Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya crisis Contents



11.Up to 2012, DFID’s aid to Burma, in line with many other donor countries, was limited; a response to the nature of the regime in power. After the apparent reforms of 2012, UK aid was swiftly ramped up, rising from £8m in 2007 to the £100m planned for 2018. DFID told us that:

For our programme to be successful, Burma must work towards the implementation of inclusive peace agreements, a new political settlement; and the military serving rather than ruling Burma.8

However, we were struck by the view put to us by Burma Campaign UK, echoed by other witnesses, that:

British aid to Burma needs to be completely re-evaluated based on the reality that Burma is not in a transition to democracy, the military are an obstacle, not a partner in reform, and that the Aung San Suu Kyi led government does not respect human rights.9

12.In this chapter, therefore, we examine whether Burma is indeed in ‘transition to democracy’, working towards peace, and establishing a new democratic political settlement. In other words, whether (against DFID’s own criteria) the UK’s aid programme in Burma has any chance of success in its current form?

DFID’s work in Burma pre-2012

13.Before the suspension of sanctions in 2012, and their abolition in 2013, the UK provided assistance to Burma in line with the EU Common Position, which stated that non-humanitarian (development) aid should be suspended, with exceptions made for:

14.At this time, DFID’s modest programme in Burma consisted of:

Table 1: DFID’s Burma programmes before 2012 suspension of sanctions

DFID’s programmes in Burma and with Burmese refugees 2004

Grant to ‘Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar’ - £10 million over three years. The Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar supports programmes that contribute to the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS. The Fund brings together donors and implementing agencies including UN agencies, NGOs and the National Aids Programme and promotes co-ordination and lesson learning amongst partners.

Technical assistance to Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar - £185,300, one year. This programme provided additional capacity to help set up and manage the Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar.

World Health Organisation (WHO)–£246,578 over two years. DFID is supporting a WHO position to provide technical and operational support to strengthen the technical relevance and implementation of policies for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in the country.

BBC World Service Trust for Radio Soap Opera on HIV/AIDS and health messages–£1,249,179 over two years. This grant aims to raise awareness about health care including HIV/AIDS for people in Burma and to provide information and practical solutions, where they exist, to their everyday healthcare problems. The project will also support the efforts of people and organisations working to develop civil society.

Health Unlimited work on basic health care programmes in Wa and Kachin–£362,033, one year. This programme seeks to establish a basic primary health care service that covers 55,000 people in the Kachin Independence Organisation controlled areas and 82,000 people, prioritising women and children in Wa region. This was an extension of previous support to the Health Unlimited programme, which had been provided on a year-by-year basis.

Burmese Border Consortium food aid and relief programmes on the Thailand Burma Border–£450,000, one year. DFID provided funds via Christian Aid to support the Burmese Border Consortium to enable refugee communities to sustain a basic livelihood through provision of food and other relief items, whilst ensuring that the special needs of new and relocated refugees are addressed.

Coordination of health services at Thailand-Burma Border–£420,000 over two years. DFID is funding the World Health Organisation in order to improve the health of the population in the border areas of Thailand and Burma with a special focus on the health and humanitarian aspects of the most vulnerable groups.

Small grants to civil society organisations–£110,000 each year. The British Embassy in Rangoon operates the Small Grants Scheme that provides funds to a number of civil society organisations working to meet humanitarian needs and tackle poverty.

Street and working children–£451,224 over five years. DFID is supporting work by World Vision to improve the status and quality of life among children in Burma.

Community Action for HIV/AIDS Care and Support in the Mekong Sub-region–£236,295 over three years. This World Vision programme aims to develop community capacity and the growth of civil society organisations to respond to the ever-increasing threat of HIV/AIDS.

Looking Before Leaping: Migration and Trafficking of Vulnerable Women, Youth and Children–£235,352 over five years. This World Vision programme seeks to reduce the number of women, youth and children trafficked for sex work or other forms of exploitative labour by raising awareness among community members and community based organisations about trafficking and other risks of migration.

Source: DFID Burma Country Assistance Plan, 2004

15.In 2007, when our predecessor Committee scrutinised DFID’s support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burma and Burmese refugees on the Thai border, the budget was £8.8 million for the year (2007–08).11 Both the 2004 and 2010 DFID country plans for Burma stated that substantial increases in development aid would be forthcoming if Burma embraced a range of political, economic and human rights reforms, for example by re-allocating scare resources from military expenditure to health and education.12,13

DFID Burma post-2012 to now

16.After 2013, and the lifting of the EU sanctions, DFID’s programme had risen to £60million per year. DFID’s ambition for Burma was then to “help create a better governed, more peaceful and prosperous Burma that uses its increased wealth to reduce poverty.”14

Table 2:The development of DFID’s engagement in Burma

DFID Burma 2007

DFID Burma 2013

DFID Burma 2018


£8 million

£60 million

£100 million


Increased opportunities for the poor and excluded people of Burma and refugees from Burma living in neighbouring countries.

A better governed, more peaceful and prosperous, Burma that uses its increased wealth to reduce poverty.

Help Burma continue on a path to being a better governed, fairer and more peaceful society, through working with the government towards increased wealth and better public services shared by all of its people.

Key Objectives/


• Reduced incidence of communicable and vaccine preventable diseases particularly in vulnerable and marginalised populations.

• Enhanced food security and productive assets for the poor.

• Increased access to quality basic education for poor people.

• Increased prospects for successful transition to a democratic society.

• Peace building and conflict resolution

• Improve state capability, democratic governance and accountability

• Economic transformation and job creation

• Supporting the development of a dynamic and resilient rural population and economy

• Developing human capital

i) Building Burma into a stable ally and trade partner for the UK through supporting negotiations towards peace and a new political settlement, helping to deliver credible elections and fostering inclusive growth, investment and trade.

ii) We also aim to end poverty and vulnerability by helping to build stronger public and private systems for health and education, reaching women and children with improved nutrition, water and sanitation, and providing humanitarian assistance to those in need.

iii) We will help to stem radicalisation and the outflow of narcotics, trafficked people and drug-resistant disease.

iv) We press the government to end discrimination in Rakhine State, support individuals to migrate safely and stop modern slavery and are a lead funder of programmes that address drug resistant malaria.

Source: Department for International Development (DBB016) and country plans

17.DFID’s planned Burma programme for 2018 now amounts to £100 million. The most obvious change to DFID’s approach as seen from the table above is that the government of Burma is now seen as a ‘partner’. DFID states:

The UK is one of [Burma’s] most significant diplomatic and development partners encouraging progress on the so-called ‘triple transition’, from authoritarian government to democracy; from conflict to peace; and from a closed to an open economy.15

Additionally, now top of DFID’s list of objectives is “building Burma into a stable ally and trade partner” pushing the aim of ending poverty and vulnerability into second place.

