Burma

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 9th October 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 2:59 pm, 9th October 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of recent developments in Burma (Myanmar).

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, we condemn the violent manner in which the Burmese Government have dealt with recent peaceful demonstrations in Burma. The regime has again shown its contempt for human rights and democracy. We remain gravely concerned about the whereabouts and welfare of many of those detained. The UK has been working with others in the international community to put pressure on the regime to end the violence and engage in a genuine process of reconciliation.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that encouragingly robust reply. I am sure that this House would endorse the comments made by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister in his statement of support for the courage of those who demonstrated peacefully and his deep concern about the SPDC's brutal response.

Will Her Majesty's Government raise as a priority the plight of some of the ethnic national groups? I was with the Chin people just over two weeks ago, and there is very grave concern about the plight of that group and that of others, such as the Karen, the Karenni, the Shan, the Kachin and the Rohingya peoples. They are trapped in closed areas and denied any access by international aid and advocacy organisations, and their situations may be even worse than that which has been reported for other people.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, we all share with the noble Baroness the reaction to those extraordinary sights of the monks confronting armed troops in Burma, but we also recognise that the groups to which she referred have had much less visibility and publicity for their very long multi-year struggle, and we will certainly make sure that in any process of reconciliation their interests are respected and that they are involved in any negotiations.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we are all horrified by what has been going on in Burma, by what is happening now and by what may happen. I know that the Minister has been active in talking to various international leaders. Does he agree that the position of China, for which Burma is really nothing more than a client state at the moment, is absolutely crucial in this? If it can put pressure on, there will be real pressure, and without its help we will not get far. Does he further agree that Japan has a part to play in this? Japanese investment in Burma is enormous. At the moment, it does not have strong sanctions, if any. Will he ensure that he will include Japan in the list of people to whom he is talking? So far, he has not done so.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. The big difference on this occasion versus the last time that there were these kinds of protests in Burma is the role of Asia. Last time, Asia generally passed by on the other side and turned a blind eye to what had happened. On this occasion, we have seen very strong statements by ASEAN, a constructive role by China in securing the ability of the UN envoy to visit, and the commitment of the new Government in Japan to work for a process of reconciliation. I add to the list the Government of India, which is also a major economic partner, and we hope that they will similarly express their support for reconciliation.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, my noble friend recently visited Beijing and noted the movement by the Chinese Government to a more internationally consensual position, for example, in respect of Zimbabwe. What further examples can he give of movement by China in respect of the Burmese situation, particularly as a result of it holding the Olympic Games?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. In addition to securing the visa and the access to Burma of the UN envoy, Mr Ibrahim Gambari, China participated last Friday in the debate in the UN Security Council and was again playing a constructive role. That mirrors action that we are seeing by China on issues such as Darfur and Zimbabwe. China is engaging and is becoming a more responsible international stakeholder.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, there is time for both, but the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has tried to speak a couple of times. She ought to be heard, and then the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, what plans have Her Majesty's Government to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Burma and, in particular, to provide financial help and support generally on the border to the many displaced people? Moreover, can we be assured that when Mr Gambari visited Burma he asked to see the prisoners in the jails? If not, why not?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Baroness can be reassured that we are a major contributor of humanitarian assistance and are looking to see what more we should do; the Prime Minister referred to that in another place. I will need to look into the issue of visits to prisoners. I do not know about that detail of Mr Gambari's visit.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, when the Prime Minister met some of the demonstrators last Saturday, he called for a stepping up of international pressure on the regime to end violence and to make genuine moves towards restoration of democracy. Would the noble Lord consider a suggestion made by Human Rights Watch in testimony before the US Senate that banking sanctions be imposed on the regime and its leaders, which has proved effective in North Korea?

The noble Lord mentioned in particular the violence against monks. Does he think that this matter can be referred via the United Nations Human Rights Council to the International Criminal Court, so that preparations can be made to prosecute the offenders who have been guilty of gross atrocities against the monk community in Burma?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, on the last point, that would require a reference by the UN Security Council as Burma is not a signatory to the ICC, I believe. All bets are off in terms of the right set of sanctions that may be required to put pressure on Burma. The noble Lord is right to draw attention to banking sanctions, which have proved enormously effective in North Korea and Sudan and should very much be on the table for discussion.