of whether incidents fit the definition of specific international crimes.

We have raised our concerns both internationally and bilaterally. The Foreign Secretary convened a meeting of foreign ministers at the UN on 18 September and called for (a) an end to the violence, (b) full humanitarian access, (c) access for the UN Fact Finding Mission, (d) a swift return for refugees, and (e) rapid implementation of Kofi Annan’s Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations.

We have led international efforts on Rakhine including by raising Burma three times at the UN Security Council (UNSC). The Security Council discussed Burma in public on 28 September, and called for the Burmese authorities to stop the violence and allow humanitarian access and the return of refugees. We continue to discuss further action at the UNSC.

At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September, the UK supported a decision to extend to September 2018 the mandate of the UN Fact-Finding Mission, to look into serious human rights concerns in Rakhine. Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Ahmad, made a statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 11 September which made clear the UK strongly condemned the violence, and called on all parties to de-escalate tensions and address the humanitarian crisis.

We also raise our concerns bilaterally: the Foreign Secretary spoke with State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi on 7 and 14 September and on 21 October. I met her on 27 September in Burma and reiterated the same messages. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi made clear in her 19 September and 12 October speeches the right of those who had left for Bangladesh to return.

The decision to authorise UN Peace Keeping Missions is made by the UN Security Council, with the agreement of all its members. We judge the Security Council would be unlikely to agree to do this.

The latest violence emphasises the importance of addressing the underlying issues in Rakhine. In September 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi set up the Rakhine Advisory Commission headed by former Secretary General Kofi Annan, to look into the issues affecting Rakhine. Its report published in August 2017 made recommendations which aim to alleviate the living conditions and improve the services available to all those who live in Rakhine State. The UK recognises that implementation of its recommendations is only the start of resolving the long-term problems in Rakhine. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has appointed a ministerial committee to oversee implementation and we have offered our support to improve living conditions and citizenship for all communities, particularly those who face severe discrimination such as the Rohingya.

The UK has not been training the Burmese army. This is prohibited under the EU Arms Embargo which we continue to support. The UK was instrumental in the renewal of this measure earlier this year. We also announced the suspension of our practical defence co-operation with Burma on 19 September until there is an acceptable resolution to the current situation in Rakhine. This co-operation consisted of educational courses focused on governance, accountability, ethics, human rights and international law. We welcome the US’s announcement on 24 October of restrictive measures against the Burmese military, which suspend travel waivers and assistance programmes. The EU also agreed on 16 October to the suspension of all senior military visits to the EU, a review of all defence co-operation and consideration of additional measures targeted at the Burmese military should the situation not improve.

The UK is leading the way as the largest bilateral donor to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. We have given £30 million, matched the £5 million DEC appeal, and at a landmark international pledging conference in Geneva on 23 October, we announced an additional £12 million of funding for the Rohingya crisis, bringing the total UK contribution to the Rohingya in Bangladesh to £47 million. We are pleased to see other countries pledge more support too; a total of £254 million was pledged on the day.

We agree there should be unfettered access to UN observers, humanitarian aid charities and journalists. That is why we have regularly raised this with Burma. We welcome recent access for media and diplomats to Rakhine State; we will continue to urge the Burmese authorities and the military particularly to allow greater access urgently.