[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair] — Burma

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 10:11 am, 9th December 2009

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful intervention, with which I think all hon. Members would agree. It is almost inconceivable that a regime could be so heartless and so unbothered by its people's suffering. Burma still needs extra funding for new houses, cyclone shelters, livelihood programmes, water and sanitation-the basic tools of life-and education and health services. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people. Yet the funding has not properly flowed.

Only £75 million has been committed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations tripartite core group's post-cyclone recovery project, which is expected to cost £415 million. I congratulate the Government on the Department for International Development funding for the aid programme, which rose from £12.5 million last year to £25 million this year, and on the plans to increase it further to £28 million in 2010-11. In the context of difficult economic circumstances, that shows a commitment from this Government, but it is not enough on its own, which is why I am also pleased that they are encouraging other donors to increase their aid contributions.

Cyclone Nargis did not get the same coverage around the world as other disasters, such as the tsunami. Although the cyclone was prominent in our news media, it was not quite at the same level as the tsunami, because-this is a big aspect-journalists with cameras were not able to report freely in the country, so there was not the same number of pictures to accompany the story. The broadcast and print media are driven by pictures so Burma suffered doubly, because the public donations were not as high as they might have been had the natural disaster happened in a country where media coverage could have been greater. The Government aid programmes are even more important because of that.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was particularly powerful when he painted a grim picture of the repression of minorities, especially the use of rape as a weapon of war. The internal conflict between the military rulers and the minority ethnic groups in Burma has continued for the past 60 years, and the sad truth is that it is increasingly common in such conflicts that a frequent mode of attack is a systematic policy for soldiers to rape women and children.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women submitted a report on Burma to the UN General Assembly in November 2008 in which it expressed its

"deep concern at the high prevalence of sexual and other forms of violence, including rape, perpetrated by members of the armed forces against rural ethnic women, including Shan, Mon, Karen, Palaung and Chin women."

It notes that the perpetrators have virtual impunity. Only a few cases have ever been prosecuted, and it reports intimidation of those who are brave enough to come forward even to complain. There is obvious violation of UN Security Council resolution 1820 on sexual violence in armed conflict. I am pleased that this year the UK co-sponsored Security Council resolution 1888, which led the council to appoint a special representative to tackle sexual violence in armed conflict. That is important in Burma and, sadly, in other countries.

The UK has a strong record on tackling violence against women, but I understand from a parliamentary answer that the Government are not putting forward a UK candidate for the new post and I would be interested to hear, today or later in writing, why, and who they will support. It is obviously vital that the special representative can put the matter at the heart of the international community, and ensure that it is, rightly, high on the agenda.