Burma — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 24th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 3:30 pm, 24th March 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking regarding the Government of Burma's decision to ban Aung San Suu Kyi from standing or voting in Burma's elections.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, first, I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and to the House the Written Answer to a similar question he put a few days ago, which makes absolutely clear our belief that the election laws are manifestly unfair and fall well short of international demands and standards. On 15 March the Prime Minister described the targeting of Aung San Suu Kyi and opposition political parties as "vindictive and callous". He has written to the UN Secretary-General supporting an early meeting of the Burma Group of Friends and a possible discussion in the UN Security Council. The Government have reiterated their call for a universal arms embargo against Burma.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

In the light of the outrageous decision of the Burmese Government to ban Aung San Suu Kyi from not only contesting but even being able to vote in elections, I strongly welcome what the Minister has just said about the demarche planned by the Prime Minister. Do we intend to seek to enlist the ASEAN countries and China in that initiative? Can the Minister also tell the House what our response is to the recent report from the United Nations special rapporteur on Burma about the continuing atrocities against ethnic minorities in Burma? He identified crimes against humanity and war crimes and suggested that a UN commission of inquiry should be established. Will we support that?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, on the noble Lord's first question, the Government continue to raise Burma at the highest level both within the EU and the UN. Over the past months our network of embassies in the region has lobbied numerous countries. The Prime Minister raised the issue with the President of China at the UN General Assembly last September, as did the Foreign Secretary with his opposite number, the Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs-the ASEAN network is chaired by Vietnam at the moment-and Indonesia. Singapore and Thailand have publicly condemned the Burmese election laws.

On the noble Lord's second question, it really is a matter of timing. We strongly support the rapporteur's recommendation, but if we are to press the issue it is important to do so in a way that carries support within the Security Council and not to fall victim to veto or lack of support, as that will be seen in Rangoon as a victory for the military junta. But we are strongly supportive of it and are seeking support.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office

My Lords, can we propose that the European Union make representations to ASEAN not to recognise these sham elections and the fake parliament that will result from them as being contrary to the ASEAN charter? That provides for member governments to adhere to the rule of law and good governance, and the principles of democracy and constitutional government. How can they support these elections, which do none of these things?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

The noble Lord makes an important point. Those issues have been raised, and as I have said the Governments of Singapore and Thailand have already indicated the view the noble Lord sets out. We hope that by the time the elections are announced and take place that view will be shared by the whole ASEAN group.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, quite rightly mentioned China. Does the Minister accept, as I am sure he does, that although the arms embargo is entirely right, one effect of sanctions and cutting off links with Burma is simply to open the way for more and more Chinese enterprise and official activity to move into Burma? Chinese activity has moved in this way into east and west Africa, Latin America, Sri Lanka and many other places as well. Will he ensure that any further pressures on the dreadful Burmese Government are tailored in a way that does not simply open the door even wider to Chinese undermining of our efforts, and that we gain the support of the Chinese in putting real pressure on that regime?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

The noble Lord makes an important point. As I previously stated, the Prime Minister raised this issue at the highest level with the President of China in New York in September. We continue to raise it, not only within the ASEAN group but in particular with those important south Asian nations that have trading and other links with the Burmese regime. The influence of those who are in the ASEAN group is perhaps greater than that of those of us in Europe, but we take on board the point made previously that we should work through the European Union. We shall continue to press at all levels-as it is seen as a very high priority by the Prime Minister-to bring about democracy in that country as opposed to sham elections to maintain a military Government.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

Will my noble friend confirm that India has recently supplied helicopters with possible military uses to the Burmese Government? If that is the case, what representations have been made to India that it should desist from this?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

I have to confess to not being aware whether India has provided helicopters to the regime in Rangoon. I shall make inquiries in that regard and respond to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the contact between our Prime Minister and the Chinese in New York late last year. What response did he get?