Burma – Plight of Rohingyas and Kachin – Religious Freedom, Coercive Population Control Policy in Burma, and the training of Burmese military and the role of child soldiers


Burma

Question 24 Mar 2014 : Column 352

2.44 pm

Asked by Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Burma with particular reference to the Rohingya, Shan and Kachin peoples.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, we welcome that the Burmese Government and ethnic armed conflict groups will establish a joint committee to draft a nationwide ceasefire text, but remain concerned by low-level fighting in Kachin state and Shan state. We

24 Mar 2014 : Column 352

are troubled by UN reports that at least 40 Rohingya people were killed in Rakhine state in January and by constraints imposed on Médecins sans Frontières. We have pressed for improved security and accountability, co-ordination of humanitarian assistance and a solution on Rohingya citizenship.

Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, including her expression of concern for the suffering of the Rohingya people. Is she aware that I 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: My Lords, as ever, the noble Baroness comes to these questions with probably the most up-to-date information available. She is absolutely right that, despite ceasefires having been signed, there is still concern about real human rights abuses happening in Shan, about fighting in Kachin and, of course, about the appalling situation in Rakhine. We take these matters very seriously. They have been raised in the most robust way at the highest level, by the Prime Minister, when President Thein Sein visited the United Kingdom, and most recently by me about a week ago, when Ministers from the national planning committee were here, as well as representatives of the chamber of commerce and the director-general responsible for all investment coming into Burma. I did not hold back in any way in making very clear to them our view that responsible business can happen in Burma only against a backdrop of human rights being observed.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, have we asked the Burmese Government directly why they are not providing adequate protection and relief for the 140,000 Rohingya displaced victims of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state but are instead expelling humanitarian organisations such as MSF, which provided health services to these victims of the Government’s failure to protect them? Secondly, why does the FCO’s quarterly report on Burma as a country of concern play down or omit these and other human rights violations, such as the tolerance of hate speech?

Baroness Warsi: I assure my noble friend that the discussions in relation to Médecins sans Frontières are ongoing. We have huge concerns about it being probably one of a handful of NGOs that are providing health support in Rakhine. Those discussions are ongoing and I will certainly report to the House once we have made some progress. The quarterly report stated:

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“More needs to be done to tackle hate speech, which continues to inspire violence and intolerance across Burma; we continue to lobby the Burmese government to tackle these underlying issues”.

We continue to raise these matters. As to humanitarian access, my noble friend will be aware that there are certain parts of the country which, unfortunately, due to fighting, we cannot access, but we continue to press the Burmese Government to allow us access in those areas where there is no fighting.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, how does the Minister respond to the report of the outgoing UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma last week, in which he 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? Will Her Majesty’s Government support these well founded recommendations?

Baroness Warsi: We support a lot of the work that is being done by the special rapporteur. In that report, which he presented to the Human Rights Council, he felt that technical assistance was required from the international community for any investigation to be transparent, credible and acceptable. I know that the noble Baroness does a large amount of work in this area and continues to campaign. Of course, we will continue to press the Human Rights Council for a strong resolution on human rights against Burma.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the forthcoming census in Burma is largely funded by the United Kingdom. Has she seen the calls by a number of non-governmental organisations that it should be postponed, not least because in Rakhine state, and other states where there are large ethnic minorities, it could certainly be a flashpoint for further confrontation. Will she at the very least ensure that, should the census be conducted, it will not be used to further distort the ethnic tensions in Myanmar?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is right. We have provided about £10 million to ensure that the census is conducted in a technically sound way. We have also helped with the mapping exercise. We have concerns about the census, which is due on 28 March. This Friday will be census night and there will then be a period of 10 days when enumeration will take place. We have concerns because of the 135 officially recognised ethnicities—Rohingya, for example is not included—but we take some comfort from the fact that we have gained agreement from the Burmese Government for independent observers to be mobilised during this process. We hope that the option to self-identify will be used by the Rohingya community to be properly enumerated.

Lord Triesman (Lab): My Lords, the noble Baroness has said that these issues are raised with the Burmese authorities vigorously and frequently and I know that to be the case. I am sure that these efforts are appreciated. To ensure that these issues do not drop between any cracks or rely on a single sentence to capture them, should we not adopt in the quarterly report a traffic

24 Mar 2014 : Column 354

light system under which countries that persistently abuse human rights are shown to all of those who read our reports around the world as red, those which are making progress as amber and others as green? As we take comfort in some progress, I sometimes feel that we have lost them on our radar.

Baroness Warsi: As the Minister with responsibility for human rights, Iconstantly keep under review how the quarterly and annual reports on human rights are presented, how we can present them better and how we can better judge countries that are making progress. I am starting to see the first drafts of the human rights reports which will be published later this year. They will include a great deal of detail on Burma, both as a country of concern and in relation to specific human rights abuse David Alton ( Lord Alton of Liverpool).

