[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair] — Burma

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:42 am on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:42 am, 9th December 2009

I was coming next to crimes against humanity and the proposed commission of inquiry. As hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that appalling human rights abuses are committed daily in Burma. Political freedom is absent and dissent is brutally crushed. The treatment of Burma's ethnic groups is of particular concern. We will continue to use the UN human rights bodies to highlight those abuses. In recent weeks, the UK helped to secure a strong UN General Assembly resolution on human rights abuses in Burma.

The work of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma is crucial in investigating reports of human rights abuses, and we have urged the Burmese authorities to grant him full access. Comments have been made about the UN special envoy to Burma, who now has a new role. All that I will say is that we hope that his replacement proves effective, can make a real difference and has credibility in his engagement with the regime. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire referred to the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict. I hope that we get somebody of high esteem and status to fill that position. Britain is actively seeking to ensure that that happens, because this is an issue of growing concern around the world.

The UK position on the commission of inquiry is clear. We have sought to clarify the support for such an initiative in the Security Council, and it is clear that there is not sufficient support at the moment to achieve the consensus that would deliver the necessary resolution. For us to table a vote that would be defeated would be a propaganda victory par excellence for the Burmese regime. The reason why we are being cautious about the commission of inquiry is not that we do not believe that it is right in principle, but that we believe that tabling a resolution that was voted down would backfire considerably in realpolitik terms. I therefore ask hon. Members to consider the difficult position that we are in and to understand that we continue to engage with partners to see whether there will be any shift in the position.

Since the bogus trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, we have pushed strongly for the adoption of a comprehensive arms embargo against the Burmese regime. Our request for an embargo was made in a letter from the Prime Minister to the UN Secretary-General. We continue to believe that such an embargo would have a significant impact on the regime's behaviour, and we hope that the UN Security Council will give serious consideration to it in the near future.

This has been an excellent debate. It has sent a strong and clear message to the people of Burma and their representatives in this country that their plight will not be forgotten, that we will use the House to amplify criticism of the human rights abuses in Burma and that will do everything that we can across the parties to make a difference.