I would like to update the House on the situation in Myanmar. On Sunday evening, Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw, seized control of the country, declaring a state of emergency in the early hours of Monday morning. The country is now under the effective control of the commander-in-chief and the military vice-president, Myint Swe. At around 0200 hours local time on 1 February, the Tatmadaw began detaining politicians and civil society leaders across the country, including the democratically elected Aung Sang Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. The Tatmadaw has said that this state of emergency will continue for a year.
The army has also taken control of the airports. Only military broadcasters are still on air, and phone lines and the internet remain at risk of being disconnected again. The military’s actions follow on from its accusations of fraud during November’s election. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy won by a landslide and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development party’s share was drastically reduced. While there were significant concerns about the disenfranchisement of minority groups such as the Rohingya, there are no suggestions of widespread irregularities. International observers, such as the Carter Centre and the Asian Network for Free Elections, found no evidence of significant irregularities in the elections. As such, the United Kingdom considers the election result to credibly reflect the will of the people and that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party is the rightful winner of the election.
The commander-in-chief has indicated an intention to hold new elections to replace the results of those in November 2020. Any dispute regarding the election results should be resolved through peaceful and lawful mechanisms. The Myanmar Supreme Court is hearing a case on alleged irregularities but has not yet decided whether it has jurisdiction. The reports today of the arrest of the chair of the Union Election Commission are deeply concerning.
The events of Sunday night have filled us all with a profound sense of revulsion and sadness. Our thoughts are with the people of Myanmar, who have once again been robbed of their inherent democratic rights. The elections in 2020, though by no means perfect, were an important step on Myanmar’s path to democracy. We and others welcomed them as a strong endorsement of Myanmar’s desire for a democratic future. Myanmar’s transition has been troubled, with a constitution rigged in favour of the military, a campaign of atrocities and systematic discrimination against the Rohingya and other minorities, and a faltering peace process.
This coup threatens to set Myanmar’s progress back by years—potentially decades. As such, we are clear in our condemnation of this coup, the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar and the unlawful detention of democratically elected politicians and civil society by the military. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both issued statements to this effect on Monday morning. It is essential that Aung San Suu Kyi and all those unlawfully detained are released. We must receive assurances that their safety, wellbeing and rights are being respected. The state of emergency must be repealed, arbitrary detentions reversed, the outcome of the democratic elections respected and the National Assembly peacefully reconvened. We are aware that there is a risk that demonstrations could provoke a violent response, taking Myanmar back to the dark days of the 1988 uprising or the 2007 saffron revolution, in which scores of civilians were killed.
As for the UK response, we are pursuing all levers to ensure a peaceful return to democracy. First, we have made representations at the highest level within Myanmar to encourage all sides to resolve disputes in a peaceful and legal manner. The Foreign Secretary had a call scheduled for later this week with Aung San Suu Kyi prior to her detention. We are clear in our demands that this call goes ahead and we hope that it will serve as an opportunity to confirm her safety. I formally summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK to the Foreign Office yesterday. In the meeting, I condemned the military coup and the arbitrary detention of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and made it clear that the democratic wishes of the people of Myanmar must be respected, and the elected National Assembly peacefully reconvened. We are doing all we can, working with those in Myanmar, to support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
Secondly, the international community has a role to play. We are engaging with partners globally and in the region to help to align objectives and find a resolution to the crisis. We will work through multilateral fora to ensure a strong and co-ordinated international response. As president, the Foreign Secretary is co-ordinating G7 partners on its response, aiming to build on its quick statement last week on Navalny. The UK has urgently convened the UN Security Council, which will meet later today. As a champion of the rules-based international order and democratic government, we are driving the international response, including in our role as president of both the G7 and the UN Security Council, urging the military to immediately hand back power to the Government that were legitimately elected in November 2020. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also has an important role to play, as do the principles of the ASEAN charter, including the rule of law, good governance, and the principles of democracy and constitutional government. We continue to engage with ASEAN partners to support a regional response, and I held a meeting with the Thai vice-Foreign Minister this morning.
