[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Burma

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:26 am on 23rd March 2016.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality) 10:26 am, 23rd March 2016

Thank you, Mr Owen, for giving me the chance to speak in this debate, and I thank right hon. and hon. Members for making time for me. Members know that this issue is very close to my heart—I have spoken about it before—and I wanted to be here earlier, but I was unavoidably detained.

For decades, successive regimes and Governments in Burma have pursued a twin-track policy of impoverishment and human rights violations to attempt to wipe out the Rohingya community from Arakan state, which right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about. Human Rights Watch has stated that human rights violations against the Rohingya meet the legal definition of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The humanitarian crisis started when the Rohingya fled to camps in 2012, and senior members of the nationalist Arakan National Party continue to whip up hatred against them.

I am conscious that I can say only so much in the short time available. Under the current constitution, the Ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and Border Affairs must be filled by army representatives. I want to put on the record some of my concerns. Managing high expectations and maintaining party discipline will be a major challenge for the NLD. There is also a risk that, if the NLD Government challenge military interests too directly, army hard-liners will try to destabilise them.

The Minister is always responsive and I look forward to his comments. We have to take note of the Buddhist nationalist movement known as Ma Ba Tha, in which

Buddhist monks play a leading role. During 2015, that movement managed to pass four race and religion protection laws, which are seen by opponents as highly discriminatory against non-Buddhists. The 1982 citizenship law denies the Rohingya rights, including freedom of movement and access to health and education services. There is no way that these issues can be avoided, and it would be much better for the NLD Government to deal with them at the start of their period in government, when they have a new and strong mandate and strong party unity, and elections are years away.

Members have referred to ongoing conflict between the Burmese army and ethnic armed political groups and I have to put my concerns on the record as well. The Burmese army has used rape and sexual violence against women for decades as part of its warfare against ethnic minority groups in the country. That cannot go on unspoken about. It is possible for the new Government to initiate a domestic investigation into rape and sexual violence by the Burmese army, ensure that support is available to victims, include women in peace negotiations and politics overall, and repeal the laws, such as the rape law, that discriminate directly against women. Let us do something constructive and positive about those things.

Open Doors lists Burma as the 23rd worst country in the world for the persecution of Christians. If you will bear with me, Mr Owen, I will take two minutes to give an example. Amod is a Christian convert from the Rohingya tribe. He described the double discrimination that he faces as a Christian in Burma in this way:

“The Muslims in the village still wanted to kill me. One day, they came to do just that. They attacked me but some believers shielded me from harm. Another night, Muslims surrounded my home while I was sleeping and pelted stones on our roof.”

Amod is on the run. He is from the Rohingya tribe and converted to Christianity after 33 years as a Muslim. Christians from the Rohingya tribe are doubly disadvantaged. The country refuses to acknowledge Rohingyas, saying they are Bengali immigrants. Bangladesh, on the other hand, says they are indigenous to Myanmar. In addition, the Rohingya tribe rejects Christians who have converted from Islam.

Amod applied for permission to create a church for Rohingya believers, but was refused. After that he was hounded so much that he eventually took his family to Bangladesh, but his life was no easier there. So with seven Christian Rohingya households they fled to India, where they continued to be pursued from town to town. Amod maintains his witness and pastors the families, who are now scattered. I conclude with that, and I thank Members again for the opportunity to participate in the debate.