[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair] — Burma

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 9:30 am, 9th December 2009

I am grateful for that contribution, and for the documentation that Baroness Cox has sent me. She visited Mizoram and the people of Chinland from 15 to 30 November 2009, and she has presented me with a very moving report about the atrocities that are taking place in Burma.

A new report, "Crimes in Burma", has been published by the Harvard Law School and was commissioned by five of the world's leading jurists, including the former deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, and Justice Richard Goldstone. That report concludes that

"there is a prima facie case of international criminal law violations occurring that demands UN Security Council action to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these grave breaches further".

The jurists conclude that these violations

"may amount to war crimes, as well as crimes against humanity".

The report draws almost exclusively on the UN's own statements. By the UN's own admission-in resolutions of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the International Labour Organisation and in reports by four consecutive special rapporteurs-the human rights violations in Burma are "systematic and widespread". In 1998, the then special rapporteur stated that the violations by the regime

"have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest that they are not simply isolated or the acts of individual misbehaviour by middle and lower-ranking officers but are rather the result of policy at the highest level, entailing political and legal responsibility."

In 2006, his successor reached a similar conclusion. Last month, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the regime in Burma

"to take urgent measures to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the targeting of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups, the targeting of civilians by military operations, and rape and other forms of sexual violence, and to end impunity."

The resolution also calls on the regime to end the

"systematic forced displacement of large numbers of persons within their country and other causes of refugee flows into neighbouring countries."

Will the Minister agree that the violations in Burma amount to violations of international law and may qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity? Will he announce today that the United Kingdom will work to establish a UN commission of inquiry to investigate these crimes?

In 2008, a new constitution was introduced in a sham referendum. The new constitution guarantees the military a quarter of the seats in parliament, disqualifies Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, and excludes former political prisoners from contesting elected office. The constitution has been described by the General Secretary of the Karen National Union as a

"death sentence for ethnic diversity".

As the regime plans to hold elections next year, will the Minister agree that, unless the constitution is revised through an inclusive process, the elections will offer no hope of freedom or human rights and will simply enshrine military rule?

The military regime in Burma is widely regarded as among the worst in the world. The regime spends more than 40 per cent. of its budget on the military, and less than $1 per person per year on health and education combined. I welcome the leadership that the United Kingdom-particularly the Prime Minister-has given on the issue of Burma over the past two years, and the support that the Government have expressed for a universal arms embargo. However, will the Minister tell hon. Members what proactive steps the Government are taking to propose a universal arms embargo at the UN Security Council?

Burma is ranked by the Heritage Foundation as one of five most repressive economies in the world, by Transparency International UK as the third most corrupt country in the world, by Reporters Without Borders as one of the worst violators of press freedom, by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the worst country for internet bloggers, by the US Department of State as one of the worst violators of religious freedom, by Minority Rights Group International as one of the top five countries where ethnic minorities are under threat, by Médecins sans Frontières as one of the top 10 humanitarian crises in the world, by the genocide risk indices as one of the top two red alert countries for genocide along with Sudan, and by Freedom House as

"the worst of the worst".

The UN has placed Burma on a monitoring list for genocide. Considering that catalogue of horrors, it is time for the international community to take urgent action to address the political and humanitarian crisis in Burma.