18.We are concerned that recent events raise serious questions about the DFID country plan’s terms of engagement with Burma. These questions are:

UK policy following the Rohingya crisis

19.We have been interested to explore what the consequences have been for the military and Burmese government following ethnic cleansing. Burma Campaign UK said:

Almost 8 months on from the start of the Rohingya crisis, Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military, has still paid no price for what he has done. [ … ] The British government has led on words but not on practical action that will pressure the military to end attacks on ethnic people and hold them to account.18

The situation is that there have been very few obvious consequences: no constitutional change despite promises; sanctions have not been re-imposed except on a small number of officers and Min Aung Hlaing, head of the Burmese military, is not receiving invitations to relevant events from the EU; development aid still flows in; the army seems to be more popular if anything; and Burmese military spending has risen markedly.19

20.DFID said:

DFID Burma is a challenging friend to the civilian Government, supporting policy development (such as in health and education) where it will help benefit the poor, but challenging where needed.20

However, as a challenging friend it is of interest to understand whether we are actually being listened to and our opinions considered. The Minister told us:

it is the view of the British Government that [Aung San Suu Kyi] needs to speak out against the atrocities that the military has perpetrated in Rakhine. There is more she could do to ensure the civilian Government act in ways that would address the situation, including allowing humanitarian access, setting out a pathway to citizenship for the Rohingya, setting out a clearer vision for the conditions under which refugees would be treated on return, addressing constraints on freedom of movement for the Rohingya and ensuring media freedom is protected.21

But there has been no observable response so far. The one achievement the Minister could point to of UK’s challenging friendship was the setting up of the advisory board, by Aung San Suu Kyi on 22 January. He told us:

I do not think something like that would be happening if it had not been for diplomatic efforts and diplomatic determination. Is it where we want it to be? Is Burma where we want it to be? No, but if we did not press our points, stand up for what we believe and continue to take that message, it would be so much the worse.22

However, this same advisory board, as highlighted in our January report, was referred to by one of its own members as “a whitewash”.23

21.DFID said:

DFID Burma is currently reviewing its entire portfolio in response to recent events. The 2016–2020 Business Plan Strategic Objectives remain valid, but we are submitting advice to Ministers to suggest revised approaches for achieving them: the UK still aims to achieve poverty reduction and support peace and inclusion in Burma; the most effective means to do this will be to continue to support an emerging democracy.24

We consider below, whether Burma is really still ‘emerging’ as a democracy. As yet the only significant change to the UK programme in Burma is, as we found in our January report, the suspension of training for the Tatmadaw in December 2017.25

Burma’s “path to democracy”

22.There are many measures of democracy but it is widely accepted that key elements are a democratic constitution; a freely elected legislature (with some influence over Ministers); observance of the rule of law; and freedoms and rights, including freedom of expression; and a free media.

23.The 2008 constitution was drafted by the military without consultation with political parties or civil society. DFID at the time referred to it as “a political process neither inclusive nor consultative, viewed by most of the international community as a means of entrenching military rule.”26 Aung San Suu Kyi herself said she wanted the constitution to be amended “because we want a country firmly on the road to democracy” insisting the constitution was “fundamentally undemocratic”.27

24.The NLD government has not sought to amend the constitution. It is assumed that the military with its 25% of seats would veto any amendments but this is untested.

25.Human Rights Watch (HRW) record some positive reforms such as: ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; trying to resolve past land confiscation cases and some minor reform of laws regulating speech and assembly. However, HRW also highlighted the NLD government’s increasing use of repressive laws to prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for the peaceful expression of opinions deemed critical of the government or military.28

26.Various organs of the UN have recommended, in total, 237 actions or reforms in relation to human rights to the Burmese government since 2013. One has been implemented and two partially implemented. As we highlighted in our previous report29 parts of the UN, like us, have been denied access to Burma. The UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission and the UN’s special rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, have been prevented from entering, as well as many of the human rights activists who once campaigned for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.30 David Baulk of Fortify Rights told us: “we have seen a crackdown by the Government of Myanmar on human rights defenders, journalists, human rights monitors and others”.31

Media freedom

27.The ‘crackdown’ on media freedom has been brought to the world’s attention with the arrest and prosecution of Burma-based Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They now face up to 14 years in prison under an Official State Secrets Act dating from 1923. In the past year, at least 12 journalists have been arrested, and others have faced threats of violence while reporting on ongoing conflicts and other sensitive issues, contributing to a deteriorating environment for freedom of expression in the country.32 Time reported that:

Reporters have expressed frustration with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, which has proven itself firmly in alignment with the country’s powerful military to repress critical coverage. International media organizations operating in Myanmar have begun publishing stories without by-lines to protect their local reporters, who have faced escalating intimidation, harassment, and death threats from the public and the authorities. Some outlets have even temporarily shifted personnel out of Myanmar.33

Burmese news agency Frontiers Myanmar reported in 2017 that:

The government is as secretive and non-transparent as its predecessors. Journalists remain locked out of parliament sessions and are regularly denied information by government agencies, including when using the information request provisions of the News Media Law. It continues to subsidise state media outlets that unashamedly push government propaganda.

But it’s the growing application of section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law that is the most worrying development. As has been well documented, there were seven cases under the former government, but 38 from when the National League for Democracy took office to the end of 2016.

The NLD government has been complicit in these prosecutions, because every case requires sign-off from the Ministry of Communications and Transport. It has the power to stop them, but it has chosen not to do so. It has also been slow to act on amending the law, although it insists changes are coming.34

Political Prisoners

28.More than 200 political prisoners were released when the NLD came to power in 2016, and 36 this April 2018. But reportedly, a similar number are still in jail or on bail awaiting trial.35 (This does not include the unknown number of Rohingya).

29.However, a recent investigation by Myanmar Times, entitled “Not all female political prisoners became State Counsellor”, reported that the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) had identified up to 240 female political prisoners still behind bars. In April when the NLD granted pardons to 36 political prisoners, none of them were women. It also found that female political prisoners had a tougher time in prison than their fellow male inmates–there were less of them and they were less likely to mobilise for better conditions than their male counterparts.36

Religious Freedom

30.We received evidence that religious freedom was under serious threat. Benedict Rogers from Christian Solidarity Worldwide has written:

I have made over fifty visits to Myanmar and its borders over the past eighteen years, but I have not known a level of religious intolerance and hatred as severe as the situation over the past six years.37

A recent report from Quilliam highlights:

Legislation to restrict inter-religious marriage and religious conversions has been introduced as part of the “Protection of Race and Religion” laws. Myanmar’s equivalent of a blasphemy law, Section 295 of the Penal Code, has been used several times in recent years.38

The report highlights abuses of Christians as well as Muslims. Nationalists, supported by the state have set up “Muslim- free zones” across the country. These are signposted villages, denying Muslims access. Christians, particularly in Kachin State, are being targeted for abuse and intimidation. The counter-extremism organisation Quilliam report states that “Freedom of religion or belief, a basic human right set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is increasingly violated in Myanmar.”39 The United States’ State Department has categorised Myanmar as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ for religious freedom every year since 1999.40

Parliamentary democracy

31.We received evidence of Aung San Suu Kyi’s increasingly authoritarian leadership style, centralising power and suppressing independent voices within the NLD. Academic, Dr Dasandi told us that democracy seemed to be shrinking under her:

Since 2015 when the NLD came to power, what we have seen is far more centralisation of power under Aung San Suu Kyi. There are lots of reports of parliamentarians in the NLD party effectively having proposals to table motions being rejected. We have been told that backbenchers for the NLD have been told not to ask tough questions.41

