Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill

Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill

Scroll down for earlier stages and background to this legislation:


modern slavery

Report Stage amendment on Supply Chain Transparency:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)   8:45 pm, 25th February 2015

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. I strongly support her Amendments 93 and 94 and the government amendments in this group.

Like my noble friend, I thank the Minister for meeting me and other noble Lords and a number of civil society stakeholders earlier this month to discuss transparency in supply chains. Noble Lords will recall that I and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Mobarik, raised this issue in Committee. I also spoke about it at Second Reading. The Minister kindly said that, unusually following the Committee stage, not only would he have a meeting with colleagues in the House but that he would invite all the interested groups involved in this issue to meet him and the Peers who were able to be there. With the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others, we were able to have an extremely helpful and useful discussion.

I welcome the amendments that the Government have tabled for Report, and I believe that they could take us a step closer to delivering effective transparency and accountability on action to eradicate modern slavery from the supply chain. Of course, I hope that this evening the Minister can be enticed to take a few more steps down the road that we have been travelling.

While I welcome and am most grateful for the progress that we have made, there are three areas on which I want to speak and on which I am hopeful we can agree some way forward. My Amendments 97A, 98A and 99A each raise an important outstanding issue that we ought to address before the Bill completes its parliamentary passage if we are to ensure that the supply chain clause works effectively in practice as we all want. It might be helpful to the House if I mentioned that the groups that support these amendments include Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, CAFOD, the CORE coalition, Dalit Freedom Network UK, the Evangelical Alliance, Focus on Labour Exploitation, the Law Society, Quakers in Britain, Traidcraft, Unseen and War on Want. While I pay tribute to them for the support they have given, I link with them Ruth Chambers, who has done an extraordinary amount of work on this. Sometimes the real heroes and heroines behind legislation are the people who do the hard slog.

I heard today from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and had a chance to have a brief conversation with one of its representatives. It subsequently sent me a statement about this group of amendments and, in particular, Amendment 99A. The commission’s recommendation is to:

“Support Amendment 99A … insofar as it would give the Anti-slavery Commissioner power and sufficient resource to take enforcement action”.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised the issue of resources in earlier debates, and they will be the make or break for this Bill. If resources are not provided, it will not be worth the paper on which it is written, but I am pretty confident that the Government are going to back up the rhetoric in this legislation with the necessary resources. I hope we will hear more about that when Minister comes to reply. The commission also says:

“In our analysis, extending this enforcement power to the Anti-slavery Commissioner would be desirable as it would strengthen his/her role and ensure that enforcement of the duty to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement could be carried out independently of government. We consider that the Commissioner should be given a range of further powers, including the ability to require the disclosure of data and information, to conduct investigations and inquiries and to hold agencies to account for non-compliance with laws and policies”.

I am sure the Minister will have seen this statement. It was issued only today, and I am glad to be able to draw it to the attention of the House.

Government Amendment 97, as I have mentioned, is welcome as it sets out a number of areas on which slavery and human trafficking statements may include information, but I stress “may” in this context. The amendment does not go so far as to introduce minimum disclosure measures, which are really necessary if we are going to create a sort of equality of arms. As it stands, government Amendment 97 would still leave it entirely optional as to what companies put in their statements.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in Committee on this matter and recognise that different types of businesses will face different challenges in relation to their supply chains. It is a perfectly fair point that he has made, but he also indicated that the Government want a level playing field for industry.

This is also something that businesses have called for. Sir Richard Branson, for example, has been supportive, as has Associated British Foods, the parent company of Primark, which I was able to meet in January with my noble friend Lord Patel. I was particularly appreciative of their support. My noble friend Lady Young referred a few moments ago to the tragedy in Bangladesh, and it was partly arising out of what happened there that I felt it would be helpful to have a discussion with Primark. I believe that the wording I have suggested in Amendment 97A strikes an appropriate balance that will allow for some flexibility while ensuring a level playing field between businesses on what they must disclose information about. This will also enable comparison across industry sectors as we will then be able to compare like with like.