Thirdly, it is the military’s actions that instigated this coup. The UK already has a number of measures in place in response to the military’s past and ongoing atrocities. On 19 September 2017, the UK announced the suspension of all defence engagement and training with the Myanmar military by the Ministry of Defence until there is a satisfactory resolution to the situation in Rakhine. The MOD no longer has a defence section in Yangon. The United Kingdom has already imposed sanctions on 16 individuals responsible for human rights violations in Myanmar. We sanctioned all six individuals named by the UN fact-finding mission report, including the commander-in-chief and his deputy, who are the architects of the current political situation and who also have the power to de-escalate the crisis and restore democracy. We will assess how best to engage with the military, if at all. We have also enhanced private sector due diligence to prevent UK funds from going to military-owned companies.
The UK does not provide direct financial aid to the Myanmar Government, but we provide some targeted support, working through other international organisations and multilateral bodies. In the light of the coup, the Foreign Secretary has today announced a review of all such indirect support involving the Myanmar Government, with a view to suspending it unless there are exceptional humanitarian reasons. It is important that our response holds the military accountable.
We will continue to support the people of Myanmar. We will continue leading the international response to this crisis and calling on the military leaders in Myanmar to relent, revoke the state of emergency, release members of the civilian Government and civil society, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, reconvene the elected National Assembly, respect the results of the November 2020 general election, and accept the expressed wishes of the people of Myanmar. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
The Labour party will always speak up for universal rights and freedoms, the rule of law and democracy across the world, including in Myanmar. We know that democracy is in retreat around the world, and for the first time since 2001, democratic Governments are outnumbered by authoritarian regimes. What took place in Myanmar yesterday and over the weekend serves to remind us of the daunting scale and nature of the challenge we face. This military coup is a flagrant breach of the constitution of Myanmar, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The army’s claims of voter fraud are utterly spurious. This is a naked power grab.
While Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to stand up for the human rights of the Rohingya people has been deeply troubling, the fact is that her party secured a landslide victory in the November elections, and Myanmar’s young democracy must be respected and protected. Let us not forget the human cost of this coup: many brave elected representatives and activists were rounded up in the dead of night, their families terrified by the men in uniform on the doorstep. Now they languish in prison cells.
How has it come to this? Well, for decades, the power-hungry Myanmar military has oppressed and persecuted the Burmese people, committing countless atrocities—most notably against the Rohingya, for which it currently stands accused of genocide in the International Court of Justice. Experts on Myanmar are clear that the tacit support of China, combined with the rest of the world turning a blind eye, has given the military the confidence to enact this coup, based on the assumption that the international backlash will be negligible and lethargic. The UK and the wider international community must act swiftly and effectively to prove the military wrong on this. The UK Government must move from warm words of condemnation to tangible action. As the penholder on Myanmar at the Security Council, the UK has a particular and unique responsibility to lead the international response. We welcome the Security Council session the Government have convened today, but we believe there are further steps that must be taken.
First, the Government must lead by example by imposing sanctions on the Myanmar military and all its business interests. When I urged the Minister to take this action last year, he argued against such measures on the ground that it would have a negative impact on foreign investment into the Myanmar economy. Well, there is nothing like a military coup to damage foreign investment, so surely the Minister must now accept that his argument no longer stands up to scrutiny and that the Government must immediately impose sanctions that directly target the military and its financial backers. We on the Opposition Benches strongly support the Magnitsky sanctions against individuals in Myanmar, but let us be clear that they are designed predominantly for countries where senior officials have economic interests in the UK, such as Russia and China, and this is not the case for Myanmar.
Secondly, the UK Government should seek to extend the arms embargo against Myanmar so that it is as close as possible to global in its scale and scope. Clearly, authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China will be unlikely to participate, but we must seek to build the broadest possible coalition of countries committed to not selling weapons to Myanmar.
Thirdly, now must surely be the time for the Minister to commit the UK to joining the Netherlands and Canada in formally supporting the Gambia in its case of genocide brought against Myanmar at the ICJ. Will he also call for Myanmar’s first report to the ICJ, published last June, to be made public in order to shine a light on the atrocities committed by the military? I would also like the Minister to set out what conversations he has had with the Bangladeshi Government to ensure that humanitarian aid contributed by the UK is sufficiently reaching the Rohingya who have fled to Cox’s Bazar.
Finally, what consular support are the UK Government offering to UK citizens who are in Myanmar and caught in the middle of this appalling military coup?
