Myanmar - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 1:22 pm on 11th February 2021.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 2 February.

“I would like to update the House on the situation in Myanmar. On Sunday evening, Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw, seized control of the country, declaring a state of emergency in the early hours of Monday morning. The country is now under the effective control of the commander-in-chief and the military Vice-President, Myint Swe. At around 0200 local time on 1 February, the Tatmadaw began detaining politicians and civil society leaders across the country, including the democratically elected Aung Sang Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. The Tatmadaw has said that this state of emergency will continue for a year.

The army has also taken control of the airports. Only military broadcasters are still on air, and phone lines and the internet remain at risk of being disconnected again. The military’s actions follow on from its accusations of fraud during November’s election. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy won by a landslide and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party’s share was drastically reduced. While there were significant concerns about the disfranchisement of minority groups such as the Rohingya, there are no suggestions of widespread irregularities. International observers, such as the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, found no evidence of significant irregularities in the elections. As such, the United Kingdom considers the election result to credibly reflect the will of the people and that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party is the rightful winner of the election.

The commander-in-chief has indicated an intention to hold new elections to replace the results of those in November 2020. Any dispute regarding the election results should be resolved through peaceful and lawful mechanisms. The Myanmar Supreme Court is hearing a case on alleged irregularities but has not yet decided whether it has jurisdiction. The reports today of the arrest of the chair of the Union Election Commission are deeply concerning.

The events of Sunday night have filled us all with a profound sense of revulsion and sadness. Our thoughts are with the people of Myanmar, who have once again been robbed of their inherent democratic rights. The elections in 2020, though by no means perfect, were an important step on Myanmar’s path to democracy. We and others welcomed them as a strong endorsement of Myanmar’s desire for a democratic future. Myanmar’s transition has been troubled, with a constitution rigged in favour of the military, a campaign of atrocities and systematic discrimination against the Rohingya and other minorities, and a faltering peace process.

This coup threatens to set Myanmar’s progress back by years—potentially decades. As such, we are clear in our condemnation of this coup, the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar and the unlawful detention of democratically elected politicians and civil society by the military. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both issued statements to this effect on Monday morning. It is essential that Aung San Suu Kyi and all those unlawfully detained are released. We must receive assurances that their safety, well-being and rights are being respected. The state of emergency must be repealed, arbitrary detentions reversed, the outcome of the democratic elections respected and the national assembly peacefully reconvened. We are aware that there is a risk that demonstrations could provoke a violent response, taking Myanmar back to the dark days of the 1988 uprising or the 2007 saffron revolution, in which scores of civilians were killed.

As for the UK response, we are pursuing all levers to ensure a peaceful return to democracy. First, we have made representations at the highest level within Myanmar to encourage all sides to resolve disputes in a peaceful and legal manner. The Foreign Secretary had a call scheduled for later this week with Aung San Suu Kyi prior to her detention. We are clear in our demands that this call goes ahead and we hope that it will serve as an opportunity to confirm her safety. I formally summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK to the Foreign Office yesterday. In the meeting, I condemned the military coup and the arbitrary detention of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and made it clear that the democratic wishes of the people of Myanmar must be respected, and the elected national assembly peacefully reconvened. We are doing all we can, working with those in Myanmar, to support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

Secondly, the international community has a role to play. We are engaging with partners globally and in the region to help to align objectives and find a resolution to the crisis. We will work through multilateral fora to ensure a strong and co-ordinated international response. As president, the Foreign Secretary is co-ordinating G7 partners on its response, aiming to build on its quick statement last week on Navalny. The UK has urgently convened the UN Security Council, which will meet later today. As a champion of the rules- based international order and democratic government, we are driving the international response, including in our role as president of both the G7 and the UN Security Council, urging the military to immediately hand back power to the Government who were legitimately elected in November 2020. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also has an important role to play, as do the principles of the ASEAN charter, including the rule of law, good governance, and the principles of democracy and constitutional government. We continue to engage with ASEAN partners to support a regional response, and I held a meeting with the Thai Vice-Foreign Minister this morning.

