Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis: Covid-19 — [Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:07 am on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:07 am, 3rd November 2020

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I thank him for his fantastic, wise words, for the debate and for his significant contribution to it. Hopefully, the Minister can take that into account as well.

The Rohingya refugees have experienced even more suffering due to covid-19, and they remain in an extremely precarious position. Yet, despite their harrowing plight, the international community and the UK Government have not done anywhere near everything in their power to support these persecuted people. I say that kindly and respectfully, because I understand that the Government are doing their best, but I urge them to perhaps do more.

I welcome the sanctions that Her Majesty’s Government have put on Burmese military leaders responsible for violence against the Rohingya, but much more needs to be done. I have three asks of the Minister. First, the British Government should immediately take action to prevent British companies from doing any form of business with the Burmese military and with companies owned and controlled by the military. I say that because, according to Burma Campaign UK, the Burmese military earns hundreds of millions of dollars a year through its vast range of military-owned companies. I always think that the best way to hurt someone is to hurt them in their pocket, because that seems to have the desired effect. I am sure the Minister will agree that no British company should be involved in business that funds genocide. I urge him and our Government to take action to prevent that.

Secondly, I acknowledge that the Bangladeshi Government have done much, but I say again that there must be careful diplomatic engagement with them about the restrictions on humanitarian assistance to refugees. Clearly, there are obstructions that should not be there. An urgent revision of the restrictions is required to allow humanitarian agencies to increase the assistance they provide, especially shelter assistance, and much-needed maintenance and repair of public facilities such as toilets must be carried out. Those are the basics, but they are really important. If we want to address covid-19, we have to do that as well. Health and safety is of course of the utmost concern, but the Bangladeshi authorities must be convinced that it is not in their interest to abandon the Rohingya refugees to the virus, because that will lead to a hotspot from which the virus can spread to other parts of the country, so, again, diplomatic engagement is needed.

Thirdly and finally, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to join the genocide case at the International Court of Justice. Gambia has brought a case at the ICJ claiming that Burma is in breach of the genocide convention. It is supported by 56 other members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and by the Maldives, Canada and the Netherlands. We cannot ignore the volume of voices from those 59 countries from across the world, which are speaking up and which see a breach of the genocide convention. Why have the British Government thus far refused to join? I ask the Minister to look at that and to perhaps give us an answer today. I hope he will push for the UK to join that case, or at least explain to this House why they have refused to do so. We see the genocide against the Rohingya, and it hurts our hearts to think of these things—the powerful violence and brutality, and the conditions that those people are living in.

We cannot allow such unspeakable persecution to go unchallenged. A failure to take the actions I have outlined will only enhance the sense of impunity enjoyed by the military and will encourage it to commit further human rights abuses. If we do not do something hard about this issue, it will continue. I say this very gently: how can we, and I say “we” collectively, sleep at night knowing that we have made a few speeches—yes, it is great to make speeches—but have not done everything we could when crimes against humanity, if not genocide, have arisen during our lifetime? I urge Her Majesty’s Government to take the three actions I have outlined, and I hope the Minister will be so kind as to keep me and others informed about progress on them.