asked Her Majesty's Government:
What steps they are taking to persuade the military regime in Burma to release the democratically elected leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest.
My Lords, with our European Community partners we have repeatedly urged the Burmese authorities, both bilaterally and in the relevant international bodies, to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally from detention on this, the fourth anniversary of her house arrest. She should be allowed to play her part in Burma's political future.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and the Government for the efforts that they have made, both directly and with partners in the European Community. At the forthcoming Commonwealth summit will the Government seek to obtain the agreement of Commonwealth governments in following the course set by the European Community and bringing the maximum pressure to bear on the military regime in Burma to release this distinguished lady, to end violations of human rights, and to restore parliamentary democracy in Burma?
My Lords, although Burma is no member of the Commonwealth, I am certain that noble Lords will appreciate that we have taken up every opportunity, including the further tough resolution passed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights this year, criticising the continuing serious abuses of human rights in Burma and calling for the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi. I hope that we shall see some response from the Burmese. We have to keep on pressing. With the few political prisoners who have been released and the visits which Michael Aris is now allowed to make to his wife, perhaps there is a little more hope. However, she needs to be released, as do the political prisoners. That is the only action that will answer the free world's call.
My Lords, is my right honourable friend aware—
Is my noble friend aware that the continued ill-treatment of this very courageous lady is an affront to the entire civilised world? Will she give the House an assurance that fresh efforts will be made to mobilise world opinion in order to achieve results?
My Lords, yes.
My Lords, is there not a very strong case for taking more positive action through the Security Council against this cruel and wicked government in Burma? Will Her Majesty's Government propose to the Security Council that sanctions should be operated against them?
My Lords, it is difficult to know what to do with a country that has been totally deaf to the many and repeated calls from all international bodies. However, having renewed by our resolution in the United Nations this year the special rapporteurs' mandate to continue the public scrutiny of human rights in Burma, I am quite sure that there will be further occasions not only for discussion but also for action. I shall see whether the noble Lord's ideas can be put into action.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of, and did she support, the initiative taken by other Nobel Peace Prize winners, led by the Dalai Lama, a while ago in seeking to go to Burma to plead on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi? Their request was, of course, refused. Is the Minister satisfied that nothing more can be done? Will she give support to the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn?
My Lords, perhaps I may welcome the noble Lord safely back to our House, having read my newspapers in the past 24 hours. Although the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is, I know, very keen that we should look at wider trade sanctions, I fear that they are unlikely to be effective without widespread international support which, sadly, is not forthcoming, in particular from some of the ASEAN countries. However, I sympathise very much that further action must be taken to help to free this very brave lady and indeed to get democracy alive again in Burma.
My Lords, if the unfortunate lady is still under restraint at the time, will the Government use the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting as a good forum in which to focus pressure on Burma?
My Lords, as I say, I am not sure that it is specifically a matter for the Commonwealth; it goes far wider. That is why, in answer to my noble friend. Lord Braine, I spoke about the United Nations. However, we shall do whatever we can to help this brave lady gain her freedom and to secure the freedom of others who are in prison on political grounds.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the ASEAN countries. Will she tell the House whether the Government have made any representations either alone or with our EC partners to those countries to try to put pressure on the Burmese Government to restore democracy and to observe decent human rights?
My Lords, the issue has been discussed in a number of different fora. We have been to the fore in those discussions with others. One has to understand that many of the countries which could be most influential are among the ASEAN group. That is why we have put pressure on them. However, they have not used their influence on the Burmese SLORC government—the military government—as we would like them to do. It is a time for more representation, not less.
My Lords, the noble Baroness puts her finger on the point. I refer to the support which the regime unfortunately receives from some of the countries geographically closest to it. Is it possible to bring collective pressure to bear on some of those countries to withdraw that support? I understand that one or two are beginning to waver. If that support was withdrawn, the world community could be satisfied and this disastrous situation brought to an end.
My Lords, I shall look into the matter.