Burma

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 6 April 2010.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South 2:30, 6 April 2010

What his most recent assessment is of progress towards democratic reform in Burma.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Forthcoming elections in Burma will be neither free nor fair. Election laws published in March are restrictive and unfair.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

What discussions has my hon. Friend had with our international partners regarding the release of political prisoners in Burma? In particular, what role has China been playing?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend has a long track record of raising issues to do with Burma. It is important that the House continues to shine a light on events in Burma. As our Prime Minister said recently, the new election laws are totally unacceptable. The targeting of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy is particularly vindictive and callous. As a consequence of those new laws, the NLD has now said quite rightly that it is unable to participate in elections that will be illegitimate. Of course, we work with our international partners, especially those countries that have the biggest capacity to influence the situation in that country, and we continue to raise Burma with the Chinese.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma has made the unusually strong recommendation that the UN should consider establishing a commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese regime. Last month, the UK ambassador to the UN said that Britain would support the establishment of a commission of inquiry. What steps are the Government taking to build an international coalition to take that forward, particularly by working with countries such as Australia that have already expressed strong support?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

First, we are pursuing an arms embargo against the regime in Burma with our international partners. We want the UN to take action as soon as possible on that initiative of our Prime Minister.

We support a commission of inquiry in principle, but it is important that we do not propose a vote at the UN on such an issue when we do not have sufficient international support for it to be successful. If that were to happen, it would give false comfort to the regime, so a lot of work must be done to build sufficient consensus to ensure that there is maximum international support for establishing such an inquiry.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee, Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

Does my hon. Friend realise just how much frustration is felt by those of us on both sides of the House who have campaigned on Burma for many years when we see so little progress? In his response to my hon. Friend Mr. Cunningham, he did not say when we will ask China to face up to its responsibilities in the region and the country.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Mr. Speaker, this is an opportunity to pay tribute to your personal role in ensuring that the issue of Burma continues to be a high priority for parliamentarians inside and outside the House.

My hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently visited China, and this was one of the issues on his agenda. We make it clear in our bilateral and multilateral discussions, including with ASEAN and China, that everything possible must be done to put pressure on the regime so that it understands that until it is committed to democratic reform and free and fair elections, its isolation in the world will inevitably continue.