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On 15 April, the Burmese Minister for the President’s office, Aung Min, led a delegation to London, where they met the Foreign Secretary and other political figures before travelling to Northern Ireland to learn from our experiences there. Once again, people were given an opportunity to learn about reconciliation from the pain and difficulty experienced in Northern Ireland, and also from the political leadership that it has provided in recent years.

Hundreds of political prisoners have been released, and are now being reintegrated into society. On 23 April, the Burmese Government announced the further release of more than 50. We are delighted that prominent members of the “88 Generation” of former political prisoners will visit the UK in June. However, about 200 remain in prison. We will continue to put pressure on the Burmese Government to ensure that their political prisoner review mechanism is comprehensive and transparent, leading to the release of all political prisoners, which was one of the requests listed by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce).

Britain is Burma’s largest bilateral aid donor. We are providing £187 million between 2011 and 2015 to support education, health care and governance. Despite its massive development potential, Burma remains one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia. Lasting prosperity for the Burmese people will also come from responsible business investment, which will create much-needed jobs and opportunities for training and education. That is why, last month, G8 Foreign Ministers, under British chairmanship, endorsed the Burmese Government’s calls for responsible investment in Burma.

Responding to a request from Aung San Suu Kyi, we are supporting the development of Burma’s Parliament and strengthening democratic accountability. Last month, three Burmese Members of Parliament visited the UK to learn about budget scrutiny. That work will grow and continue.

Jonathan Ashworth: May I ask a question about bilateral aid? Will the Minister tell us—or otherwise arrange for a letter to be placed in the Library, or write to hon. Members—about the financial and technical assistance that we are offering to the various United Nations and humanitarian agencies, particularly those that are working in Rakhine state? Will he also tell us whether we are offering similar support to agencies which are working with refugees and asylum seekers who are in Bangladesh, having fled from Burma?

Alistair Burt: We are offering such support, but I probably could provide more detail by placing a letter in the Library. I do not want merely to come out with the obvious platitudes and say that we are engaged in that respect, because of course we are.

Rushanara Ali: Is the Minister aware that the non-governmental organisations that have been working to support Rakhine refugees in Chittagong do not have access to the camps, and that the position is getting worse? Will he ensure that his colleagues in the Department for International Development apply pressure on the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that access is provided? We are a major donor to Bangladesh, and it

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is not clear why we are not applying such pressure. Bangladesh does not even accept the existence of an informal camp.

There is also the question of humanitarian access, involving the international multilateral institutions that we support. The World Health Organisation has not been doing enough work to get assistance to people who desperately need health care, and there is a major issue of segregation in the hospitals. That is costing lives. Will the Minister make further representations?

Alistair Burt: My right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Warsi takes these matters extremely seriously, and she has, indeed, pressed Bangladesh on this issue. She has taken this issue directly to the Bangladeshis. It is not a matter on which the United Kingdom can give a guarantee, of course, but I assure the hon. Lady that the UK takes very seriously the issues of access and recognition for refugees that are facing Bangladesh.

Jim Shannon: The Minister will be aware that Human Rights Watch produced a report that agreed that ethnic cleansing had taken place. Has he applied any pressure either through our Government or Europe to ensure that that report’s findings are made known and action is taken?

Alistair Burt: The Human Rights Watch report contained a number of disturbing and specific allegations, which we believe are backed up by comprehensive evidence. We are following up on them with the Burmese Government. If serious crimes have been committed, those who perpetrated them must be held accountable for their actions. We, too, take that report as extremely credible.

I had just reached the “but” point in my remarks about Burma. While recognising that some progress has been made, and having responded to that sense from colleagues, there is a but, and, as colleagues know, it is a big but.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made abundantly clear:

“The work of the EU in Burma is not remotely finished.”

There are many significant challenges facing the Burmese people, particularly on human rights and ethnic reconciliation. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and other colleagues who have spoken for again bringing to the attention of the House the many extremely concerning examples of human rights violations, and for further highlighting the urgent action that the Burmese Government, with the support of the international community, must take. I also thank the non-governmental organisations and others who are engaged in this difficult work, including some friends of ours, such as Ben Rogers.

The UK was one of the leading voices behind this year’s UN Human Rights Council resolution on Burma. The resolution recognised progress had been made, but highlighted Burma as a country of concern to the international community and extended the mandate of the UN special rapporteur for a further 12 months. It called on the Burmese Government to adhere to a number of pledges, including opening an in-country office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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and signing up to the international covenant on civil and political rights, which my hon. Friend rightly highlighted in his speech.

During a visit to Burma in December, the Minister for Asia, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), pressed senior Government Ministers there to make progress on both these points, as well as on the convention against torture and its optional protocol. We will continue to lobby the Burmese Government to ensure that they make progress against these and all their human rights commitments.

We continue to raise our concerns about human rights abuses in Kachin state. During the visit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Asia, he pressed the Burmese Government—[Interruption.] I should have said the Minister for Asia; my right hon. Friend’s constituency may be large, but it is not that large. He pressed the Burmese Government to ensure humanitarian access to all conflict-affected populations in Kachin state. The Department for International Development has allocated £3.5 million to support humanitarian needs in Kachin, making the UK the largest bilateral donor there. This aid is helping meet food security, shelter, water, sanitation, health, and bedding needs, and it is reaching conflict-affected areas. We continue to call for unhindered humanitarian access at every opportunity.

Sexual violence, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate also rightly raised, is an issue that the Foreign Secretary has made a key priority. The British Government proactively lobby the Burmese Government on the rights of women, particularly the need to take measures to prevent sexual violence against women in conflict areas. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia raised this issue with Burmese Ministers during his visit in December.