Thirdly, it is the military’s actions that instigated this coup. The UK already has a number of measures in place in response to the military’s past and ongoing atrocities. On 19 September 2017, the UK announced the suspension of all defence engagement and training with the Myanmar military by the Ministry of Defence until there is a satisfactory resolution to the situation in Rakhine. The MoD no longer has a defence section in Yangon. The United Kingdom has already imposed sanctions on 16 individuals responsible for human rights violations in Myanmar. We sanctioned all six individuals named by the UN fact-finding mission report, including the commander-in-chief and his deputy, who are the architects of the current political situation and who also have the power to de-escalate the crisis and restore democracy. We will assess how best to engage with the military, if at all. We have also enhanced private sector due diligence to prevent UK funds from going to military-owned companies.

The UK does not provide direct financial aid to the Myanmar Government, but we provide some targeted support, working through other international organisations and multilateral bodies. In the light of the coup, the Foreign Secretary has today announced a review of all such indirect support involving the Myanmar Government, with a view to suspending it unless there are exceptional humanitarian reasons. It is important that our response holds the military accountable.

We will continue to support the people of Myanmar. We will continue leading the international response to this crisis and calling on the military leaders in Myanmar to relent, revoke the state of emergency, release members of the civilian Government and civil society, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, reconvene the elected national assembly, respect the results of the November 2020 general election, and accept the expressed wishes of the people of Myanmar. I commend the statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

My Lords, this appalling action by Myanmar’s military leaders represents a flagrant breach of the country’s constitution and fundamentally undermines the democratic right of its people to determine their own future.

In the week since this Statement was first made, we have seen the people of Myanmar take to the streets to demand democracy. The police are now using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against these peaceful protesters. Many of those brave people have tweeted their own experiences, which I have seen. On the subject of social media, I hope that the Government will look again at how the UK’s CDC has been investing in Myanmar telecoms companies that have been complying with the country’s government-ordered repression and blockages of internet sites. They are now, of course, being used by the military in the coup.

As the military acts on its warning of violent response, the UK is the penholder of Myanmar at the Security Council and has a responsibility to stand up for democracy and against the coup. I welcome the speedy action in convening the UN Security Council and the consensus in calling for democracy, freedom and human rights. However, those words must now be built upon. Can the Minister confirm whether the UK intends to bring forward further resolutions to the council?

Yesterday, President Biden issued an executive order enabling his Administration to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well as close family members. The first round of targets would be identified this week and steps were being taken to prevent the generals having access to $1 billion of Myanmar government funds held in the US, which will also impose strong export controls and freeze US assets that benefit the Myanmar Government, while at the same time maintaining support for healthcare, civil society groups and other areas that benefit the people of Myanmar directly. About an hour ago, I saw Dominic Raab’s tweet welcoming President Biden’s actions but not committing to following him. What practical steps have the Government taken to mirror and support our US ally in its actions? What are we doing to ensure, as President Biden asked, that other allies back those sorts of actions?

Across the UN system, there is much more that the UK can do to hold the Myanmar military to account. At the International Court of Justice, the UK Government, unlike Canada and the Netherlands, have refused to join the genocide case brought by the Government of Gambia against Myanmar, which would have raised international awareness of that crucial issue. In recent days, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has called for a special session of the Human Rights Council. Does the UK intend to pursue such a session by utilising our seat on the council? Given concerns that the military is following through with its threats of a violent response to the peaceful demonstrations, can the Minister say how we will work with our allies to analyse the reports from those protests to ensure that the international community can most effectively respond to any such repression and hold those people responsible to account?

This House will be aware that there was a leaked FCDO assessment this week showing that the Government are concerned by the prospect of violence in Myanmar. As the UN penholder and president of the Security Council, it falls to the UK to lead. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will outline a comprehensive strategy today for confronting the intolerable actions of the Myanmar military.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for bringing this Statement to the House.

It is, indeed, extremely concerning that once again the military has taken over Myanmar. The military says that this is because of irregularities in the elections, even though, as the Government and others have said, there is no evidence of significant problems in an election that delivered an overwhelming majority to the civilian Government. Once again, we see the damage done when, in liberal democracies, leaders say that elections in their own territories are fraudulent, when there is no evidence of that, or they seek to break international law, even in a “limited way”. We need to rebuild respect for the rule of law globally.