I respect the Minister, and I know that his heart is in the right place on this issue, but I have to say to him that this statement falls far short of what we need and what we expect—nothing on sanctions, nothing on the ICJ. The people of Myanmar need a stronger response, and they need it now.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone of his response, and also for welcoming the international engagement, in particular at the UN Security Council. As he rightly remarks, as penholder, we have brought forward by a day a meeting on Myanmar at the Council as a matter of urgency, and that meeting will take place in New York this afternoon.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned sanctions on the military. I politely point out to him that we have already imposed sanctions on 16 individuals responsible for human rights violations in Myanmar, including six individuals named by the UN fact-finding mission report. However, of course we will work closely with our international partners to consider next steps in that regard and we will constantly consider all the tools at our disposal.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would support an international arms embargo. We are a long-standing supporter of an arms embargo in Myanmar. We worked with EU partners to secure and tighten a strong EU arms embargo following the 2017 Rohingya crisis. Since we left the EU, we have transitioned this into domestic law. Our autonomous sanctions regulations prohibit the provision of military-related services, including the provision of technical assistance, to or for the benefit of the Tatmadaw.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case brought by the Gambia. We have been very clear in our support for the ICJ process, which is putting pressure on Myanmar, and particularly the military, to do more to protect the Rohingya. We have pressed the civilian Government to engage constructively and transparently, and we urge the military to comply with the provisional measures ruling.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Bangladesh. We are working very closely with the Bangladesh authorities and we are speaking with the Bangladesh Government. We are the second largest donor to support the Rohingya who are currently in Bangladesh.
We are following the advice very carefully of our post in Yangon on the situation involving UK nationals. We will continue to update British nationals in that regard. They are advised to stay at home, to make only essential journeys and to continue to check travel advice and embassy social media pages. I have spoken with our ambassador on a couple of occasions over the last 24 hours, and we continue to closely monitor the situation.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and agree with much of what the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) said. When looking at sanctions, we know that Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd is alleged to be paying out dividends of around $18 billion to $20 billion a year to the army. Is it not particularly galling that, despite this army claiming to serve the people and to put the public interest first by overthrowing a democratically elected leader, Myanmar is the single worst country in the world for vaccinating its citizens? Does that not demonstrate that, rather than being servants of the people, the Myanmar armed forces are its pillagers, its occupiers and its thieves?
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, makes a very good point. The UK military, in contrast, has done a fantastic job of supporting the roll-out of vaccinations here. As he knows, we unreservedly condemn the military coup in Myanmar and the detention of members of the Government. The military’s action is not conducive to supporting the most vulnerable people, so we call for the peaceful reconvening of the National Assembly. The results of the elections in November 2020 must be adhered to, as must the express wishes of the people of Myanmar—they need a democratically elected Government who can help see them through this pandemic.
I hope I have demonstrated in the House that I do not believe in fabricating difference. I agree with all the content of the Minister’s statement, and I commend him on it, as far as it goes. I would like to press him on further action that it would be useful to take.
This is yet another reminder of the importance of all of us—Government, state and individuals—being vocal advocates at home and abroad for the rule of law. I invite the Minister to mention to his ministerial colleagues just how damaging it was for the UK to mull the idea of breaking recently agreed international provisions in a “limited and specific” way. That really has weakened all our credibility in this discussion.
I support the international efforts that the Minister is taking forward, particularly within the G7—a position that the UK can use to the betterment of this. There is a strong case for further sanctions against the Burmese military as an organisation. There have been welcome sanctions on individuals, and there could be more of those, but the military is a huge commercial enterprise that is vulnerable to sanctions. I would also like reassurance on something that the Minister did not mention, which was co-operation with the EU. I think the EU’s position on this will be important, and co-ordinating on that will be very much to the benefit. It is early days yet, but what assessment has been made by our mission within country of the already dreadful situation of the Rohingya? Is there a risk of flight of Rohingya into Cox’s Bazar and into Bangladesh? Can the Minister give a reassurance that if more aid is necessary, we stand ready to provide it to the Bangladeshi Government, because this will take a concerted international effort? If he continues along those tracks, he will have our support.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his co-operative tone on matters such as this. I believe we are all on the same page in this regard, and his comments about us working with international partners are absolutely right. Given our presidency of the G7 and the UN Security Council, we are using these opportunities to drive forward the international response, and that will include dealing and liaising with our friends in the EU. We all need to stand together to demonstrate that we will not stand for a subversion of democracy. We are talking with a broad range of international partners, including the neighbours of Myanmar, and especially the ASEAN countries. The hon. Gentleman mentioned aid. This year, the UK is spending £88 million in-country in Myanmar on supporting the people of Myanmar. In addition, since 2017 we have spent almost a third of a billion pounds supporting humanitarian aid and supporting the Rohingya who are displaced and have found themselves in Bangladesh.