Burma
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have received any additional information concerning the statement from the United Nations that it has “credible information” about the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Du Chee Yar Tan village in Burma; and what is their assessment of current levels of violence in Arakan State.[HL4974]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): We have received reports from a range of sources, including UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, community groups and international partners concerning the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Northern Rakhine State in mid January.
On 23 January, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), issued a statement calling on the Burmese government to launch an immediate and transparent investigation into the violence – a message he delivered directly to the Burmese government during his visit to Burma from 28-30 January. The Burmese government must continue to provide security for all communities in Rakhine State and enable the free distribution of international assistance.

British Embassy officials visited Rakhine State from 29 January to 1 February as part of an EU diplomatic mission. Whilst there were no signs of further violence at that time, the situation remains tense and there have been reports that a number of houses were set on fire in Du Chee Yar Tan village on the night of 28 January.

Burma
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions, if any, have taken place within the Government and between the United Kingdom and Burma about the possibility of future arms sales if the European Union arms embargo in respect of Burma is lifted. [HL4872]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): No discussions have taken place within the British Government or between the British Government and the Government of Burma about the possibility of future arms sales if the EU arms embargo against Burma is lifted. Any decision on the continuation of the arms embargo, and on restrictions on the supply of equipment which could be used for internal repression, beyond 30 April 2014 is contingent on unanimity amongst all 28 EU Member States. Our view is that the time is not right for these restrictions to be lifted. The Burmese military must demonstrate their genuine commitment to reform before this is considered.
Even in the event that the arms embargo and related restrictions lapse, such exports to Burma would still be subject to the ‘Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria’. Under Criterion Two, we would not issue a licence if there was a clear risk that such equipment might be used for internal repression.

Burma
Some recent questions on the training of Burmese military and the role of child soldiers in Burma:

Questions
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of a letter sent by ethnic civil society organisations to the Prime Minister in October 2013 concerning the United Kingdom’s military engagement and training with the Burmese army. [HL4869]

29 Jan 2014 : Column WA231

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): We are aware of the letter, of 17 October 2013, from 133 civil society organisations addressed to the Prime Minister, President Obama of the United States and Prime Minister Abbott of Australia expressing a number of concerns and reservations about engagement with the Burmese military.
Whilst noting the points contained within this letter, the British Government has not replied directly. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Foreign Office (Hugo Swire) set out the justification for Britain’s engagement with the Burmese military in an article published in the Huffington Post on 12 January 2014, entitled ‘Military Reform is Crucial for Lasting Change.’ He made clear that we needed to be proactive in encouraging the Burmese military to play its part in the democratic transition: to step back from politics, to accept proper civilian control, and to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law.
In line with our policy of engagement, the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom delivered an educational course in Burma from 6-17 January 2013 to a mix of 30 civilian and military participants which aimed to develop the professionalism of the Burmese Armed Forces within a democratic framework by raising awareness of effective governance and management structures in order to support the policies of a civilian government. The programme also included an examination of the legal frameworks governing international human rights and humanitarian law. It did not develop any combat capacity or capability.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consultations were held with Burmese ethnic nationalities and ethnic civil society organisations prior to the current provision of training for the Burmese army; and what conditions were attached to that training.[HL4870]

Lord Astor of Hever: Diplomats consulted widely within Burma and with ethnic groups based on the Thai border prior to the beginning of our military engagement. We held regular discussions from mid-2012 onwards with ethnic leaders from the political parties, armed groups, civil society organisations and religious organisations. During 2013, this included specific discussions on the Managing Defence in a Wider Security Context course.
The majority of ethnic minority contacts, including the leadership of ethnic armed groups, have expressed their support for our engagement policy with the Burmese military. We will monitor progress and review our engagement policy accordingly.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is meant in the prospectus for the Ministry of Defence’s Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context course by “the art and science of war”; why human rights are not referred to in that prospectus; whether the course currently being provided to the Burmese army by the United Kingdom is designed for
29 Jan 2014 : Column WA232
“developed and transitional democracies”; and, if so, whether they consider Burma to fit that category and why.[HL4873]

Lord Astor of Hever: The phrase appears on a webpage of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and is derived from the works of military theorists such as Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. The website is in the process of being updated.
The Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context course teaches course members how defence works within a democratic framework. The course that was delivered in Burma from 6-17 January 2013 was specifically tailored for that country and addressed issues of human rights and international humanitarian law. A summary of the syllabus has been released.
Indeed, by providing this course, we have unlocked the door for officials to engage directly with senior members of the Burmese military, a number of whom have asked for our help, to assist them in becoming a more professional and de-politicised organisation. The Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context course is considered to be an appropriate course to aid them in their transition.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what they mean by “professionalisation” as one of the stated objectives for the training currently being provided to the Burmese army; what plans are in place to monitor the impact of the training currently being provided to the Burmese army after it has concluded; and on what basis they consider that the training provided to the Burmese army will lead to any improvement in governance and human rights in Burma.[HL4874]

Lord Astor of Hever: During her speech at Sandhurst in October 2013, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi requested help to aid the Burmese army in becoming as professional and effective as possible and also help in how to depoliticise it. Daw Suu also commented on the admiration that British people have for their Armed Forces.