The Government are right to say that this coup threatens Myanmar’s recent progress. There have been widespread demonstrations and we are beginning to see the army take more aggressive action, for example with the use of rubber bullets and, it seems, live rounds. A couple of days ago a woman was shot in the head and critically injured. Can the noble Lord update us on how the Government see the perceived risk of army brutality being unleashed on the protestors? Do the Government think that the military leaders in Myanmar are confident that their army will fully support them, given such widespread opposition, especially among young people? We hear that some police have crossed over to join the protestors. Now we hear of a draconian new cybersecurity law being fast-tracked, which would force internet and mobile phone providers to share their user data, which is extremely worrying. Can the noble Lord comment?

Can the Minister also comment on what role China is playing in Myanmar, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked? It is perhaps not surprising that China blocked action in the UN Security Council but I am glad, as the noble Lord said, that the UK took that action. Popular protest is not something that the Chinese Government could easily condone but we gather that they are playing a more significant role in Myanmar, which they jealously guard as “their” neighbourhood.

What is happening on the Thai border? What is the attitude of the Thai Government—also under great pressure—with protests again authoritarianism there? We will need to work proactively with others if we are to help to protect the many demonstrators from a brutal crackdown.

One key recommendation is that we should work with others to sanction military companies. The military earns a great deal from its businesses; this has funded its attacks, including this coup. The UN fact-finding mission had already recommended that sanctions be put on military companies even before this coup. I am aware that the UK put Magnitsky sanctions on 16 individuals in the Myanmar security forces. However, these freeze assets in the UK, which they do not have. I realise that these sanctions may send a warning to others in the region—they are important in that regard—but, in this case, they are not very effective in the case of Myanmar. Surely the Government, as president of the UN Security Council and the G7, should lead the way in terms of a widespread arms embargo on Myanmar. What are we doing, for example with our EU allies and others, on this or other strategies?

The US has just placed sanctions on those who led the coup. Is the UK engaging with the US on how to make such sanctions as effective as possible? Do the US plans include military companies? The asset freeze announced by the US on Myanmar Government assets in the US certainly sends a strong signal that this regime is illegitimate.

In addition, the UK should formally join the ICJ genocide case in The Hague; here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Can the Minister update us on that? The Government have said that they are considering it. Now is surely the time to do so.

Can the Minister also comment on the very vulnerable Rohingya and other minorities in this situation? What emerged from his discussions with the Bangladeshi Government last week? What preparations are being made in case of an increased outflow of refugees? We do not want borders closed, as we saw before, but we recognise Bangladesh’s need and that the refugees need to be properly supported. As the Minister knows, more than 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar over the past few years.

The military leaders in Myanmar’s brutal assault against the Rohingya were described by the UN as a

“textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

We cannot stand by and allow further such crimes to follow this coup. Can the Minister tell us what effect the Government’s decision to cut the aid budget will have on their ability to sustain the level of humanitarian and development funding that has gone to Myanmar and is for the Rohingya refugees?

In this very worrying situation, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their contributions. They rightly raised a series of issues, which I will seek to address.

In her remarks, the noble Baroness asked for an assessment of the current situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also noted, it is a week since we last discussed this matter. Let me assure both of them and your Lordships that we have been not just monitoring but acting. Clearly, the situation over the weekend of 6 and 7 February saw large-scale protests; the noble Baroness rightly pointed to the scale of them in both Naypyidaw and Yangon. Notably, we have seen largely—I use that word deliberately but carefully—peaceful protests.

The noble Baroness is quite right to note that, in many instances, the police have been restrained when many people perhaps expected otherwise. However, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said, we are concerned by further reports of crackdowns on protestors in Naypyidaw on 9 February, including, as the noble Lord noted, the firing of rubber bullets and the use of water cannons. It remains unclear whether the security forces discharged live rounds, although that was being reported. When I looked into this, I came across a particularly shocking case where, as has been widely reported, a lady was shot in the head.

On the noble Baroness’s point about the cybersecurity law, I, too, have heard about proposed actions in that respect. She will have noted the internet blackouts that have taken place; we are concerned about these as they have made the flow of information in and out of the country that much more challenging. We are clear that internet services must be maintained and freedom of expression protected.