Like all Members of this House, I found myself deeply disappointed when Aung San Suu Kyi chose to take no action against the genocide of Rohingya, but that grave failure should not temper our condemnation of the quasi-constitutional military coup, which undermines the futures, freedoms and democratic rights of the Burmese people. Will my hon. Friend the Minister further outline what his Department is doing to promote the fundamental and universal rights of democracy, freedom and liberty in Burma in light of the recent events?
I know how passionate my hon. Friend feels about values and democracy, and I assure him that the United Kingdom places the highest premium on respect for democracy and the rules-based international system. We have been talking to regional and international partners about that, and we call on Myanmar to respect the principles of the ASEAN charter, including the rule of law, good governance, as I mentioned, and the principles of democracy and constitutional government.
For over three years, I have repeatedly called for the Government to enact sanctions against the Burmese military for its brutality in the Rohingya genocide, but on each occasion those calls were rejected by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which essentially told me that imposing sanctions would endanger the fledgling democracy in the country. Does the Minister now agree that this military coup shows that those were unfounded claims and, frankly, poor excuses for refusing to act in the face of the genocide against the Rohingya? Instead, the Government did more harm than good by emboldening the Burmese military.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has kept up to speed, but in fact the United Kingdom has already imposed sanctions on military individuals, including the commander-in-chief and his deputy. We are absolutely clear. If the hon. Gentleman’s campaigning over the past three years on this issue has led to that, I congratulate him, but we have already delivered sanctions for human rights violations in Myanmar. Let us be absolutely clear, the commander-in-chief and his deputy are the architects of this current crisis.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the safety of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Prime Minister had a phone call with Aung San Suu Kyi before Christmas and the Foreign Secretary was due to have a phone call with her this week. It is essential that she and all those who have been arbitrarily detained are released. We must receive assurances that their safety, wellbeing and rights are respected—I reiterated that to the Myanmar ambassador when I summoned him to Foreign Office yesterday. As I said, there should have been a call later this week, and we hope that one will take place to serve as an assurance of Aung San Suu Kyi’s safety and wellbeing, because it is vital that we are able to confirm that she is safe.
The Minister will know that the major player in this crisis is China, the economy of which Myanmar is far more dependent on than others. The relationship between the military and the Chinese Government has in the past been ambiguous, given how destabilising China’s actions are to the region. Notwithstanding whatever grievances we may have in respect of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, this is a moment in which we should be working together, including with China, to solve this crisis. Can the Minister make an assessment of China’s likely response at this time? Have our Government had conversations with the Chinese Government about such a co-ordinated international response?
Very much so. The Foreign Secretary is leading on this issue with the G7 and we hope to have some further news in that regard in the next day or so. We are absolutely on the front foot internationally in that regard. I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about this particular country. Let me be absolutely clear about what we are calling for: the military leaders must revoke the state of emergency and release the members of the Government and of civil society.
The events in Myanmar have shown that democracy is fragile. The reality is that the actions of the democracy-denying narcissist Trump in the past three months have undermined such values. Will my hon. Friend the Minister not only work with the G7, as he said, but impress upon the new US Administration how important it is for established western democracies to show strength and to stress how important it is that democracy is honoured? Will he ensure that the G7, as a group, moves together to ensure that this situation comes to an end?
I thank my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question. We are absolutely working through the G7 and engaging the UN Human Rights Council. As I said, we are urgently convening the UN Security Council. We have, of course, engaged with our American friends at both official level and at Foreign Secretary level. Over the next day, we will be making sure that Myanmar is high up the agenda. We are using such opportunities to drive forward the international response and, as I said, we will not stand a subversion of democracy.
I have been privileged to visit Myanmar with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and as an observer at the NLD’s first party conference, which was a time of great optimism that was sadly not entirely fulfilled. It is now clear that we could have handled things differently in that interim period by applying more pressure for constitutional reform and reducing the power of the military. Will the Minister say a bit more about what we hope to achieve by sanctions now, other than the restoration of democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from detention? What are our slightly longer-term goals in terms of trying to reduce the power of the military and putting Myanmar on a more democratic footing?