A report in the Economist observed that: the parliament under the NLD government was less active, and less responsive to public opinion than under the USDP; the previous parliament turned out twice as many laws per session; asked substantially more questions of the government; and passed almost four times as many motions aimed at the executive.42 Other media reporting claims that NLD legislators have been muzzled by their party leaders, one has left the party and others plan not to stand in the next election.43

32.With the legislature not questioning government actions, or challenging Ministers in debate, the result is very little reporting in the media of its work. This is likely to reduce public interest in proceedings and hamper the development of a body of engaged active citizens. Another constraint may come in the form of legislation restricting international NGOs from certain lobbying activities.44 In addition, the NLD government has proposed bills and amendments in parliament restricting free speech suggesting a growing hostility towards to civil society. A recent CNN report concluded:

there are questions over the National League for Democracy’s commitment to reform. Suu Kyi’s party has a parliamentary majority, which gives it the power to remove repressive legislation. Instead, it has failed to carry out any discernible human rights reforms, and oppressive laws continue to be in force giving the government powers to detain and charge its critics.45

33.A recent report in Frontier Myanmar noted how some of the most important discussions in the parliaments occur during committee meetings but they cannot be reported. It concluded:

In Myanmar, transparency in governance is lacking and one reason is the restrictions on public and media access to parliaments. MPs, parliamentary speakers and government officials need to start practising proactive disclosure to provide the transparency essential to build a successful democracy.46

Hkanhpa Tu Sadan, Trustee, The Kachin Relief Fund UK said:

There is a great deal of talking in the parliament and a lot of debates going on, but there is nothing in action we have seen. They argue about a full stop or a comma, but nothing on the ground. That is the worrying part of the parliamentary work in Burma.47

The Peace Process

Conditions for participation

34.This year will mark the seventh year of the peace process aimed at bringing to the negotiating table Burma’s many armed ethnic (and regional) groups, struggling in what has been described as the longest civil war in the world. Only around half of these groups have signed a ceasefire agreement and, of those, most had little or no military capacity or were already allied to the Burmese military. The largest armed groups have not yet signed ceasefires and there appears no foreseeable prospect of them doing so. This is because of the military’s six conditions for the peace process:

35.The inclusion of agreement to the 2008 Constitution and existing laws are unacceptable to ethnic organisations being the primary cause of conflict in the first place. The implication of surrender before talks can begin is an unlikely basis for negotiations. Hkanhpa Tu Sadan, Trustee, The Kachin Relief Fund UK told us:

The founding principle of the union of Burma is the general federal unions, which we signed in the Panglong Agreement in 1947. That is the spirit of what we wish for, but the 21st Century Panglong Conference does not mean that at all.49

Peace is everybody’s wish. It is what everybody wants—the whole of Burma, the whole nation; we all want peace, but the term of peace they use in the military is the motto of, “One nation, one blood, one command”. That is their motto, so if I am Kachin, as long as I become a Brahmin or Buddhist, I will get peace.

That is the mentality they have. They do not care about diversity; they do not care about our equal rights. That is the term they are using. In terms of the peace agreement, they will talk very nicely in beautiful, flowery language in front of the TV, but in reality, they want to wipe out your battalions and control your natural resources and so on.50

David Baulk of Fortify Rights told us that: “The peace process in its current guise has been dictated to ethnic nationality populations by the Myanmar military since day one. The peace process has taken place at the barrel of a gun since the first negotiations took place and that continues now. [ … ] The Myanmar military would like to see peace across Myanmar, as long as it is a peace that allows them to control every square foot of the country, which makes no space for the demands of ethnic nationality populations.”51

Peace and war

36.Since the peace process began, the intensity of conflict and human rights violations increased rather than decreased. The military has stepped up military operations in ethnic states and conflict and human rights violations have increased. Ceasefires have been broken in Shan State, Kachin State and most recently Karen State.52 David Baulk of Fortify Rights said:

At the very moment when that peace agreement was signed, in October 2015, we started to see a spike in attacks in northern Shan State, mass displacement of civilians and mass human rights violations. That pattern continues today.53

At this moment, there is more conflict in the north of Myanmar than at any time in recent history. Mass human rights violations continue and the rule of law is nowhere to be seen.54

Hkanhpa Tu Sadan said, in regard to the ceasefires:

The whole peace process currently is focused on a ceasefire signed on a paper. Everybody can sign a paper and the next day they can throw it away, so that is not an issue.55

I would remind you that in the second 21st Century Panglong Conference, in August 2017, when our Kachin leader attended the meeting they sent fighter jets to attack the Kachin position in Gidon post, so how can we say that process is tangible?56

37.The Burmese army has recently broken the ceasefire in Karen state. More than 2,000 villagers have been displaced.

Box 1: Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi

28 March 2018

We, the Indigenous Karen leaders of 16 villages in Luthaw Township, northern Mutraw (Hpapun) District, draw your attention to over 2,000 villagers who have fled their homes due to an ongoing Tatmadaw offensive that began on March 4, 2018. Tatmadaw soldiers, who plan to build a military operation road through our lands and villages, have shot at us and our livestock and repeatedly clashed with KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) soldiers.

In the past, we made our living by cultivating rice fields and raising livestock, and we enjoyed abundance. However, between 1974 and 2010, the Tatmadaw launched repeated large-scale offensives against the KNU (Karen National Union) in our area. The soldiers murdered civilians, slaughtered our livestock, looted and burned our villages, and destroyed our food supplies, forcibly displacing us over and over again. Many of our fellow villagers were forced to flee to Thailand as refugees. Decades of these Tatmadaw abuses have so traumatized us that mere mention of the Tatmadaw brings back nightmares.

In 2012, the KNU signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government, leading us to believe that the Tatmadaw would stop attacking us, withdraw its troops from our lands and allow us to return and rebuild our villages. However, contrary to our expectations, Tatmadaw troops have not withdrawn; instead, they have built more bases and fortified existing camps. Now, the Tatmadaw’s actions threaten us once again.

The Tatmadaw’s military roads in our homeland are a source of great fear for us, since they facilitate movement of troops and transport of heavy weapons into our areas. We are often in danger of being shot by Tatmadaw soldiers near these roads. For example, Saw Maw Kay, a Khershorter Community Forest ranger in Luthaw township, was shot dead by Tatmadaw soldiers on at 10:00 AM on February 22, 2015 while he and other villagers were clearing their upland rotational farms. Now, advancing Tatmadaw soldiers once again threaten our safety

Since February 27, 2018, soldiers have shot at villagers on at least 4 occasions while some of us were collecting our rice. Furthermore, the Tatmadaw’s plan to construct a military operation road threatens to permanently displace us from our ancestral lands and villages, pushing us into poverty and food insecurity. Nearly 2,300 of our villagers, including elders, women and children, have already fled their homes and are now hiding in the forest, while more than 600 additional villagers are at risk of being driven from their homes as well. In this mountainous region, it is cold at night, and displaced villagers are suffering from psychological trauma and other illnesses, exacerbated by food and medicine shortages.