One area about which I am particularly disappointed that the Government have not changed their position is the need for a central place in which the slavery and human trafficking statements can be uploaded and scrutinised. This is a very reasonable proposition. My Amendment 98A would introduce a requirement to upload the statements on to a central website maintained by the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Significantly the designate commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is supportive of this idea and I am grateful to him for meeting Ruth Chambers last week to discuss this.

Ensuring that each company uploads its own statement is a light-touch, practical way of spreading the administrative costs so it is onerous neither for business nor for government, but I am aware that the commissioner will have limited resources, so if this amendment is accepted then his budget will need to reflect this new responsibility. Why is this central repository needed? Quite frankly, without it the role that the Minister has described on many occasions for civil society, investors and the media to hold businesses to account for their supply chains—as he wants them to do—will be nigh on impossible to achieve. This is because of the time and the effort which would be needed to be spent just working out website by website which companies had reported and which had not. Then of course there are the difficulties that such stakeholders face in accessing the annual turnover information that would indicate which companies fall within the compliance threshold.

Amendment 98A would also require companies to include within the director’s report a fair summary of the statement and the web address of the full statement. This link to the director’s duties in the Companies Act 2006 would ensure that company directors took this provision seriously, and will help to propel responsibility for tackling slavery and supply chains into the boardroom. It would not be burdensome or costly to have this additional reporting and it reinforces a point that my noble friend Lady Young made in her remarks a few moments ago. It will also draw the slavery and human trafficking statement to the attention of mainstream investors who might otherwise not be aware of it and empower them to ask questions of the company. Making directors responsible for reporting on what the company is doing to eradicate modern slavery will ensure that it is part of core business. Boardroom responsibility will also change the culture of businesses and create an environment of a race to the top, thereby increasing

the pace at which slavery is tackled within supply chains. I think this would also be good for UK plc, if I can put it that way, as it would promote better business practices which would in turn lead to better profitability and enable UK businesses to play a more leading and competitive role on the global stage.

On Monday the almost ethereal presence of William Wilberforce was regularly drawn to your Lordships’ attention and he was cited on a number of occasions. It is significant that when William Wilberforce was campaigning for an end, first, to the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, and later to all slavery, some argued that to abandon slavery would be ruinous for UK business interests. Of course, that did not turn out to be the case at all. Indeed, our reputation worldwide was enhanced by the results that the Clapham group was able to bring about as a result of its concerted actions in both our Houses of Parliament.

Finally, Amendment 99A relates to the enforcement and review of the provision. In my view, the current lack of an enforcement measure is the Achilles heel; without that measure some might regard the provision as quite toothless. That becomes even more of a risk if the Bill does not specify any minimum elements, which a company’s slavery and human trafficking statement must cover. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to commit to a three-year review of the transparency in supply chains provision, and that he will demonstrate how non-compliance will be dealt with in the absence of an enforcement provision.

I recognise that the hour is late, we are getting to the very end of Report on the Bill, and that time is therefore probably against us in achieving everything that I want in these amendments. However, I know how open the Minister has been to continuing dialogue—we are not quite at Third Reading—and at the very minimum I hope that he will feel able to consider some of the points that we have raised this evening and to see if there is anything further that the Government themselves might be able to do between now and when we finally lay the Bill to rest.


The Bishop of Derby’s Amendment to Strengthen the Role of Gangmasters Authority: February 25th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am a signatory to this amendment and am very happy to speak briefly in support of it this evening. I spoke on this issue at Second Reading and in Committee and I moved a separate amendment on the issue of the proceeds of crime. That was based on an amendment that I moved in your Lordships’ House nearly a decade ago and which was supported at that time by a retired Law Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who was a direct descendent, of course, of the great man who has featured so much in many of our debates. That amendment sought to provide a mechanism for the proceeds of crime committed

by those who had abused workers, exploited people, put them into servitude or slavery—the very things that the Bill seeks to address—to be used to support and provide assistance for those who had been exploited and to support those organisations that are charged with the responsibility of apprehending those who are responsible for such crimes.

