Baroness Cox raises a question on Burma in the House of Lords

April 4th, 2014

Baroness Cox raises a question on Burma in the House of Lords

On a recent visit to Burma, the HART team met with ethnic national peoples who describe growing human rights violations, continuing military offensives and widespread humanitarian need, particularly in Kachin and northern Shan states (you can read the report here).  Systematic abuse against the Rohingya in Burma is also increasing. There is frustration that the international community are failing to hold the Burmese Government to account for their abuse of ethnic national peoples. On Monday 24th March, Baroness Cox raised these concerns in Parliament.

She asked Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) what their assessment of the current situation in Burma is, with particular focus on the Rohingya, Shan and Kachin peoples.

The Senior Minister of State, Baroness Warsi, responded that they welcome the announcement that the Burmese Government and the ethnic armed conflict groups will establish a joint committee to draft a nationwide ceasefire text. Baroness Warsi also expressed her concern on the fighting in Kachin and Shan state, and the suffering of the Rohingya people.

Baroness Cox responded by reminding the Minister that she visited Shan state recently and Kachin state last year, and that “in both states, despite ceasefires, the Burmese army continues to carry out military offensives and atrocities, including the killing, rape and torture of civilians, while the Burmese Government continue their expropriation of land, theft of natural resources and displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians? Will Her Majesty’s Government not consider more robust responses? Many Burmese people and advocacy organisations such as Burma Campaign UK, in its recent report, Downplaying Human Rights Abuses in Burma, are concerned that the British Government are making trade and investment such a priority that the Burmese Government can continue to kill and exploit their own people with impunity.”

Baroness Warsi responded that the matters are taken very seriously and have been raised by the Prime Minister, when President Thein Sein visited the United Kingdom, and by Baroness Warsi, herself, last week, together with Ministers from the national planning committee, representatives of the chamber of commerce and the director-general responsible for investment in Burma.

A number of peers, including Lord Avebury, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, Lord Alton and Lord Triesman, joined the debate and raised their concerns.

Baroness Kinnock asked how the Minister responds to the UN special rapporteur’s report from last week, which “concluded that human rights violations against the Rohingya people could amount to crimes against humanity that should be the subject of an independent international inquiry”. Baroness Warsi responded that they support much of the work done by the special rapporteur and that they will press the Human Rights Council for a strong resolution on human rights against Burma.

Lord Alton highlighted growing concerns that the census in Burma – which is largely funded by the United Kingdom – could be “a flashpoint for further confrontation”. He asked the Minister whether she could ensure that “should the census be conducted, it will not be used to further distort the ethnic tensions in Myanmar?” Baroness Warsi said that the United Kingdom have provided £10 million to ensure that the “census is conducted in a technically sound way”. She expressed  concern that some ethnicities have been excluded, but says that she “take[s] some comfort from the fact that we have gained agreement from the Burmese Government for independent observers to be mobilised during this process”

Lord Triesman suggested that the Government  adopt in their quarterly report a system under which countries that abuse human rights are shown to all of those who read our reports as red, those that are making progress as orange and the others in green.

You can read the full text of the debate here or download it below.

You can download the report from HART’s recent visit just below.

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