I think the reasons behind the Magnitsky-style sanctions announced a few months ago were pretty clear. We are absolutely clear that there were human rights violations in Myanmar and, I repeat, we sanctioned all six of the individuals named by the UN fact-finding mission report. We will obviously work closely with our international partners to consider next steps in this regard, but the UK Government’s priorities at this immediate time are to ensure that the military leaders revoke the state of emergency, release those held, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and reconvene the elected National Assembly.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. The events in Myanmar are a reminder that we need a strong international community to be able to respond to such events. With that in mind, I echo other Members’ calls for further sanctions. May I also draw his attention to the humanitarian violations going on and the need to create a preventing-sexual- violence- in-conflict body in this country with international co-operation to ensure that we can support survivors of sexual violence, genocide and human rights violations, document such cases and lead international criminal cases against the perpetrators?
I know how passionately my hon. Friend feels about these issues, particularly with regard to his work with the former Foreign Secretary prior to being elected to this House. I repeat that it is completely unacceptable for a democratically elected Government to be overthrown by the military in this way. We are, of course, working with international partners on all the issues he refers to, and we will continue to do so. We are monitoring the situation, and we have been very concerned about the humanitarian situation over the last 72 hours. As he will appreciate, following a military coup it is difficult to get to the places we need to be, but he is right to raise the issues and we will continue to monitor the situation extremely closely.
This appalling military coup and overthrow of a democratically elected Government is undoubtedly a major setback for the progress and development of Myanmar. However, the likes of me are particularly concerned about the desperate plight of the Rohingya Muslims, who have faced a genocide. Approximately a million had to flee their own country and are now refugees in Bangladesh and other nations. What is the Minister doing to spearhead an international effort to ensure that there is no further crackdown by the authoritarian military regime on the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya still in Myanmar, many of whom are interned in camps and unable to move freely, with extremely limited access to basic health and education services?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, which is well made. As he will appreciate, the situation in the country is evolving rapidly. We are monitoring the situation as closely as we can, but we are also working closely with our partners. I talked about us convening the meeting this afternoon in New York so that we can have a joint response with the UN Security Council.
I assure him that we will ensure that we continue to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, including for the Rohingya. We are alert to the possibility of all sorts of horrific violence, such as identity-based violence, being committed—there are reports of that. We are one of the largest donors to Rakhine state, which is one of the poorest states in Myanmar. Our assistance helps with education, nutrition, livelihoods and health, and we are supporting all communities.
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on to raise this. We are working through multilateral forums to ensure that there is a strong and co-ordinated international response. As I have said previously, we have urgently convened the UN Security Council for today. We are also leading the way through the G7 and engaging the UN Human Rights Council. Given our presidency of the G7 and the UNSC, we are using these as an opportunity to drive forward the international response. We must take leadership and demonstrate that we will not stand again for subversion of democracy.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Minister and the two Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons? The Minister has reminded us that the commander-in-chief and his deputy are responsible for the current emergency situation in Myanmar. They and their associates are also responsible for the wholesale and systematic campaign of rape, torture and murder of the Rohingya Muslims, entirely for racist reasons. Can he give us an assurance that, in among the other discussions that are now required within the international community, high up on the agenda will be a restated determination that everyone who was responsible for those atrocities in Myanmar will one day be brought to justice and held to account for their crimes?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this. We must ensure that there is accountability for those who have committed atrocities. The United Kingdom is clear that the Myanmar military undertook a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in 2017, and we are pushing for those guilty of atrocities to be held to account. In our joint statement to the UN Security Council on 11 September, we called for Myanmar to make progress on this accountability, and in the current absence of a credible domestic process, all options must be on the table, including referral to the International Criminal Court.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Yes, we are engaging with a range of partners to encourage dialogue, peaceful resolution of the crisis and, importantly, the restoration of democracy. The Foreign Secretary has been speaking to his counterparts from other states and has a call scheduled with the US Secretary of State for later this week. He will also be speaking to the Japanese Foreign and Defence Ministers this week, and the Prime Minister is trying to arrange a call with his Japanese counterpart. We will work through multilateral forums to ensure a strong and co-ordinated international response.
Obviously, we must all absolutely condemn the coup in Myanmar. It is appalling what has happened, but sadly, the overpowering, brutal presence of the military has been a feature of the lives of people in Myanmar since the 1960s. Even during the recent slightly more democratic period in Myanmar’s history, the military have occupied a special place in which they have been essentially untrammelled by any democratic accountability whatsoever, and the Rohingya people have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of that. Hopefully, one day, we will look forward to a more democratic Myanmar. Does the Minister agree that when that happy day eventually comes, there has to be a constitution that does not give unaccountable power to the military but instead brings them under the control of a parliamentary democracy?