38.Fighting in Kachin State has intensified dramatically recently. According to the UN, more than 5,000 people have been displaced in the last month following attacks by the military in townships across the State.57 A non-governmental organization based in Kachin state has sent an open letter to the Kachin State Minister on 18 April, asking for the permission to rescue civilians but the permission has not yet been granted.

“We have been asking permission to rescue people who are trapped in the jungle and they are in a very critical condition,” said Awng Ja, a member of Kachin State Women Network, which helps displaced women. “But the state minister said only if the military granted us access, we can rescue these civilians.”58

On April 8, following a six-day mission to Burma, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller called the conflict in Kachin “a forgotten humanitarian crisis,” noting, “Humanitarian access in Myanmar has significantly worsened in the last year, not only in Rakhine but also in Kachin and Shan States.”59

Aung San Suu Kyi’s role

39.We were interested to determine what Aung San Suu Kyi’s role was in the peace process and how the ethnic minority groups viewed her. Minister Burt told us:

The peace process is long-lasting. The civil war in Burma is the world’s longest-running civil war, and Aung San Suu Kyi has convened the most inclusive peace dialogue since Burma’s internal conflict began in 1947.60

Other witnesses spoke of the hope that had blossomed with Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and rise to power. Hkanhpa Tu Sadan, Kachin Relief Fund, said:

In terms of the Kachin, when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest we had great hope for the opening up of Burma. [ … ] Her father came, in 1946, before Burma got independence, and persuaded us to be a general federal union with equal rights, so we trusted her as we did her father.61

David Baulk, Fortify Rights, took a similar line:

there was a lot of hope for what Aung San Suu Kyi’s role would be, what she would be able to achieve in the office that she has of State Counsellor, with regard to peace. On the election trail, peace, rule of law and human rights were a leitmotif across her speeches and her party’s campaigning position.62

However, both witnesses said that disappointment and disillusionment swiftly followed. Hkanhpa Tu Sadan told us: “we did trust her, but at the moment she has sided with the military. She is not in the middle; she is on the other side and we need the peace process. She has refused to acknowledge and condemn the atrocities. She has refused to go on the correct path of the peace process.63 David Baulk said: “levels of trust among ethnic populations with regard to Aung San Suu Kyi … have been eroded to the point of non-existence, frankly.”64

DFID’s role

40.DFID reported its support for the Peace Process as, in total, £50.5 million between 2017 and 2022, comprising:

Prospects for peace

41.Minister Burt’s position appeared to be that any process was better than no process. He told us: if people are not fighting, and if people are still talking, I reckon the programme is working.”65 And: “Nothing is acceptable about violence, but nor is it acceptable, if there is a chance of preventing it, or a chance of finding an answer, to walk away, so we will continue to support the processes so long as there is an opportunity for success.”66 Hkanhpa Tu Sadan, Kachin Relief Fund, argued that there was no chance of finding an answer within the current process. He said: “when I was learning about the Northern Ireland peace process, the British Government, the IRA and everyone recognised that nobody was going to win the war. At the moment, the Burmese military still think they win the war. That is the key point here.”67

42.Richard Montgomery, DFID Director, pointed out that there were groups that were invested in the peace process and parts of Burma that were less violent than others. He said what was needed were some dividends, some incentives, from the Burmese government and the military, as well as from the ethnic groups. He suggested a political settlement could come later. He cautioned us:

Investing in the peace process may not have tangible outcomes like a vaccination programme, but it is probably a more important piece of work for the UK Government to be pump-priming than many others that you could see across the world.68

Hkanhpa Tu Sadan said that DFID should understand that, while the Burma military and its government were seen as pursuing peace and national reconciliation, at the same time they were laying the foundations for even more complicated conflicts that could take many more decades to resolve. He said: “the current approach to peace is not working and we urge DFID to stop peace funding, such as Joint Peace Fund, review its policy and initiate more meaningful initiatives for peace and justice.”69

A political settlement

43.Hkanhpa Tu Sadan said: “Burma’s problem is a political issue and there is no clear path to finding a solution for the political grievance.” David Baulk agreed: “many of the longstanding demands of ethnic populations, be they Kachin, Ta’ang or Rakhine, have not been met by the Government of Myanmar, and that is a fundamental root cause of many of the conflicts in the country today.”70 “The Myanmar military, is unwilling to listening to the grievances of ethnic nationality populations and amend the constitution of the country and the fundamental structures that discriminate against ethnic nationality populations. If that does not change, we can expect those conflicts to continue for a very long time to come.”71

44.DFID’s 2004–09 country assistance plan stated:

these ceasefires do not address the underlying issues of equity and distribution of power, and a comprehensive political solution is still needed.72

On balance, it appears to us that this position has not changed.

45.We believe there may be a fundamental problem with the peace process that the UK is supporting. The problem is that one side is unlikely to be sincerely engaged and probably has a completely different agenda. We think it highly likely that the process is just window-dressing for the Burmese Army.

46.We recommend that DFID commission and conduct an independent review of the peace process, evaluating its prospects for progress. There should be robust benchmarks set which, if not met, mean that the programme is suspended.

IDPs and refugees

Box 2: IDPs in Burma

Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are described by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as “individuals or groups of people who have been forced to flee their homes to escape armed conflict, generalized violence and human rights abuses.” In Burma’s case, conflict is not the only factor in displacement. The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement framework highlights that displacement can also be caused by large-scale development projects, and in Burma state-sponsored natural resource extraction and major infrastructure construction have displaced, and continue to displace, communities and destroy the local environment. Displacement is also caused by inappropriate state policies that drive people from their homes, such as forced labour; lack of food due to limited productive land and poor access to markets; and a dearth of basic social services such as schools and clinics.

Source: DFID assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border, Tenth Report, 2006–07, HC 645

47.Rights and aid groups have reported that the Burmese Government have dramatically increased restrictions on humanitarian assistance to some internally displaced people in Burma. They claim that the government has virtually denied all access for the United Nations and other international humanitarian groups. David Baulk, Fortify Rights, and Hkanhpa Tu Sadan, Kachin Relief Fund both described features of how humanitarian aid was restricted by administrative regimes of permissions and paperwork.73

DFID funding

48.One of DFID’s main aims is: to provide aid to those in conflict. DFID are funding programmes in areas of current conflict such as Kachin and Shan state. However, it has been stopping and reducing funding to organisations such as The Border Consortium helping victims of previous conflict when it is still not safe for people to return and where there is still need. Kachin Relief Fund claim that:

Since many armed organizations signed the NCA peace agreement, the international donors’ attitude gradually became a demand to sign the fake peace accord or be cut off from aid.

DFID should understand that the Kachin revolution started because of inequality and injustice against the Kachin population, not because of hunger. The “peace or no aid” approach will not work in the Kachin case. This means that the demand to sign the fake peace accord will prolong conflict in a place where aid should be viewed purely as assistance given on humanitarian grounds, not used as a political tool.74

Box 3: Letter to international community from the Shan people

August 30, 2017

Urgent appeal to continue providing food aid to refugees and IDPs on Shan-Thai border

We, the Shan State Refugee Committee (Thai Border), are appealing to the international community to continue providing food aid to the refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on the Shan-Thai border.

There are about 6,200 refugees and IDPs in six camps along the border, which have been set up since 1999. Over two-thirds of the camp residents are women and children.

