Human Rights: Burma

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 18th January 2017.

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Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 12:44 pm, 18th January 2017

Mr Speaker, I know that you care deeply about the situation in Burma and have done much to foster democratic values in that country and to promote relations between the UK and Burma. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Paul Scully for raising this matter. He knows Burma well and has close family connections there.

We have of course been deeply worried by the flare-up of violence in Rakhine state since an attack on police posts on 9 October by unknown assailants—presumed to be Rohingya militants. While we condemn the attack and recognise the right of security forces to carry out security operations to root out the perpetrators, we remain deeply concerned by the conduct of the army in its response. Although restrictions on media, diplomatic and humanitarian access make the facts difficult to ascertain, we have been worried by numerous reports alleging widespread human rights violations in the security response.

British Ministers have directly lobbied Burmese Ministers in response to the escalating violence. The Commonwealth Affairs Minister, my noble Friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns, raised the issue with the Burmese Defence Minister when she visited Burma in November last year. Specifically, she called for the full and immediate resumption of aid and for an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses. I repeated those calls to the Construction Minister when he visited the UK, also in November. The Burmese Government have now committed to investigating the 9 October attacks, restoring human rights access and investigating allegations of human rights abuses. In practice, however, much aid is still blocked by local authorities reporting to the military, particularly in the areas where security operations are ongoing. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

We are also worried by the recent escalation of conflict in Kachin and Shan states, which has also led to allegations of civilian casualties, the widespread displacement of civilians and human rights abuses. We have raised our concerns about the violence in north-east Burma directly with Burmese Ministers. As I said, we continue to monitor the situation closely. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will visit Burma soon and will reiterate our concerns about such issues.