In that regard, I want to pick up on the point rightly made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the CDC. The CDC carries out due diligence for every investment it makes, including in its contract with Frontiir. The investment was made to ensure low-cost internet availability and focused primarily on key areas, including Yangon. In March, there was a Myanmar Government directive to all ISP providers to block websites, which Frontiir and others have followed. Of course, the UK has taken a number of steps over the censorship of websites, but I note carefully what the noble Lord said in this respect. It is part of our strategy to ensure that the internet is restored at the earliest possible opportunity. I would also add that the investment was made with the good intent of providing the most vulnerable people with internet access.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord rightly mentioned the recent announcement from President Biden and his Administration. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary tweeted this morning about our support for the actions taken. I know that if I were sitting on the other side of the Dispatch Box, I would find this frustrating at times, but let me say that we are looking actively at all the tools at our disposal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly noted the 16 sanctions. To put that in context, 14 of them have been directly rolled over and become applicable in UK law; this is part of what we led on with the EU. There were another two, most notably against the current commander-in-chief of the army and his deputy. They were part of the first tranche of global human rights sanctions that we introduced, and will also stay in place. The noble Baroness mentioned the UN fact-finding mission. Six specific individuals were named in it, and I assure her that all of them are part of the UK’s current sanctions regime.

I note the point made in the context of both individuals and other organisations and firms. All I can say at this juncture is that we are of course looking at the actions of the United States. I come back to the point that this requires co-ordination. While signals may be sent, as I have said repeatedly—I know that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord share my views on this—it is when we act in conjunction with others that we see the best benefit against those we seek to target.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked what actions the UK has taken. He rightly pointed out that we are penholders, particularly on the issue of the Rohingya. However, we are also the current president of the UN Security Council. In this regard, we convened a specific meeting on 4 February. I totally concur with the noble Baroness’s assessment of the importance of China’s role, not just in the current crisis but in terms of the continuing challenge of the situation and suffering of the Rohingya community. China has an important role to play. Through our bilateral engagement and engagement at the UN Security Council, we continually remind China of its important role in this respect. It was notable that, although there was no resolution, a statement was issued by the UN Security Council on the worrying nature of the events and military coup in Myanmar. We will continue to look at the situation during our presidency for the remainder of the month.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the actions that we have taken, including at the UN Human Rights Council. Again, I, as the Human Rights Minister, have prioritised this. Together with our European Union colleagues—I somewhat expected the noble Baroness to ask me about the EU, but I will proactively provide her with this information—we worked at the Human Rights Council and will convene a meeting tomorrow on the situation. Of course, we are formal members of the Human Rights Council as well.

On action by the International Court of Justice, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to, we are supportive of the Gambia’s action. To put the UK’s formal intervention into context, we are looking at that. A number of countries have stated their intention to intervene but are yet to do so. There is a structured process at the ICJ, part of which is for Myanmar to come back on what has been levied against it by the Gambia and others. I believe that Myanmar has responded, while the other countries which have said that they will formally intervene are now considering their position, as will we, to see when a formal intervention, which we would support, would be best suited to give greater credence to the role of the ICJ in this respect.

I hope I have responded to some of the specifics put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, will appreciate that we are engaging on this issue proactively across our roles, including in the G7. They will both have noticed that on 3 February we issued a statement as part of the G7. We are using our role at the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council. I would add one further piece of information. Through our ambassador, we have also attended a briefing with the military-appointed Foreign Minister. We used the occasion to communicate directly to that representative of the current military leaders of Myanmar who are in charge our unequivocal condemnation of the coup.

We join all countries in calling for the release of those who been arbitrarily detained, not least Aung San Suu Kyi. I shall pick up the point about elections raised by the noble Baroness. As we all know, some of these elections are not the most perfect one could imagine. Nevertheless, there were external observers, and it is not for the Myanmar military to call them into question, given the general reports. Putting the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya people to one side, others in the country participated fully and the result was conclusive. I can assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that, through engagements beyond the Chamber, I will continue to update them both about the ongoing situation and will seek to provide briefings in a timely manner.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Union Committee

We now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of questioners. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Helic.