The refugees and IDPs have all fled from the war and Burma Army persecution, particularly the mass forced relocation during 1996–1998 in central Shan State. At that time, about 300,000 people from over 1,400 villages were forced at gunpoint from their homes. Hundreds were killed, tortured and raped by the Burma Army.

Most of the forcibly relocated villagers, including elderly and young children, fled to Thailand, but have never been given protection, nor been recognized as refugees by UNHCR.

Wanting to stay close to our communities in Shan State, some of us settled on the Thai-Shan border. The camps where we stay are located on mountaintops, where it is difficult to grow food. We have therefore had to rely on international donations of rice since our camps were first set up.

We are very grateful for the aid we have received, which has enabled us to survive as communities, with our own schools, health centres and places of worship.

However, the food aid we have received has been gradually reduced, and will be totally stopped in October 2017.

We appeal to international donors not to cut off this aid while the peace process is still so uncertain.

We cannot yet return to our homes, because our villages are now derelict, or have been occupied by the Burma Army, their militia or the United Wa State Army. Despite the peace process, the Burma Army has expanded its troops, and is continuing to carry out military operations and attacks around our villages. Villagers continue to be arrested, tortured and killed.

We appeal for our rights as refugees to be respected - the right to receive adequate humanitarian aid, and to be given protection until we can return in safety and dignity to our homes once there is a political settlement and genuine peace in Shan State.

From The Shan State Refugee Committee (Thai Border)

49.Kachin Relief Fund highlighted:

DFID should be aware that Burmese government is spending more money on the military whilst neglecting emergency humanitarian needs in war-affected non-Burmese ethnic communities. We urge DFID to prioritize the disenfranchised ethnic communities, such as those in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States, with little access to the government public funding/resources and majority Burmese public support.75

The Minister said:

We are supporting a £34 million, multi-year project focused on the Thai-Burma border, aimed at meeting the humanitarian needs of refugees and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to reintegrate when they return home.76

Richard Montgomery added:

We are also looking at re-orientating some of our health and education work to make sure that we are working more with ethnic organisations that provide health and education. That is something that we have been discussing with the Secretary of State. It is not just about a humanitarian lifeline, although we are helping to provide assistance to about 100,000 people in northern Shan and the Kachin, and in the Thai border camps. Through the livelihood and food security programme, we are also doing work up in these areas on nutrition, on maternal health and on trying to provide opportunities for farmers and people involved in forestry to make better livelihoods. These are, again, incentives for peace in the longer term.77

Supporting local groups

50.Supporting local groups to assess and deliver against need in IDP communities has consistently been a recommendation of this Committee in 2007 and 2013. The Committee reported in 2007:

Ethnic, religious and community groups often have relatively open access to government-controlled and ceasefire areas and can provide important development (and some limited protection) assistance to IDPs. Such groups can assess IDPs’ needs at first-hand and tailor their response accordingly. Another key benefit to assistance provided by local grassroots organisations is their ability to go beyond emergency humanitarian assistance to undertake more sustainable development work with communities.78

The Committee concluded:

Providing funding to community-based organisations (CBOs), who often manage their own clinics, schools and projects, is a way for donors to assist IDPs without channelling funds through the military regime. Such groups can go beyond emergency assistance to carry out crucial sustainable development work at grassroots level. [ … ] We recommend that DFID increase substantially the funding it gives to CBOs within Burma. Capacity-building and training of such groups is a crucial complementary strategy if funding is to be used effectively.

Funding CBOs provides donors with the means to support human rights and democracy work within Burma.79

Equally, the Committee recommended: “We recommend that DFID begin appropriate funding of exile groups who carry out crucial work both inside and outside Burma to support IDPs and other vulnerable groups. Support to such groups would have the simultaneous benefit of supporting and raising awareness about the plight of IDPs.”80

51.In 2010 DFID reported:

About 20% of our long-term funding for Burma is allocated to communities affected by conflict. These include more than 140,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand, 500,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Burma, and two million people living in ethnic cease-fire areas in Burma. Our aid provides food, shelter and access to legal assistance for refugees in Thailand. It also helps to provide IDPs in Burma with food, improved water and sanitation, primary health care and education services, all delivered by community-based organisations from both Burma and Thailand.81

DFID’s support for civil society brings together local groups to work more effectively on issues of particular importance to ordinary Burmese people. Our programmes have contributed to a growth in humanitarian activities by independent local NGOs. They aim to assist people to participate better in decision-making processes affecting their welfare and livelihoods.

52.The Kachin Relief Fund has been critical of DFID’s use of the larger INGO contractors in the country. It highlights:

53.Burma Campaign UK have found that as far as they are aware from their contacts in Burma:

Violence and sexual violence

54.The Shan Human Rights Foundation highlighted that there are six camps along the Shan-Thai border sheltering over 6,200 particularly vulnerable refugees such as mothers, children, the old and disabled. They are all from active conflict areas where Burmese military forces continue to conduct violent human rights violations. The Foundation asserted that, even after a ceasefire was signed in 2015, fighting has continued; intensifying since 2017 with gross human rights violations against civilians in the ceasefire areas including extra-judicial killings and sexual violence.84 The Shan Woman’s Action Network (SWAN) have been documenting rapes and other forms of sexual violence; their report, Licence to Rape, documented rape of 625 women by personnel from 52 different Burmese Army battalions. The head of the UN’s international fact-finding mission in Burma, Marzuki Darusman, reported to the UN Human Rights Council that rape was being used as a weapon of war by the Burmese military in the area.85 However these IDP camps had their aid from the international community cut off in October 2017 [see Box 3] but their inhabitants clearly feel unable to return home due to the continuing violence.86

Empowering IDPs

55.Kachin Relief Fund have found:

Since 2011, the Kachin internally displaced people (IDPs) are directly relying on donors for their daily survival. This will cause problems in the longer-term since we cannot predict when it will be safe to return to their home. The traumatic experiences they have endured as a result of the war and conflict will not be eased by creating dependency–the aid handouts could create further disempowerment for the IDPs.

DFID should consider an alternative way of funding the IDPs–for example, helping IDPs to generate income to support their families. It is very important to support for education and healthcare of the IDPs, whether they reside in government- or non-government controlled areas. If DFID is missing this out, there will be various gaps in the next younger generations.87

56.These requests are in line with the Grand Bargain from the World Humanitarian Summit and the Wilton Park Principles as highlighted in our January report on the Rohingya Crisis. They also shed light on the similarities between the refugee camps in Thailand and those in Bangladesh; in particular their longevity. DFID needs to consider how it can work within the principles the UK signed up to within the Grand Bargain when dealing with the refugee and IDP camps, old and new, in south Asia.

