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Rohingya Muslims

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to respond to the decision of the International Court of Justice to direct the government of Myanmar to prevent all genocidal acts against Rohingya Muslims.

My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomed the International Court of Justice’s decision on provisional measures. We urged Myanmar to comply with the measures in full. We are exploring with partners how best to ensure that Myanmar implements the decision of the International Court of Justice, including through the United Nations Security Council.

I am grateful to the Minister. Would he agree that one of the most disturbing and depressing moments during the International Court of Justice hearings was the sight of Aung San Suu Kyi defending the Tatmadaw, or Burmese army, against the charges of war crimes—crimes which have led to the forced exodus of 700,000 Rohingya, with villages burned, executions, tortures and mass rape? In supporting this important blow for justice by the ICJ, will we be using Magnitsky powers to introduce carefully targeted economic sanctions against the military, which has been responsible? How will we galvanise the opinion of the international community to ensure compliance with the ICJ ruling that Burma report in four months and every six months thereafter on how it has complied with the undertakings it has been asked to give under the genocide convention?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, we will be exploring all options with international partners. As I alluded to, I have already instigated seeing what we can do as penholders of the Security Council. I agree with the noble Lord’s assessment; when we saw Aung San Suu Kyi deliver her defence of the actions towards the Rohingya, it was a reflection of where she was and where she is today. It was a sad moment. That said, we have been supportive of the ICJ decision. On the issue of sanctions, as the noble Lord is aware, through the global human rights regime that we will implement once we have left the European Union, we will be using human rights specifically to drive our sanctions regime. More generally on sanctions, he will also be aware that we, with our EU partners, were the ones who drove sanctions against four of the six commanders who instigated and were reported on through the UN report. There are, I believe, currently 14 military personnel in total from Myanmar who are under those sanction regimes.

My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that, when these discussions take place with our partners around the world, specifically in relation to action at the UN Security Council, we will bear in mind not just the now proven legal record of genocide against the Rohingya community but the killings that have taken place in Kachin province and Shan province? The communities that have been affected by the genocidal activities of the Myanmar Government now extend well beyond the Rohingya Muslim community; it is important that all their actions are put on the table.

My noble friend surprised me somewhat; normally I expect her to be on my right, and she appeared on my left today—I am not alluding to any political affiliations. She raises very valuable points on the more general situation in the different provinces of Myanmar, where we have seen systematic persecution. We have used the phrase ethnic cleansing. We have not used the word genocide, because that is a determination, as my noble friend will know from her insight and experience as a lawyer, for the courts to make. However, she raises valuable points and I assure her that in our discussions we are looking at the whole situation of every state within Myanmar.

My Lords, incidents of sexual violence were a particular feature of this attempted genocide, which I am sure were horrific for all who have watched events closely. Will the Government reschedule the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict summit that was cancelled due to the general election and ensure that the Murad code on evidence of sexual violence in conflict is revisited this year to make sure that we can be in a better position in future to collect evidence of these sorts of events and ensure prosecutions?

First, if I may correct the noble Lord, the summit was not cancelled but postponed. As someone who had spent a year and half planning it, perhaps no one was more disappointed than me, but we had a general election and I believe that that was the right call. The new dates are currently being looked at and it is in process. I have put forward specific dates for consideration by both the Foreign Secretary and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, which I hope to be able to announce shortly. On the Murad code, absolutely—we are working with Nadia Murad to ensure that the learnings from the Murad code will be a specific deliverable at the conference.

My Lords, some of us had the privilege to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day event at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. It was a moving occasion, and the organisers should be congratulated on including in the programme the Rohingya community and the worst atrocities they have suffered in recent times. This should put Aung San Suu Kyi to shame for having asked the court to set aside the allegation of genocide against defenceless people fleeing Myanmar. Will the Minister ensure that adequate security and safety are provided for those who are still in Myanmar and those who wish to return from the refugee camps? There is a danger that lack of action may result in a permanent campsite in Bangladesh.

While I acknowledge the role of the Bangladeshi Government in providing support to the Rohingya refugees, I assure the noble Lord that we are absolutely committed to the safe, secure, voluntary and dignified return of any refugees to Rakhine. That also includes their rights as citizens of a particular country, which is an important consideration in that respect.

My Lords, can I probe the Minister a little more about precisely what sorts of conversations we are having with our international partners, including the European Union, about the actions we may be able to take collectively to ensure that the decision of the International Court of Justice is complied with? In particular, the sanctions that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned can work only if we have international co-operation.

In the interests of time, I agree with the noble Lord. We will be working with our international partners in this respect. I alluded to the fact that we have already worked with our European partners on ensuring that certain individuals in the military in Myanmar are subject to sanctions, and our view is that those conversations will continue during the transition period. As we develop our own sanctions regime we will work in conjunction with our partners, both in Europe and elsewhere.