Crimes they are. I recalled in Committee that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority—which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who is in his seat this evening, did such distinguished work in helping to create—was established after the fatalities that occurred in Morecambe Bay when some 23 Chinese cockle pickers, men and women, died while they were being ruthlessly exploited by gangmasters. I made the point that this problem has not gone away. As recently as 2011, an almost identical incident occurred not very far away from Morecambe Bay, in the Ribble valley estuary. I quoted a local fisherman, Harold Benson, who said that what had happened at Morecambe Bay had been wholly avoidable, but it was likely to be repeated at places such as the Ribble valley and Morecambe Bay because of the failure to apprehend those who were responsible and because of the failure to provide adequate safety equipment and to provide support and assistance to those who were being exploited in these unacceptable ways.

As a result of raising these issues I was pleased to be able to attend a meeting with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who has been so helpful on this and so many other issues during the passage of the Bill. I reiterate what I said on Report on Monday, that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, have been quite exemplary in the way they have treated all of us who have participated in these proceedings. This is a marvellous piece of legislation and one that I am sure is going to do great good in the future. Although we may disagree on some details here and there, the general thrust of the legislation is to be commended and we must look for other ways to improve it here and there. That is what this amendment does.

The right reverend Prelate has told us that if this is passed, or if the principle is accepted, the Secretary of State will then consult on ways to strengthen and improve the resources of enforcement agencies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Why do we need to do that? Well, I made the point at earlier stages that until recently only about 37 people were employed by that authority and that resources had been cut between 2011 and 2014. I would be grateful if the noble Lord would share with us some of the detail that he provided during the briefing sessions that we had with him and his officials as to how many people are now employed by that authority and how many convictions they have been able to bring about.

The amendment says that the consultation should,

“end no later than 1 January 2016”.

I think that that is a reasonable passage of time. It goes on in proposed new subsection (3) to say:

“The Secretary of State may by order amend section 3 of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to include other areas of work where the Secretary of State believes abuse and exploitation of workers or modern slavery or trafficking may be taking place”.

This is reasonable; it does not ask for immediate action to be taken, but it asks the Secretary of State and the department to take a more detailed look at some of the issues that have been raised. I look forward to hearing the response that the noble Lord gives in due course.


The International Dimension of Slavery: Amendment moved on Monday 23rd February 2015

Amendment 30

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

30: Clause 41, page 31, line 15, after “practice” insert “, both in the United Kingdom and throughout the world,”

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 38, 39, 41 and 46. These amendments are to Clauses 41, 42 and 43. I put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Sandwich, who are all signatories to these amendments.

In moving the amendment, it is my privilege to take up—rather inadequately, I suspect—the cause so passionately espoused by my noble friend Lady Cox, who is unable to speak to this amendment due to a prearranged visit overseas. These amendments relate to an aspect of modern slavery that we are in danger of overlooking despite the efforts of my noble friend—who, while we are meeting, I might add, is currently in the war-torn areas of Sudan that she has frequented so often, where she will no doubt be seeing first hand some of the ravages of modern slavery that have been so familiar in that country. This was an issue that she highlighted at Second Reading and again in Committee. I know that, while grateful to the Minister for the meetings that he has arranged and for the letter that he kindly sent to Peers, she was nevertheless disappointed that that letter omitted any mention of this issue of the global nature of slavery, which had been raised by Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House.

I recognise that the Bill focuses on modern slavery in the United Kingdom, and that is right and proper. Yet modern slavery is by its very nature a global phenomenon; it cannot be tackled by one Government

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1497

alone but requires a global solution. With the exception of the section on company supply chains, which we will come to on Wednesday, and which can address the issue only in a limited way—albeit a vital and necessary one—there is no mention of the global dimension of modern slavery at all in the Bill, let alone any measures requiring the UK to play its role on the world stage. These amendments therefore seek to address that omission. For every person trafficked in the UK there are dozens of children in forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton mills, hundreds of women and girls trafficked into Thailand’s brothels and thousands of men, women and children exploited in bonded labour in India and Pakistan.