Options for the future

57.David Baulk of Fortify Rights said:

What emboldens the Myanmar military to continue to perpetrate atrocity crimes is the complete absence of accountability for many decades of atrocities meted out to ethnic nationality populations in the country.88

58.Here are some of the options available to the UK and EU and we consider some and others in this section:

Source: Burma Campaign UK

Changes to the DFID programme

59.The Committee in 2013 concluded that:

DFID Burma’s programme should not roll forward whatever the situation. It should be nimble and flexible to change. [ … ] If reform in Burma does start to falter and things start moving backwards DFID and the UK Government should be strong to act, reducing or diverting funding and projects.89

60.The Minister told us recently:

All things are flexible, and we would be remiss in our duty if we did not look hard at the possibility of change when it is necessary. [ … ] No one wants to carry on if it is pointless, but I will say that a decision of that nature also has consequences.90

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Westminster Foundation for Democracy said:

Decisions about whether to step away and how to engage are incredibly important and incredibly difficult.91

Which programmes could be withdrawn?

Economic Development

61.One potentially controversial area for DFID’s engagement is in its economic development work in Burma. DFID Burma says:

The UK’s focus and international leadership on economic development is a vital part of Global Britain - harnessing the potential of new trade relationships, creating jobs and channelling investment to the world’s poorest countries. Throughout history, sustained, job-creating growth has played the greatest role in lifting huge numbers of people out of grinding poverty. This is what developing countries want and is what the international system needs to help deliver. Whilst there is an urgent need for traditional aid in many parts of the world, ultimately economic development is how we will achieve the Global Goals and help countries move beyond the need for aid.

62.DFID’s country profile states that it wants Burma to be in a position to “support UK interests and bilateral trade.” It also says

In the future, with one of the fastest growing economies and large oil and gas reserves, Burma could offer significant investment and trade opportunities for the UK.92

63.DFID’s 2011 to 2016 Country Plan states that “ We are also initiating some private sector partnerships to stimulate inclusive and responsible investment”93 It also said DFID was working on:

Major new investment on inclusive, transformative economic growth policy. This may include reform of the financial sector and business climate, building markets, infrastructure, trade, reforming state enterprises and increasing opportunities for private investment–with the aim of generating much needed new jobs and increased private investment (including from abroad) in Burma.94

A significant part of DFID’s programme in Burma is economic development.

Box 4: DFID bilateral Burma country budget

Source: DFID Burma Country Profile July 2017

64.Minister Burt said:

Our work with the private sector is focused on creating jobs, and expanding the economy and moving it away from what has effectively been a military autocracy, a crony-based system, which does not deliver economic development but delivers vast wealth for the few. There is a determination to disempower that sort of structure. We are working on measures that will improve the nature of the economy and make it livelier. We are very determined to see that happening. There will be a benefit to the UK, but principally it is of benefit to Burma, the development of the Burma economy, and of course the politics as well.95

65.Burma Campaign UK has found an example of why there needs to be policies ensuring no UK aid ends up directly or indirectly benefitting the military. Irrawaddy Green Towers in Burma was created from development aid loans from European countries, including CDC group, under the control of DFID. It is working for MYTEL, the new mobile phone company set up by the Burmese military in conjunction with the Vietnamese military, so it could be deemed that UK aid is helping the Burmese military make money. We have also been told of a UK part funded programme to build an overpass in Yangon, even though DFID acknowledges that the military businesses are heavily involved in transport and infrastructure.

66.Richard Montgomery from DFID told us:

In terms of our due diligence, this is about digging into not just the partners we work with but also the downstream partners that they work with or that are included in our programmes. There is a facility that we have brought in that does that digging for us.96

However, he also admitted that:

there are some donors and multilaterals that will provide finance to the Government, which, in principle, includes UK taxpayers’ money. Whenever the World Bank lends, that is 15% of our money in IDA.97

67.We note that at the same time as we were denied visas to visit Burma, the UK government was hosting a trade delegation from Burma including members of the Burmese government. In response to this report we would like the UK Government to set out how its support for UK/Burma trade takes into account concerns about the Burmese military’s involvement in the economy and human rights abuses. This should include information covering UK spending other than ODA or which is through funds and programmes outside of DFID’s control, for example the Prosperity Fund.

Parliamentary Strengthening

68.DFID said:

69.We questioned the organisation managing DFID’s programme in the Burmese Parliament: The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). Its Chief Executive Anthony Smith told us:

Democratic governance is an essential part of a country’s development and a parliament is an essential part of any democracy. The parliament needs to play a proper and effective role in representing all the people of the country. It needs to be able to debate all the issues, including the conflict issues that we have heard about. It needs to hold institutions to account, the executive, security forces, et cetera. Without that, you will not have a fully functioning democracy99

70.However as discussed earlier, the Burmese Parliament, in many ways, is not performing these functions nor does it seem likely to in the near future. We asked what evidence or examples there were of a positive impact from the parliamentary strengthening programme in Burma, for example had there been any scrutiny of the Rohingya crisis? However, we have not been provided with any evidence of any serious debate or questions in the Burmese Parliament on the Rohingya crisis. We also asked Anthony Smith whether WFD had considered what conduct or behaviour by the Burmese authorities would be so bad as to cause the programme to be suspended? He said: “What the [WFD] board discussion [has been] trying to assess is whether we are going to help the Rohingya—or any other community that is excluded, persecuted and subject to human rights abuses—more by remaining engaged and trying to build institutions that would challenge that behaviour and change it over time, on the one hand, or by leaving? So far within the board and with all of those other partners, the conclusion is that we should keep trying to build that.”100

We also pursued this with the Minister who said:

We are trying to make sure that the programme is shaped to ensure that Parliament communicates more regularly and effectively on the Government’s humanitarian and rehabilitation responses to events, works more closely with civil society, including with Rohingya representatives, and understands more about how other Parliaments have responded to violent conflict.101

71.We asked the Minister whether there were any flames of democracy left in Burma worth fanning? He said:

Our estimation is that there are those who are looking forward to a further development in Burma, but, necessarily, the nature of their system makes it extremely difficult for them to self-identify. Our concern is that, if the voice of people who believe in what we believe in—in terms of parliamentary democracy and Parliament acting as opposition and making people like me accountable—is not there, that process will not continue. It is difficult, and I cannot give you a list, but is it worth doing, and are we confident there are people who want to continue a transition that is already in place? It is not as if the military was still in place and there was a solely military Government.102

72.However, David Baulk argued:

The behaviour of the Government of Myanmar in recent years at the very least calls into question the support that this Government give around parliamentary development in Naypyidaw. We have seen quite consistently people arguing that there are reform-minded parliamentarians in Myanmar and reform-minded uniformed personnel in the Government, and they have been silent in recent months as the international community has cried genocide and other atrocity crimes in Rakhine State and elsewhere. It is very important that the Department for International Development and the UK Government more broadly think very seriously about how supporting this Government with parliamentary development could be supporting the very people who should be at the International Criminal Court.103

73.There is an argument that MPs could be empowered by enabling their constituents to hold them to account, thereby strengthening their willingness to speak out. This could be an effective alternative form of Parliamentary support building. A stronger emphasis is needed on alternatives, that support good people but in different forms than current programmes via government support.

74.All aid organisations need to keep under review their terms of engagement with state institutions in countries where there are substantial human rights concerns. We recommend that DFID, together with the WFD and the UK Parliament and other UK organisations supporting the ‘Pyidaungsu Hluttaw’—coordinate in securing an objective review of such programmes. This review needs to determine if any substantive progress has been made in equipping and/or inspiring the Burmese legislature to do more to hold the government to account, engage the public or other flexing of parliamentary muscle. If little or nothing tangible has been achieved, we recommend suspending these programmes.