I am pleased that the Minister mentioned the United Nations Human Rights Council in his statement and one of his responses. Would it be possible for him to urge the UN Human Rights Council to put together very rapidly a delegation to be sent both to Myanmar and to Cox’s Bazar to examine the human rights abuses that have happened, take the necessary evidence and condemn those that should be condemned—sadly including Aung San Suu Kyi, who stood up in support of the military when her country was quite rightly condemned for the treatment of the Rohingya people?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We will of course continue to work through all multilateral forums, including at today’s meeting of the UN Security Council, which we brought forward, and by pulling together our G7 partners, in order to have the appropriate response. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me that what we want to see is the Myanmar military revoke this state of emergency. The civilian Government, Aung San Suu Kyi and civil society people who have been seized must be released. We want to see the reconvening of the National Assembly, as I am sure he does. It is absolutely key that Myanmar respects the result of the November election and, more importantly, accepts the expressed wish of the people of Myanmar.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. In a previous job, I was in Myanmar for the BBC. It is so depressing watching this new tragedy unfold. The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting today, which is of course incredibly welcome. Does the Minister share my concern that China’s stranglehold on UN institutions and its alleged closeness to the Myanmar military mean that it might stifle the meeting today and going forward? Can he offer any succour for people like me who have those concerns?
I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks. Of course, we must work closely with our international partners. That is why we have brought forward today’s meeting at the UN Security Council. Obviously, we cannot second-guess the outcome of the meeting this afternoon. I share many of my hon. Friend’s concerns about the ability of countries to veto action in that multilateral body, but be in no doubt that the United Kingdom is on the front foot and is leading the international response on this crisis.
The Burmese military is as financially corrupt as it is brutal and anti-democratic. The Burmese military have managed to squirrel away stolen assets from the Burmese people, in the UK, in British overseas territories and in other democratic countries in the world. Can we not do more to make sure that they can be returned to the Burmese people?
While China still plays a role in refusing to allow those who are accused of genocides to come to a proper international court, how can the Minister be sure that those that perpetrate genocide are not just going to get away with it? If we cannot get such determinations in an international court, would it not make sense that they are made in a court of law in the UK?
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. On the reference to genocide, we have been very clear that we support the current case in the ICJ process, putting pressure on Myanmar. I think the case will develop significantly in the coming months; we are monitoring that case very closely.
I do not have a crystal ball with regards to the points the hon. Gentleman raised about China, but we are going to very closely consider the legal arguments and, for example, establish whether a UK intervention would add value in the current case that has been brought to the ICJ.
This is a huge setback for the people of Myanmar and for the development of open societies in the ASEAN region as a whole. The civil disobedience movement started by Government hospital doctors suggests an awful potential for protests and violence. While the Minister is quite right to highlight UK initiatives for an emergency session of the UN Security Council and with ASEAN, which has called for a return to normality, can I ask what contacts my hon. Friend and his Department have had with China to discuss the best way to return stability as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend, who I know is extremely passionate, for all the work that he does on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in that region. ASEAN does have an important role to play. I had meetings with the Thai Vice Minister this morning. Yesterday, I spoke with the Laos ambassador, and I have further calls with all ASEAN nations over the next 48 hours. It is important that there is adherence to the principles of the ASEAN charter, which includes good governance and the rule of law. We will, of course, be speaking with China in this regard, as it is a significant player in the region. We are completely clear that the principles of democracy and constitutional government should be returned for the people of Myanmar.
This coup is the latest in a horrifying series of actions by the Myanmar military against the people of that country. We must do all we can to secure the immediate release of the democratically elected leader and all those who have been detained unlawfully. The military, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, have been acting for years with impunity, including in the atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other minorities.
