Burma - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 12th June 2018.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 2:59 pm, 12th June 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent reports of the Burmese military attacking Christians in Kachin, and other ethnic minorities in Burma; what representations they have made to the government of Burma about these reports; and what consideration they have given to the case for referring the government of Burma to the International Criminal Court.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, the Government have expressed their deep concern at the surge of fighting in Kachin since April. We have called upon the Burmese military and all parties to cease hostilities and allow the humanitarian access that is required to be provided to displaced people. Turning to Rakhine, the Burmese authorities must show that the commission of inquiry can deliver accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities. If not, the Government will consider supporting international routes to justice.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Those responsible have been emboldened by the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Rohingya Muslims, the destruction of villages and killings, torture and rape. What practical things do we intend to do in response to the United Nations estimate that fighting in Kachin and Shan states has now driven a further 120,000 people into 167 inaccessible displacement camps? How are we responding to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’s request that these unconscionable war crimes and crimes against humanity be referred to her court? Is not it high time that senior members of the Burmese military such as General Min Aung Hlaing are targeted with sanctions and brought to justice?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

On the noble Lord’s final point, of course we have exercised the tool of sanctions against several members of the military, and continue to use that tool. On his more specific point on the displacement of people in Kachin, there has been an emboldening. Not only has the Rohingya community suffered immensely following its displacement—with almost 1 million in Bangladesh, if you take it over a longer period—but so too have specific communities in Kachin, predominantly Christian minority communities. There has been internal displacement, and quite often the full extent of that displacement has not been revealed because of lack of access. There is a glimmer of hope from the civilian Administration in that, for the first time, we have seen Burma sign an MoU with the UN agencies concerned—the UNHCR and the UNDP—which took place on 7 June. In a recent conversation with the civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary reiterated the importance of ensuring the full return of all refugees, be they from Rakhine or from Kachin.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, remembering the role that the late Robin Cook played as Labour Foreign Secretary in his advocacy of the International Criminal Court, have the Government ever referred anyone to that court?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

In terms of how many times there have been actual referrals, I will have to write to the noble and learned Lord. I assure him that the Government are fully supportive of the ICC and its efforts in this regard. We support all mechanisms in bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the last time I was in Kachin state I visited a village where I was told of how a local woman was abducted by the Burmese army, tied to a post in the army camp in full view of her family, repeatedly dragged away presumably for rape or other maltreatment, and eventually disappeared? A recent statement from the Kachin global network claims that:

“There have also been ongoing abductions, deaths, and injuries by landmine explosion, torture and subsequent health problems, and mortar shells exploding on civilians’ houses”.

Will Her Majesty’s Government raise as a priority with the Burmese Government the issue of the atrocities and violations of human rights perpetrated with impunity by the Burmese army?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

Let me assure the noble Baroness that we are doing just that. We have all been horrified, first by what we saw in the Rohingya crisis, and now by the situation we see unravelling in Kachin. I assure her and all noble Lords that we will continue to implore the Burmese authorities, and that includes bilateral visits such as those made by my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Asia, Mark Field. We will continue to raise this through international fora, both at the UN and at the Human Rights Council.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, the reported atrocities against the Rohingya have been described as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made as to whether the human rights violations in Kachin and Shan states meet the criteria of at least crimes against humanity and war crimes?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The right reverend Prelate is correct on the issue of the Rohingya, and as a Government we think that ethnic cleansing has taken place. Indeed, that is self-evident because of the number of refugees we have seen pour into Bangladesh. As I said in response to an earlier question, the situation in Kachin is of deep concern, but because of the lack of access for international agencies it is difficult to determine the issue of genocide more specifically. As regards judicial opinion, we will be guided appropriately, but we have certainly seen ethnic cleansing take place in Rakhine state—there is no better term for it. In Kachin, too, what we are seeing is very troubling, but a full assessment cannot be made because of the lack of access.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative

My Lords, 32% of Burma’s population are from ethnic minorities, so we are seeing the systematic persecution of people spread from one group like the Rohingya to another like those in Rakhine state. Can my noble friend the Minister please outline whether this systematic persecution has had any impact on the ability of the UK Government to employ people from the Burmese ethnic-minority population in our embassy in Rangoon? I understand that around 70% of the embassy’s staff are normally recruited locally. Can he confirm that we are not restricted in who we can recruit by virtue of this persecution?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

Our recruitment policy reflects the impartiality we would employ in any circumstances. It would be beneficial for all noble Lords to know the exact numbers and I will look into that. My noble friend, who speaks from great experience, makes an important point; namely, that we need to ensure that we demonstrate the inclusive nature of our operations in all our actions, including the efforts we are making on the ground in Rangoon. As I have said, there is a degree of hope, in that for the first time the United Nations is now gaining access to parts of Burma. We will continue to impress on both the civilian and military authorities for that access to be applicable universally across the country.