Engagement with the Burmese government

75.We considered the following statements from DFID:

So, although DFID is not providing financial aid directly to the Government of Burma it is providing ‘technical assistance’ and advice to the Government of Burma which is not without cost.

76.Dr Dasandi told us:

If it is felt that the situation is likely to deteriorate and there is very little we can do to help by political engagement as an international community, then the answer, if that is the response, is, yes, you start to stop working with that Government, if it is felt that this is no longer going to help. It is a question of what the alternatives are to that and whether the situation is going to get drastically worse. If it is felt there is no longer any point of engagement, then the UK Government should be considering those options.105

77.Richard Montgomery from DFID said:

we have been discussing with the Secretary of State how we make sure we are working on the right things in Burma going forward, given that there have been these atrocities. One of the focuses that we want to give is on building the capacity of the seven states and divisions rather than just central Government. If we are to do that, we need to have some remit to engage with the central Government, because that is where a lot of the money comes from. If we want to build the capacity of states and regions, we need to engage with both the central and the state systems. That comes back to the Minister’s point that, if we really want to nudge change forward and back people who want progressive change, we have to have some level of engagement with the Government.106

78.The Minister’s view was:

We can be sure that, if there is a cut-off of the relationship with Burma—if it returns to isolation—those voices in Burma that know that what has happened is wrong and that wish to challenge what has happened will have no support from us, because we will have cut off the contact. I do not think that is the right approach for diplomacy, so we will continue our efforts. Have they resulted in what we want so far? No, but those efforts will continue.

The arguments about disengagement with Burma are very clear. In a state that has seen this happen within its own borders, where it is quite clear that an element of the state, the military, has been responsible for the atrocities that we have seen, it is a very easy question to raise to say we should cut off the contact. If we do, those voices that want to be part of something different and that struggle to be heard, those who have sought change in Burma, and those who are working with the poorest in the most difficult of circumstances, where they need health, sanitation and education, would just have to find it elsewhere. If we were not there, who would be? Those are the reasons for engagement.107

79.There is a difference between ending support to the government and ending engagement with it, and ending support to the government does not meet not supporting reform minded people via other means which we discuss in the next section on civil society.

80.The UK is providing advice to government departments which although not classified as ‘direct aid to government’ it is British taxpayers’ money being used to engage with the Burmese government which DFID itself admits is significantly influenced by the military. However, as the Minister says to disengage is to lose any influence over the government. We ask DFID to re-evaluate its balance of spending between economic development, human development and on meeting urgent humanitarian needs.

Support for civil society

81.DFID said:

DFID Burma works closely with NGOs and civil society organisations to deliver objectives on civic education, inclusion and participation in public life. This support includes working innovatively to build coalitions between groups with little to no prior history of collaboration. It also promotes improved accountability on issues relevant to broader social and political change, not least through our continued support to electoral processes as well as budget monitoring and systems improvement. DFID also provides core funding to local civil society organisations to strengthen their internal management and governance and enable them more actively and effectively to advocate for sustainable, inclusive development in Burma.108

82.However, the evidence from the CSO says otherwise. Many civil society organisations consider that the move to work through INGO consortia with CSOs as implementing partners in the past years has been detrimental to their ability to tailor their programs to the fast-changing political landscape (see pages 27-28).

83.Burma Campaign UK has suggested DFID has been selective in its support of more compliant civil society groups rather than those stronger on human rights and government accountability. DFID must be more willing to support grassroots civil society organisations which document and advocate on human rights and are more critical of the military, government and international community.

84.Dr Dasandi said:

What has gone unrecognised in the past year is that you have had a diverse group of civil society organisations making strong statements in January and August last year. [ … ] In terms of opening up that space, obviously it is not going to be a big fix, where civil society will come in and solve all these problems. Certainly, there are actions that could be done to empower those who are willing, within Myanmar, to speak out, who are doing something to address some of these issues. It is a question of engagement. We have to include those groups, trying to work with those groups and trying to increase the influence of those groups.109

International Criminal Court referral

85.David Baulk of Fortify Rights said:

When we think about what the international community can do now to help end mass human rights violations and hold the perpetrators of these accountable, it is absolutely fundamental that the Government of this country and others across the world speak up for what is happening to innocent people in Rakhine State, in Kachin State and elsewhere, and say that it is unacceptable and that the situation in Myanmar should be referred to the International Criminal Court. The Government of this country have a great deal of leverage in the UN Security Council and should be applying that in every way possible to help bring criminal accountability for these crimes.110

86.Burma Campaign UK:

The British government has refused to support, in principle, the UN Security Council (UNSC) referring the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court (ICC). When asked about their position, they hide behind the argument that there is no consensus at the UNSC in support of this, or that Russia and China would veto a resolution. This is deliberately misleading. Consensus can only start to be built when a member seeks to build support. The British government does not as yet support the UNSC making a referral. Taking soundings on existing positions is very different from actively seeking support.

Nor is there an automatic obligation on rushing for a resolution if the UK supports a UNSC referral. It would be more sensible to take the time to build support within the whole UN membership to increase the chances of overcoming opposition. This process can’t start when the UK doesn’t support a referral itself. The process of countries publicly supporting a referral to the ICC could in itself make the military think twice before launching further attacks as it will reduce their sense of impunity.111

87.Rushanara Ali MP has written in the media that the Foreign Secretary should now campaign for Min Aung Hlaing to be called before the International Criminal Court. She argued that

Yes, it is the case that particular countries will protest against such action, namely Russia and China. However, Britain should call this out for what it is and take a leadership role in holding to account the perpetrators. Without accountability, Min Aung Hling can continue to act with impunity.

Accountability is not just about justice but also about deterring future injustices. [ … ]if Min Aung Hlaing has learnt one thing in the last year, it is that the international community will not take any meaningful steps against him.112

88.It was in fact a letter to the UK government on this written by Rushanara Ali and signed by 100 MPs which we were given as one of the reasons that our visas were denied. It therefore must be a fear of the military - to be held to account for what they have done. Just the possibility of an ICC referral may be enough to give Min Aung Hlaing pause for thought before ordering further attacks against the Rohingya or other ethnic groups–and that could save lives.113

89.The ICC Prosecutor is now instead seeking a ruling that she can investigate the crime of deportation under the Rome Statute, as Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, which is a signatory of the Rome Statute. This is a very welcome move. Aung San Suu Kyi has issued a statement criticising the move, denying Rohingya were deported. This continues her longstanding approach of denying human rights abuses have taken place and seeking to obstruct moves towards justice and accountability. The Burmese Government issued a statement that it was “seriously concerned” about the ICC prosecutor’s application and reiterated that it has not deported any individuals and in fact has “worked hard in collaboration with Bangladesh to repatriate those displaced from their homes.”114


90.David Baulk of Fortify Rights said:

Briefly on the question of sanctions, what we are calling for is targeted financial sanctions on people with demonstrated command responsibility for atrocity crimes. We think that is appropriate and punishes the right people rather than the innocent people of Myanmar writ large.115

Hkanhpa Tu Sadan:

