House of Lords Oral Question on Burma: Policing of Demonstrations

20 March 2015

Yesterday, members of the House of Lords questioned the Government on escalating violence in the crackdown of peaceful protests by students. This led to fruitful debate surrounding the current political and military situations in Burma, continued conflict, the plight of the Rohingya people in particular as well as questioning UK support to the Burmese Government.

The text of the 7 mins of questioning has been copied out in full below and can be found on the Parliamentary website here.


Burma: Policing of Demonstrations


Asked by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead on Thursday 19th March 2015.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent actions by police in Burma in response to student demonstrations in Letpadan.


The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the use of force by police in Letpadan on 10 March, and by the use of irregular security groups in Rangoon on 5 March. These incidents undermined an otherwise disciplined approach to policing student protests and demonstrate the need for further policing reform. We support the EU’s call for a full investigation and call on the Government of Burma to release all the remaining demonstrators.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): I thank the Minister for her reply and ask her whether, in the light of the violent attacks and arrests of students in Burma last week—and, I have to say, other abuses of human rights in that country—we can now anticipate that the British Government will thoroughly review the support and assistance they currently provide to the Government in Burma. Otherwise, how can we be sure that the UK financial and technical assistance is not now actually supporting the institutions of an authoritarian regime that has made no real progress towards the civilised objectives that the people of Burma and the international community were promised?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we continue, of course, to review how our work is undertaken with the Government of Burma. The noble Baroness will be aware that our contribution with regard to police training was via the EU instrument of a stability-funded project in support of police reform, following a request from not only the Burmese Government but Aung San Suu Kyi. That contribution remains under review. However, it is important to mark the fact that the Government of Burma have made progress, although they have a long way to go. We are always happy to discuss these matters with noble Lords and MPs. We have offered such meetings across both Houses to individuals with an interest in these matters and have had quite a lot of uptake. I understand that at the moment the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has not accepted the invitation to meet our most senior official on this matter. I warmly offer that invitation again, and hope that she may accept it.

Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that I recently visited remote hill tribe areas in Chin state, where I am pleased to report that local people appreciate some significant reforms, including improvements in relationships with the army and police, cessation of forced labour, and investment in infrastructure? However, we of course remain deeply concerned by the Burmese Government’s violations of human rights and military offensives against the Rohingya, Shan and Kachin peoples. How are Her Majesty’s Government achieving an effective balance in encouraging genuine reforms by the Burmese Government, while applying appropriate pressure to end gross violations of human rights in other areas?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and her courage over so many years in the work that she has done in Burma. It is a balance, whereby one needs, as she said in her report, to recognise progress but to be ever cautious about the huge amount of work yet to be done. I read her report with interest. The stories of the community health workers were very touching indeed. The Burmese Government have released political prisoners, discharged child soldiers—not all of them—ratified the Biological Weapons Convention and endorsed the declaration to end sexual violence in conflict, but we have seen an increase in the number of political prisoners, conflict in Kachin and in Shan, arrests of journalists and continued discrimination in Rakhine state. I shall be discussing these immediately after Questions with the United Nations special rapporteur, Yanghee Lee.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, as recently as November when I met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, her main point for the West was that we must not become complacent that the constitutional reform process is sufficient. With elections coming up in November, she is extremely concerned that there is a regression on the part of the military. That is what we have seen, in terms of the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. Could the Minister tell the House what meetings the Government are having with the military Government to press them to bring about constitutional reform—it was meant to be announced but has not been yet—so that they can embed that before the election period begins?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, my right honourable friend Hugo Swire visited Burma last year. He has met representatives of the Burmese Government and discussed the range of progress that the Burmese Government need to make. As my noble friend said, the elections this year are critical for Burma. It is the first time that Burma has had the opportunity to have democratic elections and make real progress. It must not let that slip.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab): My Lords, the long-term solutions to the conflicts between the central authorities in Myanmar and the ethnic armed groups active in many parts of the country will undoubtedly be assisted if the work of ASEAN—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—to become more involved in peace and security across the region is supported by the international community. Will that work by ASEAN and those sorts of regional initiatives be a priority for the new stabilisation fund that comes into place in April?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Lord makes an important point. I will look very carefully to see what kind of stress has been put on that. I would like to consider that and see whether it has been properly reflected.

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, although the Rohingya Muslims remain one of the most persecuted people on the face of the planet—I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief—they had a vote in the first national elections. At that point in time, temporary ID cards were sufficient to give you a vote. In fact, they elected Mr Shwe Maung, who I think is the only Rohingya Muslim member of the Parliament there. Could my noble friend the Minister outline what representations Her Majesty’s Government have made to the President of Burma following his executive order on 11 February this year, which basically invalidates those temporary ID cards and will deprive the Rohingya Muslims of their vote in November’s elections?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, representations have been made with regard not only to that but to the method by which information is collected in that state about one’s ethnicity. As I understand it, one is forced to put down that one is Bengali, rather than one’s real ethnicity. These are matters that must continue to be discussed.

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