Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:45 pm, 20th December 2018

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate, and I thank the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) and for St Albans (Mrs Main) for setting the scene so well. I also declare an interest. As chair of the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief, it is an issue I am very interested in. Every time there has been a debate on the Rohingya, I have probably been there. I commend the hon. Ladies for their leadership in this area and the Backbench Business Committee for making this debate possible today. I am very aware of this issue. I have spoken about it numerous times. I would love to say that I will not have to speak about it again, but, as everyone has said today, we probably will. We will probably be having this same debate this time next year. It would be great if things had improved by then. We wish and pray for that.

The reason for this debate is very clear. The humanitarian crisis has been described by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as

“a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”,

the UN Secretary-General has described the situation as “catastrophic”, and various NGOs continue to warn that the recent escalation of violence by Burma’s security forces against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya population constitutes crimes against humanity—those last words are all important. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma has said that the situation has the “hallmarks” of genocide, while the independent international fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council claims to have documented evidence of genocide.

It has been over a year since these atrocities were perpetrated, and the international community has taken woefully—I say that respectfully—insufficient action either to bring them to an end or to bring the perpetrators to justice. The independent international fact-finding mission has called for a case to be brought to the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. All these things irk us. Right hon. and hon. Members have referred to much depravity and violence and brutal killing. It is very hard to sit through these things and not be moved.

As we work to secure the referral of a case to the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, as recommended by the UN independent fact-finding mission, I believe we should seek a UN Security Council resolution imposing a global arms embargo on the Burmese army, with targeted sanctions against Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. May I ask the Minister—we are very fortunate to have a Minister of such standing, whose responses show such an understanding of this issue—to indicate what our Government, my and his Government, have done on this?

A briefing I have received from the Burma Campaign UK states very clearly:

“Time is running out to address one of the most critical issues for addressing the root causes of the crisis, the denial of citizenship. Aung San Suu Kyi still refuses to accept Rohingya belong in Burma and should have citizenship. With elections due in Burma in 2020, there is now only a window of 12 months where it may be possible to repeat or replace the Citizenship Law. At the present time, Aung San Suu Kyi has the Parliamentary majority and political authority to push through a change. This may not be the case after the 2020 election. The British government and others must prioritise this issue, pressuring Aung San Suu Kyi to change the Citizenship Law in 2019.”

Hon. Members have all asked for it and I am asking for it, so I ask my Minister—our Minister—what has been done to ensure that that happens? We are ever mindful, as the Burma Campaign UK says, and I agree, that we have a “window of 12 months”, which is a very short time. While it is right and proper that we give the Brexit issue full attention, and it is consuming all our lives at the moment, we cannot and must not forget what we owe to the world out there, and especially to those countries with which we have had colonial connections in the past.

I was shocked to learn back in October that the number of Rohingya refugees has reached nearly 1 million, with the young girls in Bangladesh refugee camps sold into forced labour accounting for the largest group of trafficking victims. All these things are horrible to listen to. It is even more horrible to know that, despite the efforts of many, they continue. OMOperation Mobilisation—reports that women and girls are lured into forced labour, and they account for two thirds of those receiving the agency’s support in Cox’s Bazar, while another 10% were victims of sexual exploitation. They have run from sexual exploitation, and they find themselves back in it. There must be something seriously wrong when that is happening. Men and boys are not exempt, accounting for about a third of refugees forced into labour.

There must be more support on the ground, and it is clear that we must call on the Burmese Government to allow unhindered access to the country for international humanitarian aid agencies, human rights monitors, the media, UN representatives of the fact-finding mission and the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma. Everyone has a role to play. This will, I sincerely hope, curtail the actions of those who believe that there is no law and no accountability for breaking any human rights violations.

A short time ago, I met Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s delegation from northern Burma, which gave us some horrific statistics about what is taking place. While it is completely understandable and right that the world has focused on the plight of the Rohingya, I want very gently to mention others. In no way should we detract from their plight, but the situation in northern Burma affecting the predominantly Christian Kachin, as well as the Buddhist Shan and Ta’ang and others, has deteriorated dramatically.

It would seem that, having achieved their objectives in Rakhine state, the Burmese army has moved on to perpetrate similar atrocities in northern Burma, while the world was still focused on Rakhine. The Burmese army, and all the officers that have been commanding it, need to be held accountable. If there is a war crimes tribunal, I can tell you, I will be the first in the queue to give them a good going over. What has taken place is absolutely despicable, and it really grieves me greatly.

In a statement on 23 April, the Kachin community warned of an escalation in Burmese army military offensives against the country’s ethnic groups. It stated that

“the Burma military is escalating attacks against ethnic groups in the country, including in Rakhine State, Kachin State, Shan State and most recently breaking the ceasefire in Karen State.”

It continued:

“There is no shortage of evidence of violations of international law committed by the Burma military.”

That has been outlined by other Members today.