Myanmar - Statement

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

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 1:22 pm, 11th February 2021

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.