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Myanmar's Muslim ethnic minority

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018

The petition of residents of Stretford and Urmston,

Declares that urgent action should be taken to stop the violence against Myanmar's Muslim ethnic minority, the Rohingya, including genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; further declares that the petitioners cannot continue to stand by and watch the displacement of hundreds and thousands as a genocide unfolds; further declares that the petitioners note that the Rohingya Muslims are not currently recognised as citizens in Myanmar; and further urges the implementation of the Rakhine commission recommendations chaired by Kofi Annan.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the UK Government to make representation to the government of Myanmar to cease all violence in Myanmar; further to call for immediate entry aid into Myanmar; further to call for the UK not to supply arms or military training to the military; and further to call on the UK government to do all within its powers to ensure the perpetrators are brought to the international court of justice to be tried for crimes against humanity.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Kate Green, Official Report, Thursday 1 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1084.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson):

We remain deeply concerned by what is happening to the Rohingya. This is a major humanitarian crisis created by Burma’s military. The British Government have been clear in their condemnation of the terrible atrocities that have occurred in Rakhine State. We recognise this has been ethnic cleansing, and may also amount to crimes against humanity. Some 700,000 have fled from Burma to Bangladesh since late August 2017 and over 100 people a day are still crossing the border.

The UK has played a leading role in the international diplomatic and humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis and will continue to do so. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regularly since the start of the crisis, and met her in Burma in February to speak to her about finding a solution to the humanitarian crisis for the Rohingya. He expressed his deep concern over the current situation and urged Burma to work with the international community to create conditions to allow Rohingya refugees to return safely, voluntarily and in dignity to their homes in Rakhine under international oversight. He also visited northern Rakhine and Bangladesh, where he visited Cox’s Bazar and heard first hand from Rohingya refugees about the terrible experiences they have been put through. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field) has also visited Burma twice since this crisis began and made the same representations to the State Counsellor and the Defence Minister.

The UK has now raised Burma six times at the UN Security Council, and proposed and secured a presidential statement on 6 November 2017, the first Council product on Burma for 10 years. This has delivered a clear message from the international community that the Burmese authorities must urgently: protect civilians and allow refugees to return safely, voluntarily and in dignity, and allow full humanitarian access. The statement stressed the importance of transparent investigations into allegations of human rights violations, and holding to account all those responsible for such acts. On 13 February, the UK used a Security Council meeting to reiterate its call for a formal role for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in any returns process, and make clear the crisis would continue to demand Security Council attention.

Elsewhere within the UN, the UK has worked with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to prepare and co-sponsor a UN General Assembly resolution on Burma. This was passed in December with the support of 135 member states and serves as a powerful message to the Burmese authorities of the damage being done to Burma’s international reputation. Additionally, the UK co-sponsored the resolution on Burma passed by the special session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 December 2017, and is currently working with fellow members of the Human Rights Council to determine what further action should be taken. The UK was central to the establishment of the UN fact-finding mission, which delivered its interim report to the UN Human Rights Council on 12 March. The UK will continue to support the FFM’s important work ahead of its final report to the UN HRC in September. The UK will continue to work with international partners to maintain pressure on Burma’s civilian Government to allow a credible investigation and ensure accountability for the perpetrators of any crimes. We are looking at how to support those already collecting evidence and testimony.

The UK Government have deployed two civilian experts to Bangladesh who have made detailed recommendations on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence, which we are now actively implementing. The FCO funds capacity building for Bangladeshi partners on investigation and documentation of sexual violence to international standards, and is funding mentors and trainers in Bangladesh to deliver capacity building on investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict.

The UK has committed an additional £59 million to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, making it one of the largest bilateral donors. This aid is making a big difference on the ground, including providing food to 174,000 people, safe water and sanitation for more than 138,000 people and emergency shelter for over 130,000 people. In addition, emergency nutrition support will reach more than 60,000 children under five and 21,000 pregnant and lactating women. Medical help will assist over 50,000 pregnant women to give birth safely. Counselling and psychological support will reach over 10,000 women suffering from the trauma of war and over 2,000 survivors of sexual violence. Full humanitarian access to northern Rakhine remains urgently needed. We continue to call on the Burmese authorities to allow immediate and full humanitarian access and support for the people and communities affected.

The UK continues to support the EU’s retention of its arms embargo, which prohibits the supply of equipment or the provision of any training that might strengthen the Burmese military’s combat capability. The UK was instrumental in its extension last year, and secured agreement at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 26 February to ensure it is renewed and strengthened, as well as agreement to begin the process of introducing targeted sanctions on individual senior military officers responsible for serious and systematic human rights violations.

The UK 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. Previous co-operation consisted of educational courses focused on governance, accountability, ethics, human rights and international law. The UK has not provided any form of combat training to the Burmese military.