We are also taking a number of targeted actions. We provide support to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement to fulfil the Burmese Government’s obligations under the convention for the elimination of discrimination against women, to which they are a signatory. We support legal assistance centres in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which can help support victims of rape to secure access to justice, and we work closely with the UN in Rakhine state to strengthen its work to prevent, and respond to, sexual violence there. Our embassy in Rangoon is exploring options to increase our engagement on this concerning issue.

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful for the Minister’s comments about the work to prevent sexual violence. May I take it that Burma is included in the prevention of sexual violence initiative, in which the Foreign Secretary is taking a key lead? Is Burma one of the countries included in the initiative?

Alistair Burt: I do not believe that Burma is technically included at present, but not all the countries in which we consider sexual violence to be a matter are necessarily included in the initiative at this stage. The point I was making is that this area is of significance to the Government and the Foreign Secretary, and if somewhere is not technically included in an initiative, that should not be taken as indicating a lack of interest or engagement. The points will still be made, and my right hon. Friend will have taken the point made by my hon. Friend.

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The United Kingdom has been one of the most vocal members of the international community in calling for action in Rakhine state, and we continue to lobby on the issue internationally. The UK requested the recent briefing in April of the UN Security Council by the UN special envoy, and the Minister for Asia was the first EU Minister to visit in the aftermath of the violence last year. We note the release of the Rakhine commission report on 29 April into the causes of last year’s violence, and we are examining its many detailed recommendations —that deals with the point about our response made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). We have consistently called on the Burmese Government to take action to meet humanitarian needs, ensure security and accountability, and to address the rights of the Rohingya people to citizenship. We are of course deeply concerned by Human Rights Watch’s most recent report, which contained a number of disturbing allegations. We regularly raise specific allegations of human rights abuses with the Burmese Government at the most senior levels, and we will continue to do so.

Some 140,000 internally displaced people, mostly Rohingya, are living in overcrowded camps vulnerable to flooding. When my right hon. Friend Baroness Warsi met the Minister responsible for Rakhine state on 15 April, he pledged to ensure that all those at risk would be moved to safe areas. Lobbying alongside the UN, the United States, Australia and the EU, we have also strongly reinforced the message—as I indicated a moment ago—that NGOs operating in Rakhine state must be granted the freedom to operate, free from bureaucratic constraints. We gave £2 million over the past financial year to support humanitarian efforts in Rakhine state, and we are considering new plans to contribute to efforts to support and protect the displaced this year.

Further violence will be averted only through security and the establishment of the rule of law, and we again call on the Burmese Government to uphold those. All those guilty of having instigated, incited or carried out violence in Rakhine state need to be held accountable for those crimes. This should be done through a just, clear and transparent process, but it must be done.

The plight of the Rohingya, a people who have lived in Burma for many centuries, will not be resolved until the long-term issue of their citizenship is addressed. It is essential that the Burmese Government uphold the rights of all individuals, including the right of the Rohingya to nationality and freedom of movement. We note the Rakhine commission report’s recommendations in that regard and we will push to ensure that the solution meets the criteria I have set out.

As Members have indicated this evening, we are also extremely concerned about the violence directed against Muslim communities in other parts of Burma. The attacks against Muslims in central Burma in March and in Oakkan, near Rangoon, just last week point to a highly worrying new trend. We continue to make our concerns very clear. More work needs to be done by

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the Burmese Government to bring the organisers and perpetrators of violence to account. Both Baroness Warsi and the Foreign Secretary raised our concerns with senior Burmese Ministers on 15 and 16 April. Along with the EU, in response to a request from the Government and Aung San Suu Kyi, we are reviewing what steps we might take to assist with police and security reform.

As well as upholding the rule of law and ensuring accountability, the Burmese Government must tackle the hostility underlying the recent attacks. President Thein Sein’s speech earlier this week, in which he called on Burmese citizens to stand up against hatred and to reach out to those of different beliefs and backgrounds, will be an important starting point. We have provided funds for inter-faith dialogue in Burma, and will continue to do so, in order to build trust between communities. We have encouraged the Burmese Government to issue a formal invitation to the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to visit Burma and assess the situation.

After almost half a century of repression, the last two years have seen Burma make progress towards the goal of being a freer and more democratic nation, but as the House indicates, and as my remarks have set out, there is still much to do to achieve greater democracy. To make progress, Burma must deal with the ethnic conflict it faces and tackle discrimination against minority groups. As colleagues know, this is not my normal area within the portfolio, although I have spoken on Burma before and, as a practising Christian, it pains me to see how religion is used, and faith is abused, to separate people and inflict cruelty and wickedness on others. We see that time and again in too many other places. We need religious leaders of all faiths to speak out against such actions constantly, so that faith is not abused in the way we have heard described tonight.

We will continue to engage with the Burmese Government to shape the process of reform. We want the United Kingdom to contribute with meaningful and targeted assistance, whether in reforming the economy or supporting Burma’s nascent institutions. Above all, we will ensure that human rights and ethnic reconciliation remain high on the agenda.

This is just the beginning of a process which could transform the lives of millions of people. It will not be completed overnight; it will take time. The British Government and the European Union will continue to be a constructive, supportive and critical partner, committed to supporting reform moves under the President and Aung San Suu Kyi, in order to see a stable, prosperous, more democratic Burma, where the human rights of all people will be respected. The House, and those we represent, will accept nothing less.

Question put and agreed to.

10.22 pm

House adjourned.