Photo of Baroness Helic Baroness Helic Conservative 1:42 pm, 11th February 2021

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the Statement and the update he has offered. There are immediate actions which must be taken. I draw his attention to those being taken by New Zealand. It has suspended all military and high-level political contact with the country, including a travel ban on its military leaders. At the same time, we must look at this moment of crisis and recognise the depth of the challenges in Myanmar and to its fragile democracy. Progress will be impossible without action on a range of fronts, including on racial discrimination and violent conflict, true inequality and underdevelopment. I hope that our engagement with Myanmar will move beyond this immediate crisis to look at the endemic problems that the country has been suffering from.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I take on board what my noble friend said about the military and the need to look at the situation regarding the arms embargo. As she will be aware, the UK is a long-standing supporter of an arms embargo on Myanmar and, together with our EU colleagues, we played a key role in the embargo imposed following the 2017 Rohingya crisis. Since we left the EU, we have transitioned that into domestic law. My noble friend also made a broader point about the importance of stability in Myanmar. We are working in the region, particularly with ASEAN, which has an important role to play in this respect.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Crossbench

My Lords, I noticed the Minister’s warm words about co-operating with China and drawing the importance of this matter to its attention. However, does he accept that the military coup would have been impossible had the military, given its very strong relations with China, not been given the nod by the Chinese Government? This is another geostrategic win for China while the West stands by helpless. What long-term plans does the United Kingdom have to reform the United Nations Human Rights Council so that countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are prevented from making a mockery of global human rights?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that I have warm words for China; I was merely reiterating our practical engagement with that country. We should not forget that China is a P5 member of the UN Security Council. As I have said a number of times on various issues, where we have direct challenges with countries that are P5 members, we must continue to engage with them, albeit in very candid terms, through the international fora of which the UN Security Council is an important part. I strongly believe in doing this because I have seen for myself the benefits.

The noble Baroness also raised an important point about the Human Rights Council. I agree that there are members of the council which do not reflect in any way the value system we subscribe to. I can assure her that, through our engagement at the council, we look carefully at the human rights records of those countries that put themselves forward for election to the 47-strong membership. While the council is still not without its challenges, it provides a very useful forum in which to bring these issues to the fore at the top level of international diplomacy.

Photo of The Bishop of Coventry The Bishop of Coventry Bishop

My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the civic and religious leaders in Myanmar, including the respected Buddhist monk, Myawaddy Sayadaw, who is now in prison, and Cardinal Charles Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, whose published message last week spoke out strongly against the coup, called for the release of everyone who had been detained, and implored demonstrators to remain non-violent? Given the cardinal’s words to the international community that

“Engaging the actors in reconciliation is the only path”, how are the Government, through the channels of communication to which the Minister referred, pressing the military to engage in a meaningful process of dialogue with the democracy movement? At the same time, to pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, how will a new peace process be pursued with the country’s ethnic minorities, which could prevent an escalation in armed hostilities and lead to a genuinely inclusive political settlement for all stakeholders?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate in paying tribute to the courage of many voices in civilian society, including those of religious leaders who are calling for peace. The situation with the Rohingya underlines how religion can sometimes be used as a divisive tool used to target particular communities because of their faith or ethnicity. On the issue raised by the right reverend Prelate about engagement with the military, our assessment is that there is a real fear that, even under civilian administration, we can see the challenges as the situation plays out. I do not feel that, at the moment, we are on the cusp of any real hope of seeing a resolution of the internal civil issues confronting Myanmar. However, we will continue to work through all channels in pursuit of that common objective.

