Myanmar

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:03 pm on 2nd February 2021.

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Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:03 pm, 2nd February 2021

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.

The Labour party will always speak up for universal rights and freedoms, the rule of law and democracy across the world, including in Myanmar. We know that democracy is in retreat around the world, and for the first time since 2001, democratic Governments are outnumbered by authoritarian regimes. What took place in Myanmar yesterday and over the weekend serves to remind us of the daunting scale and nature of the challenge we face. This military coup is a flagrant breach of the constitution of Myanmar, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The army’s claims of voter fraud are utterly spurious. This is a naked power grab.

While Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to stand up for the human rights of the Rohingya people has been deeply troubling, the fact is that her party secured a landslide victory in the November elections, and Myanmar’s young democracy must be respected and protected. Let us not forget the human cost of this coup: many brave elected representatives and activists were rounded up in the dead of night, their families terrified by the men in uniform on the doorstep. Now they languish in prison cells.

How has it come to this? Well, for decades, the power-hungry Myanmar military has oppressed and persecuted the Burmese people, committing countless atrocities—most notably against the Rohingya, for which it currently stands accused of genocide in the International Court of Justice. Experts on Myanmar are clear that the tacit support of China, combined with the rest of the world turning a blind eye, has given the military the confidence to enact this coup, based on the assumption that the international backlash will be negligible and lethargic. The UK and the wider international community must act swiftly and effectively to prove the military wrong on this. The UK Government must move from warm words of condemnation to tangible action. As the penholder on Myanmar at the Security Council, the UK has a particular and unique responsibility to lead the international response. We welcome the Security Council session the Government have convened today, but we believe there are further steps that must be taken.

First, the Government must lead by example by imposing sanctions on the Myanmar military and all its business interests. When I urged the Minister to take this action last year, he argued against such measures on the ground that it would have a negative impact on foreign investment into the Myanmar economy. Well, there is nothing like a military coup to damage foreign investment, so surely the Minister must now accept that his argument no longer stands up to scrutiny and that the Government must immediately impose sanctions that directly target the military and its financial backers. We on the Opposition Benches strongly support the Magnitsky sanctions against individuals in Myanmar, but let us be clear that they are designed predominantly for countries where senior officials have economic interests in the UK, such as Russia and China, and this is not the case for Myanmar.

Secondly, the UK Government should seek to extend the arms embargo against Myanmar so that it is as close as possible to global in its scale and scope. Clearly, authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China will be unlikely to participate, but we must seek to build the broadest possible coalition of countries committed to not selling weapons to Myanmar.

Thirdly, now must surely be the time for the Minister to commit the UK to joining the Netherlands and Canada in formally supporting the Gambia in its case of genocide brought against Myanmar at the ICJ. Will he also call for Myanmar’s first report to the ICJ, published last June, to be made public in order to shine a light on the atrocities committed by the military? I would also like the Minister to set out what conversations he has had with the Bangladeshi Government to ensure that humanitarian aid contributed by the UK is sufficiently reaching the Rohingya who have fled to Cox’s Bazar.

Finally, what consular support are the UK Government offering to UK citizens who are in Myanmar and caught in the middle of this appalling military coup?

I respect the Minister, and I know that his heart is in the right place on this issue, but I have to say to him that this statement falls far short of what we need and what we expect—nothing on sanctions, nothing on the ICJ. The people of Myanmar need a stronger response, and they need it now.