[Mr Jim Hood in the Chair] — Rakhine and Kachin State (Human Rights)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:24 am on 12th June 2013.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 10:24 am, 12th June 2013

I will be brief, because I want to give the other two hon. Members an opportunity to be involved.

The UN has a key role to play. I congratulate Yasmin Qureshi on bringing this matter to the Chamber. There have been some impassioned pleas on behalf of the Rohingya people, which is good because the House has an important democratic role to play in promoting the matter. The situation in Rakhine and Kachin states is one that must be highlighted internationally in the House today, as it has been in the past.

Some 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been forcefully displaced. There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis and there are questions about access to aid; the hon. Lady has spoken about the amount of aid that goes towards that humanitarian crisis. Burmese officials, community leaders and some Buddhist monks organised and encouraged ethnic Arakanese, backed by state security forces, to conduct co-ordinated attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods and villages in October 2012, and they forcibly relocated the population. Christians have also been attacked, abused and displaced.

I believe the Burmese Government have engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and the use of restrictions. There have been violent mass arrests, aid to displaced Muslims has been blocked and there have been months of meetings and public statements promoting ethnic cleansing, all of which builds up to a co-ordinated plan. A number of mass graves have been found. The news last night carried stories of displaced people and of hundreds—indeed thousands—of people murdered and buried.

Human Rights Watch has outlined the issue, too, and given many examples of those who have witnessed or suffered abuses. There are examples of state forces participating in some of the events. The local police have stood by in many cases. One soldier told a Muslim man who was pleading for his protection, “The only thing you can do now is pray for your life.” There is clearly no compassion or help from the security forces, which is disconcerting.

On 23 October 2012, 70 Rohingya were killed in a day-long massacre in a village, and the security forces stood by and let it happen. Imagine the situation of those who had not yet been killed but who were listening to the screams, shouts and murders. Twenty-eight children, 13 of whom were under five, were hacked to death. Children of that age—look at what happened to them. The security forces told them, “We will look after you and protect you,” but they did not look after or protect them.

There are many other examples out there. Local authorities, politicians and monks have also made public statements and used force to deny Muslims their rights to freedom of movement, opportunities to earn a living and access to markets and humanitarian aid. All those things are disconcerting. On 13 June 2012, a Government truck dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies near a Rohingya displaced persons camp outside Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital. That is another example of what is going on.

I will conclude with a couple of points, because I want to give the other two hon. Members a chance to speak. The main Opposition party in Burma has been unfortunately quiet. Why are the Opposition quiet in their own country whenever we are highlighting the issue here? I am not being disrespectful to the Opposition leader, because I respect her greatly, but I think that has to be said. I ask for direction from the Minister on the effective delivery of humanitarian aid, on disease and deadly water-borne diseases and on the right of the displaced to return to their original townships—there is also the question of their citizenship. We must address all those issues, and I ask the Minister to take them on in his response.

Burma should accept an independent international commission to investigate crimes against humanity in Arakan state, to locate victims and to provide redress. Burma’s donors need to wake up and realise the seriousness of the Rohingyas’ plight, and they must demand that the Burmese Government urgently stop abuses, promote the safe return of displaced Muslims and Christians and ensure accountability to end the deadly cycle of violence in Arakan state.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, and I give an opportunity for the other two hon. Members to speak.