Photo of Baroness Goudie Baroness Goudie Labour

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma. The Minister has talked about sanctions by the United Kingdom. While those are welcome, they will be directed at individual members of the Tatmadaw. Does he agree that the brave activists in Burma need to see tangible action by the international community against the institution of the Tatmadaw? The best way to achieve that is not by withdrawing trade privileges and preferences, which would impact on ordinary Burmese people, but by robust and targeted sanctions on military-owned and controlled companies and their substantial business associates, including those around the world.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the targeting of sanctions, as and when we impose them, is intended to identify the individuals and organisations responsible for the most egregious abuses of human rights. As I said in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, we are keeping the situation very much under review. We have noted the actions that others have taken, most notably the United States.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, yesterday I sought to encourage the Minister to support President Biden on the issue of arms exports. It will therefore come as no surprise to him that I equally seek his support for President Biden’s initiative on sanctions. But may I raise with him the question of live ammunition? In their discussions with the ambassador from Myanmar, have the British Government impressed on him that the mere presence of live ammunition carries the dangerous risk of misjudgment, potentially resulting in fatalities? Live ammunition should neither be on display nor should there be any question of it being used.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I concur with the noble Lord. I assure him that we have called in the ambassador of Myanmar and conveyed to him that people’s right to protest peacefully should be respected in Myanmar. We have also urged all forces, the police and military in particular, to exercise utmost restraint and to respect human rights and international law. As I said earlier, there have been reports of live ammunition being used, which is appalling, but I concur with the noble Lord’s views.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, both the Government’s Statement made here and the measures announced by President Biden are encouragingly robust, but does my noble friend agree that sanctions that isolate Myanmar as a whole will merely drive it further into the arms of China? They should therefore rightly be targeted on military leaders, Magnitsky style, and the businesses that they control, as others have rightly argued. Does my noble friend also agree that this is the time for a strong Asian coalition? These steps must have the full support of Myanmar’s main Asian investors, such as Japan. If China wants to regain any respect at all on the international stage, it should support or at least not counter these moves.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, again, I assure my noble friend that I agree with him. Our challenge is not with the people of Myanmar and they should not be punished for the military coup. He is right to point out that our sanctions regime targets these specific individuals or organisations, which is the right approach. He also raises a key point about the region itself. We are working very closely with ASEAN partners on this. My colleague Minister Adams, who is responsible for that part of the world, has been speaking directly to counterparts across ASEAN to discuss how to respond to these events directly.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, this is an appalling state of affairs. Will the Government ensure that democracy must prevail, with severe consequences for coup leaders for not coming to the table immediately? I trust that we will convene a G7, and underpin and implement a new electoral world order, global standards and processes. I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the G7. However, given that the probability of a coup was on the cards in the days prior, what representations and actions were taken by diplomats to avert this fiasco, including the assurance of continuous support for those brave and principled people of Myanmar who stood up for their rights, as also occurs elsewhere?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I assure you, and as I already alluded to, we are working on the ground through our ambassador. He is co-ordinating with other like-minded partners within country, and we are working directly with allies, such as the United States, ASEAN partners and others, to make the points that the noble Lord has just reflected on.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, could the Minister confirm whether the Government will work with other like-minded allies to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar to underpin human rights, particularly as the UK has the presidency of the UN Security Council?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as I have already indicated, the UK is a long-standing supporter of the arms embargo and it is already being applied. Since we left the EU, we transitioned the arms embargo regime from the EU into UK law. The UK autonomous Myanmar sanctions regulations prohibit the provision of military-related services, including technical assistance to or for the benefit of the Myanmar military.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Labour