Can I add one more and include any businesses associated with the military as well? The British Government have the responsibility to sanction the army that perpetrates human rights violations and crimes against humanity and then war crimes to its own people. The British Government have the responsibility to sanction those associated with the military.116

Rabat Plan of Action

91.Following several workshops on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial and religious hatred organized by the United Nations in various regions of the world, a plan of action to prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, as outlined in Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, was presented by internationally recognized experts at an event held in Geneva on 21 February 2013.117

92.UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her opening statement, stated:

In recent years, incidents involving hate speech, negative stereotyping in the media, and even advocacy of religious or national hatred by public officials and political parties have resulted in killings of innocent people, attacks on places of worship and calls for reprisals. This spiral of violence has made it incumbent on us to renew the search for the correct balance between freedom of expression—which is among the most precious and fundamental of our rights as human beings—and the equally vital need to protect individuals and communities from discrimination and violence.118

93.Aung San Suu Kyi seems to have failed the test set by the Rabat Agreement which was articulated at the time by UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng:

National and local authorities can exacerbate the severity of the speech, but they have also the potential to counter hate speech through positive speech and messages of tolerance and restraint.119

94.David Baulk of Fortify Rights said:

She has made no attempts to counter hate speech or send positive messages about tolerance and restraint. Instead she has either remained silent or referred to ‘fake news’. Aung San Suu Kyi is not giving them orders, but she is standing up in public and defending the actions of the Myanmar military, whether that is in the west of the country or the north. That makes her complicit in atrocity crimes. When we think about if there is any way back for her in terms of the trust lost among ethnic nationality populations, it will be a very long road to regaining that trust. If she is earnest about winning back that trust, the first thing that needs to happen is for her to say publicly that perpetrators of these atrocity crimes must be held accountable for their actions.120

Burma Campaign UK highlight that:

Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for her silence over the Rohingya crisis, but she has not been silent. When the violence first escalated against the Rohingya in 2012 she talked about it in terms of immigration and the rule of law, sending a clear message to the people of Burma that she did not see the Rohingya as being from Burma, and thereby encouraging and legitimising prejudice.

Before the current crisis, Aung San Suu Kyi kept in place military era laws and policies which were designed to drive the Rohingya out of Burma using a combination of deliberate impoverishment and human rights violations. She kept in place restrictions on humanitarian aid which killed people, including children.

During the military offensives against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017 her government vociferously defended the military and denied human rights violations have taken place. She even had a flashing ‘fake rape’ sign on her website.

Aung San Suu Kyi does not control the military but nothing obliges her to defend their actions, deny human rights violations are taking place, and ban UN investigators and rapporteurs from the country. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is also banning an increasing number of human rights activists from the country, and placing much greater restrictions on journalists obtaining visas.

Aung San Suu Kyi has not said Rohingya belong in Burma, has not changed the law to ensure they get citizenship, has not taken action to tackle hate speech, and in fact her government used state media and social media to spread fear and hatred of Rohingya.121

Media commentary has included:

There is no broader reform agenda if she continues to preside over a state that sanctions racism and terror. Her position within the government is not merely symbolic; she occupies at least three offices as state counsellor, foreign minister and minister of the president’s office. As a politically elected representative of the government, she bears the moral responsibility to do right by her people, which include the Rohingya Muslims.122

95.Among the key factors put forward in the Rabat Plan of Action to prevent incitement to hatred are the collective responsibility of public officials, religious and community leaders, the media and individuals, and the need to nurture social consciousness, tolerance, mutual respect, and intercultural dialogue.

8 Department for International Development (DBB016)

9 Burma Campaign UK (DBB027)

11 DFID assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border, Tenth Report, 2006–07, HC 645

12 DFID Burma Country Assistance Plan, 2004

13 DFID, UK Aid in Burma, 2010

14 DFID Burma Operational Plan 2011–16

15 DFID Burma Country Programme 2017

16 Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis—monsoon preparedness in Cox’s Bazar: Government response to the Committee’s Third Report, Fifth Special Report, 2017–19, HC 1055, 22 May 2018, p vi

17 UN Human Rights Council proceedings: 5 December 2017 and 12 March 2018

18 Burma Campaign UK brief for Westminster Hall Debate Monday 16th April 2018

19 Burma Campaign UK (DBB027)

20 Department for International Development (DBB016)

21 Q212

22 Q207

24 Department for International Development (DBB016)

25 Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis, Second Report, 2017–19, HC 504, paragraph 27

26 DFID submission to IDC, July 2008

28 Human Rights Watch 2018 World Report, Burma

29 Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis, Second report, 2017–19, HC 504, 15 January 2018 pg 61–62

30 Mark Farmaner and Zoya Phan of Burma Campaign UK, Ben, Khin Ohmar, 88 gen activist, Kurt Mausert, Civil society trainer

31 Q147

34 ‘Has press freedom really improved?’, Frontier Myanmar, May 2017

41 Q197–198

44 Civic Freedom Monitor: Myanmar (Burma), January 2018

46 ‘It’s time to open the Hlutttaws’ Frontier Myanmar, December 2017

47 Q170

48 ‘Tatmadaw outlines 6 point policy for peace talk’ The Nation, Thailand, September 2014

49 Q164

50 Q162

51 Q160

53 Q154

54 Q157

55 Q153

56 Q155

60 Q256

61 Q156

62 Q157

63 Q164

64 Q157

65 Q257

66 Q259

67 Q167

68 Q262

69 Kachin Relief Fund (DBB021)

70 Q149

71 Q159

72 DFID Burma Country Assistance Plan 2004

73 Q167

74 Kachin Relief Fund (DBB021)

75 Kachin Relief Fund (DBB021)

76 Q256

77 Q263

78 DFID assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border, Tenth Report, 2006–07, HC 645

79 DFID assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border, Tenth Report, 2006–07, HC 645

80 DFID assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border, Tenth Report, 2006–07, HC 645

81 DFID, UKAID in Burma, 2010

82 Kachin Relief Fund (DBB021)

83 Karenaid (DBB018)

84 Shan Human Rights Foundation (DBB022)

86 Shan Human Rights Foundation (DBB022)

87 Kachin Relief Fund (DBB021)

88 Q148

89 Democracy and Development in Burma, Ninth Report of Session 2013–14, HC 821, para 180

90 Q270

91 Q204

92 DFID Burma Country Profile July 2017

93 DFID BURMA Operational Plan 2011–2016, Updated December 2014

94 DFID BURMA Operational Plan 2011–2016, Updated December 2014

95 Q248

96 Q252

97 Q253

98 Department for International Development (DBB016)

99 Q173

100 Q191

101 Q265

102 Q247

103 Q169

104 Department for International Development (DBB016)

105 Q204

106 Q255

107 Q244

108 Department for International Development (DBB016)

109 Q202

110 Q166

111 Burma Campaign UK Briefing: British government response to the Rohingya crisis House of Lords Debate, 10th May 2018

113 Rushanara Ali Letter to the Foreign Secretary, 21 February 2018

115 Q166

116 Q166

120 Q165

121 Burma Campaign UK Briefing: British government response to the Rohingya crisis House of Lords Debate, 10th May 2018

Published: 22 May 2018