Values, standards and codes of conduct, as well as reputation and ethos are fundamental aspects of a professional Armed Force. Providing defence education to overseas Armed Forces personnel to the same high standards used by UK Armed Forces helps improve standards, accountability and among other things, raises awareness of the importance of human rights

In line with our policy of engagement, the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom delivered an educational course in Burma from 6-17 January 2013 to a mix of 30 civilian and military participants which aimed to develop the professionalism of the Burmese Armed Forces within a democratic framework by raising awareness of effective governance and management structures in order to support the policies of a civilian government. Over a 14 year period, this course has been delivered to representatives from 101 different nationalities.

Insofar as it is possible, we will attempt to monitor the impact of this engagement in the same fashion that we seek to track the impact of all our Defence
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Engagement activity. However, active post-course monitoring of participants is not practicable although through long-term dialogue, we will enquire about their progress.

Written Answers
Written Answers
Thursday 16 January 2014
Armed Forces: Training
Questions
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what training is planned for the Burmese army, with United Kingdom involvement, in 2014 and 2015.[HL4354]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): The Managing Defence in a Wider Security Context course that is currently being delivered in Burma examines the legal framework within which defence and security operations may legitimately be conducted in accordance with human rights norms and international humanitarian law. The course is for 30 members and includes 23 members of the Burmese military.

In addition to this course that is being delivered in country, an invitation has been offered to a member of the Burmese military to attend a similar course for a mixed international audience, later this year, at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. To support this course, two Burmese students have been funded to take English language exams so that one may be selected to attend in the course.
It is an aspiration to repeat these two courses, one in Burma and one in the UK, in 2015.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government why training of the Burmese army is not taking place in the United Kingdom.[HL4355]

Lord Astor of Hever: I refer the noble Lord to the answer I gave on 7 January 2014 (Official Report, column WA 238) to the noble Baroness, Lady, Goudie. Academics from the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and Cranfield University are in Burma this month delivering a course called Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context. This course has been tailored for Burma and it will teach course members how defence works within a democratic framework.
Conducting the course in Burma is the most cost effective way of delivering it because only five personnel needed to travel from the UK to Burma, rather than the 30 Burmese personnel who would have needed to travel if the course was held in the UK.
An invitation has been offered however, for a member of the Burmese military to attend a second Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context course which will be held later this year at the Defence Academy. In this instance, participation in the course will be by students from multiple countries and therefore it will be the most cost effective way to provide this education.
16 Jan 2014 : Column WA34
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether training provided to the Burmese army will recommend that Burmese soldiers refuse orders which involve actions that would constitute human rights abuses.[HL4356]
Lord Astor of Hever: This issue will be raised in a panel discussion of the Managing defence in the Wider Security Context course that is currently taking place in Burma. The discussion will sit within a lecture on Rules of Engagement. The legal position with regards to obeying illegal orders will be articulated and the consequences explained by an international law academic from Cranfield University who specialises in the law of armed conflict.
So far the legal aspects of the course have covered an understanding of how Armed Forces are regulated and controlled within a constitutional framework; the substance and structure of Human Rights and their relevance to military and security forces; and a wide ranging review of the principles and rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable in armed conflict, including rules on the protection of victims, the position of child soldiers under International Humanitarian Law and the conduct of hostilities.

Wednesday 5 February 2014
Burma
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what conditions are attached to the current provision of training for the Burmese army in regard to (1) the use of child soldiers, (2) sexual violence by the Burmese army, and (3) commitments by the Burmese army that it will lead to a transition to democratic, civilian oversight of the military in Burma.[HL4871]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): The Government pursues a policy of addressing the issues of child soldiers, sexual violence by the Burmese Army and the civilian control of the military with the Burmese Government at every appropriate opportunity. We continue to make it known that where serious crimes have been committed; those who have perpetrated them should be held accountable for their actions.
Our defence engagement in Burma is focussed on promoting adherence to the core principles of democratic accountability, international law and human rights. We have used initial discussions to encourage the Burmese military to step back from politics, address issues such as the use of child soldiers, and take firm and decisive action to tackle sexual violence in conflict areas.
We have communicated to the Burmese military that our engagement with them is subject to continuous review and satisfaction on the part of Her Majesty’s Government of their continued willingness to reform.