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Rohingya People

Volume 629: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2017

9. What recent representations he has made to his Myanmar counterpart on the treatment of the Rohingya people. (901179)

12. What recent representations he has made to his Myanmar counterpart on the treatment of the Rohingya people. (901183)

The Foreign Secretary spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi on 7 and 17 September. I met her in Naypyidaw in Burma on 27 September, and the Deputy Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly on 20 September. We called for an end to the violence in Rakhine state, a safe return for refugees, full humanitarian access, and, most importantly, implementation in full of the Annan Commission’s recommendations.

We are seeing the heartbreaking pictures and hearing the tragic stories of the plight of the Rohingya people on a daily basis now. Will the Minister increase his representations? Specifically in the light of the evidence of the atrocities by the Myanmar armed forces, does he feel that the decision to lift the EU sanctions against the military regime was premature?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful question. What is going on in Rakhine is a human tragedy and a humanitarian catastrophe. When the UN lifted sanctions in 2011, it was trying to encourage a road towards democracy, which has obviously happened with the election that took place only 18 months ago. With hindsight, one might argue that these sanctions were lifted prematurely. However, a lot of Burma watchers would say that the sanctions did not have a huge effect. There was not a great deal of money from the Burmese military in western bank accounts in the way that applies, for example, to sanctions for Russia, China and elsewhere.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described what is happening in Myanmar as

“a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

I happen to agree with him. Does the Minister?

As I said, it is a humanitarian catastrophe out there. Sadly, this increasingly appears to be an accurate description of the situation. It is now essential for the Burmese authorities to enact the positive measures that were announced by the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday evening. They include the establishment of a new civilian-led body to oversee refugee returns and the development of Rakhine into a state in which all communities can live together sustainably.

Terrible acts of brutality and violence have been carried out against the Rohingya people. Is it the Minister’s intention to ensure that the Burmese army will be charged with war crimes for what they have done?

That is a matter for the UN. The issue of genocide is a legal one and it will be determined at UN level. I understand that there is some frustration and a perception that diplomatic advancement has been slow. We have taken a lead in this. There have been two closed meetings and an open meeting of the UN Security Council. The truth is that a headlong rush to get a Security Council resolution along these sorts of lines would most likely end up being vetoed by the Chinese or the Russians. We need to move together as an international community, recognising that these serious crimes must be properly dealt with.