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Collins has already raised the question of the assets of the military leaders and the companies that they control. The point has been made by a number of noble Lords about the support of President Biden. I can say from overnight conversations that President Biden’s Administration are looking very hard at what steps we propose to take, in the same light. The Minister said that we were looking at all the tools and that he feared he would frustrate us in not answering on them, but I know that he is a man of great integrity. What do the Government know about assets held in London and the overseas territories? Will they take steps to sequester and hold them, until they can be provided to the people of Myanmar, for their future? Will he make progress reports to the House on this?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, who served as a Foreign Office Minister himself, knows that I cannot make those specific commitments from the Dispatch Box, but I have noted what he said very carefully. As I indicated in my earlier answers, we are looking at all options to ensure that those who have committed and are behind the coup are also held fully to account. That includes all tools. We have noted the sanctions that the Americans have already acted on and, as I have said several times, when we act together on sanctions, we see a better result.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, the Minister’s indication that the Government are thinking of formally intervening in the Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar, at the ICJ, is welcome. Given the Government’s preference for Parliament to express its views on genocide now, rather than taking things to a court, could the Minister tell the House whether parliamentary interventions and suggestions on how to intervene would be welcome?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I always welcome interventions from parliamentary colleagues. On the specific issue of the ICJ intervention, as I said before, our long-standing position is to support the action that the Gambia has taken. We regard a formal intervention as something that should be measured and timely to make sure that the issue can move on. It does not mean that we are not supportive, because we have not formally intervened. I further assure the noble Baroness that we have been engaging with the APPG, for example, which is looking carefully at these issues. Recently, Minister Adams and I convened a meeting with, among others, my right honourable friend Jeremy Hunt and Rushanara Ali to discuss this very issue.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I have a very close friend who has a son working in Myanmar. He has informed me that the British embassy has ceased to register British residents in the country. Could my noble friend confirm whether this is correct and whether the embassy is fully staffed? Does he agree that our presidency of both the Security Council and the G7 gives us a special opportunity to become global Britain? Will we convene a special meeting of the G7 and undertake to keep this very deplorable situation on the agenda of the Security Council?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I believe that I have already answered the question that my noble friend raised on the G7 and the Security Council. On the other issue, we have advised all British nationals to remain at home where possible. There is a nationwide curfew, which makes it a challenge, but if any British national needs to engage, if my noble friend provides me with that information, I will follow up that issue.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench

My Lords, Aung San Suu Kyi was hailed by world leaders as the person who established democracy in Myanmar, through her efforts and sacrifices. However, she was accused of failing to protect Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims during the 2016-17 persecution. There was a worldwide outcry citing her as complicit in the crimes against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi is being detained by the army, at present. Notwithstanding the Rohingya issue, world leaders should support her as before, while supporting sanctions. Can the Minister tell us what chances there are of democracy returning to Myanmar again?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I cannot state firmly what the chances are, but I assure the noble Lord that we are doing all we can to ensure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the return of the democratically elected Government.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, it is a credible inference that, in seizing power, General Min Aung Hlaing and the military were partly motivated by the desire to protect themselves and their families from investigation of their corrupt and lucrative financial deals and economic holdings by a strengthened democratic Government. It is certain that they have managed to squirrel away stolen assets in this country, the British Overseas Territories and other democratic countries. Following on from my noble friend Lord Triesman’s question, and recognising the limitations that the Minister is under, beyond sanctions, do the Government have the power and intent to trace, seize and freeze these assets so that, in due course, they can be returned to their rightful owners: the Myanmar people?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the imposition of sanctions means that any accounts held or travel undertaken is limited, so there are specific powers in the sanctions regime.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

My Lords, as chair of the International Development Committee in the House of Commons I heard and saw at first hand the brutal atrocities committed during the last era of military rule. Given that the Myanmar economy is largely owned by the army, can we ensure that sanctions are targeted to force the military to recognise that the development of Myanmar and its own interests are incompatible with military dictatorship, and that they are applied in a way that helps those protesting against the coup and avoids hitting the poor hardest?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, that should exactly be the approach of the sanctions regime.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, many years ago, when the military were last dictating the country, I visited Myanmar and heard directly from victims of torture about the terrible things that happened. We have the same bunch of people in charge of the country again. I have two questions. First, do the Government have any evidence that the military regime is using torture against its political opponents in Myanmar? Secondly, does the Minister agree that we have to be very careful before any sort of development aid goes to Myanmar, because it will be used to prop up the infrastructure and help the military? We should really oppose any such aid going to Myanmar, except at a local community level.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first question, in all our interactions with the Myanmar authorities after the military coup we have stressed that those held in arbitrary detention must be released immediately, and that while they are in detention they must be afforded all their rights. I am certainly not aware of any evidence of torture. On his second question about support, Myanmar is at a crossroads. That entails a real challenge. We need to ensure that sanctions or any other tools available to us target those behind the coup and do not lead to long-term instability in Myanmar and the surrounding region. However, I accept the point that we need to ensure that the support we give Myanmar at this crucial juncture is targeted at the most vulnerable. Our aid and support in this respect is certainly targeted to do just that.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the time allowed for questions on the Statement has now elapsed.