The interventions of our Government, as well as those of the international community, have been insufficient. The UN Security Council meeting today is critically important, and I welcome that. Can the Minister tell the House whether our Government will be pushing for further tougher, targeted sanctions against the Burmese military and formally supporting the genocide prevention case at the International Court of Justice, led by the Gambia, to protect the remaining Rohingya people in that country? It is not good enough for the Minister to keep saying, “We are reviewing it,” or, “We are supporting it, but we are not prepared to formally support it yet.” It is time that we took action. If this coup is not enough to force our Government to act, then I do not know what else will force them to act to get behind this case. I hope the Minister can be more vociferous in answering those questions today.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know how passionate she is about Myanmar and the plight of the Rohingya. We have had meetings on this matter directly. We are using our penholder role to ensure that Myanmar stays on the UN Security Council agenda. We convened the Security Council three times last year to discuss the case brought by Gambia, covid and the situation in Rakhine and the Chin states. We have been very clear that Myanmar has to make progress on accountability. The case will develop significantly in the coming months and, as I said in a previous answer, we will be carefully monitoring developments to consider the legal arguments to establish whether a UK intervention would add value, but I am sure the whole House will want to see the outcome of the UN Security Council meeting in New York this afternoon.
I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary reviewing UK international development assistance to Myanmar, particularly given the coup that has taken place in the past few days. However, for many years, UK taxpayers’ money has essentially been wasted in that country, as we have seen human rights abuses against the Rohingya and the Chin people, and indeed, in the last Parliament, the International Development Committee being blocked from visiting that country by the Government. Can I ask that that review be extremely robust?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right. I would, though, take him to task a tiny bit. I am not entirely sure that our third of a billion pounds that we are spending to support the Rohingya could be deemed as wasted; this is vital humanitarian assistance. As I said, we are spending £88 million this year in Myanmar. He is absolutely right to condemn the coup in Myanmar. We need to see the peaceful reconvening of the National Assembly. We want the results of the election respected and, importantly, we need to see the expressed wishes of the people of Myanmar respected, which I know my hon. Friend is very passionate about.
As the Minister knows, over 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar following an escalation of violence over the past few years. Many residents in Ilford South have written to me concerned that the recent coup is yet another in a long line of worrying developments for Rohingya people. Will the Minister explain what measures the Government have taken to protect Rohingya people, who may now face even greater levels of persecution and oppression?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the plight of the Rohingya. We are working very closely with our partners to ensure that lifesaving humanitarian assistance is delivered for the Rohingya. We are alert to the possibility of further violence being committed. As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), we are one of the largest donors in Rakhine state, which is one of the poorest states in Myanmar. We will continue to provide humanitarian and development assistance to the most vulnerable areas.
I welcome the fact that we have called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council today. Will my hon. Friend elaborate on our approach to that meeting, given the fact that permanent members such as China and Russia have veto powers?
Our presidency of the UN Security Council, as my hon. Friend knows, began on Monday. Initially, the meeting was scheduled for Thursday. We brought it forward to ensure that this is viewed as a matter of urgency by the UN. Our representatives will be there this afternoon, as will those of other members. I have no reason not to believe that all our international partners are concerned about the situation in Myanmar. There will no doubt be a read-out following that meeting.
I thank the Minister for his clear commitment to freedom and democracy. As the House is all too aware, this is not the first time in recent years that Burmese military leaders have committed unconscionable crimes. Their brutal assault against the Rohingya community, which has displaced hundreds of thousands and murdered thousands, was described by the UN as a
“textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Does the Minister agree that the international community’s failure to take substantial action against the Burmese military following that assault has emboldened its leaders to act against democracy in Burma?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. This is a cause that rightly he champions every time he comes to this House. I gently point out that we have taken action against the Myanmar military, specifically the six individuals who were named in the UN fact-finding report. Sixteen in total were on the receiving end of our sanctions regime.
My hon. Friend is right. I think it shows clear leadership. As I said to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), the six named individuals in the UN fact-finding report were in receipt of our sanctions, and 16 individuals in total. We will closely monitor the situation, working with our international partners. We do not rule anything out.
What effect will the Government’s decision to cut their aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national product have on their ability to sustain the level of humanitarian and development funding that the Minister has spoken of in Myanmar and for Rohingya refugees?
We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable; we are committed to doing so. We want to support the Myanmar people in their aspirations for democracy and peace, but we will not provide support for the Myanmar military Government. We will be reviewing all UK aid spending in Myanmar. We do not provide any direct financial support to the Government as it is. In response, the Foreign Secretary has today commissioned an urgent review of all our aid spending to ensure that we are not indirectly supporting the military Government. This review will be based first on maintaining support for the poorest and most vulnerable, and not giving undeserved legitimacy to the military regime, and it will help to protect the foundations for a more inclusive and accountable Myanmar.