The scope and scale have been rehearsed often enough during debates on the Bill and I will not repeat them all again here. Suffice it to say that far more people are affected today than throughout the era of the transatlantic slave trade, which is even more reason for us to take up the cause of Wilberforce, Clarkson, Equiano, Roscoe and the other abolitionists celebrated by one of the banners in Westminster Hall marking memorable parliamentary achievements. The Bill should deserve to be celebrated in the same way as those achievements, but it risks falling short if it does not address the global dimension of modern slavery.

The irony is that the Bill was announced amid a cacophony of claims that the UK was, or wanted to be, leading the world in the fight against modern slavery. That is of course a noble aspiration, but we can never make any realistic claim to be world leaders unless we tackle the problem globally and recognise that every country and sector of society has to play its part—business, the public, the Government and non-governmental organisations have to contribute. However, this will not happen until and unless countries move beyond the parochial and recognise that they face common issues; that there are often international links as well as the cross-border movement of people; and that there are groundbreaking approaches in one part of the world that could be used elsewhere, whether in legislation, enforcement, prevention and protection or the rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors.

In recent times there has been a change in language from government departments acknowledging that we are dealing with a global issue, and I welcome that. In particular, I welcome the stepping up of our international response within the Modern Slavery Strategy published last autumn by the Home Office. It is significant that the intention is to identify priority countries, not just those that are the source for significant numbers of victims trafficked into the UK but also countries suffering disproportionately from a high incidence of modern slavery. Moreover, the strategy includes the prioritisation of activity to tackle modern slavery in those countries by working with foreign Governments and civil society organisations. The Government are to be congratulated on this aspect of the strategy. However, as your Lordships well know, a strategy can be discontinued or changed at the drop of a hat. That is why it is essential to undergird this and to ensure continuing prioritisation by making annual reporting on global modern slavery a legislative requirement.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1498

On the previous group of amendments, I mentioned that Kevin Hyland wrote to me and other Members of your Lordships’ House on 20 February. On page 4 of his letter he said something which relates directly to these amendments:

“British Embassies and High Commissions will develop Modern Slavery Priority Country Plans, working with both international and locally based partners, including the UN, faith leaders and local NGOs. I want to see an increased focus on preventing modern slavery from happening in the first place.

I will support and challenge the development and implementation of these plans and will push to ensure a fully coordinated response when the crime does occur”.

In essence, these amendments place those responsibilities outlined by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in that letter of 20 February in the Bill, and require the commissioner to monitor trends in slavery and human trafficking around the world and the measures taken to address them in order to gain a better understanding of the problem, its causes and solutions and to identify best practice, as well as opportunities for co-operation and collaboration.

Amendment 39 requires each embassy and high commission of the United Kingdom to submit an annual report on slavery and human trafficking in its area of operation to the commissioner. Amendment 41 sets out aspects to be included in these reports. Requiring embassies and high commissions to report will ensure that the workload is not too heavy for the commissioner. I know that there will be some concern about adding to the duties of the commissioner, but he does not seem to be unduly concerned about that, certainly reading the letter I have just mentioned. This approach is a significant improvement on the Modern Slavery Strategy, which puts the inter-departmental ministerial group on modern slavery in the role that I am advocating. I am convinced that that is not appropriate. It requires an independent assessment, which is surely an appropriate task for the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.

These measures are important because they set out a mechanism for gathering vital information to help build a comprehensive picture of modern slavery across the world and how it is being tackled. This is essential for developing a strategy that will address the issue effectively, hence the requirement in Amendment 38 for the reports to cover not only the extent and nature of modern slavery but legislative and enforcement measures and details of the care, rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors. This section also requires reporting to include any relevant initiatives supported by the UK Government, so that effectiveness can be monitored, and any relevant activities of international bodies or non-governmental bodies, so that we can learn from effective approaches and in the right circumstances support such activity to increase effectiveness. These requirements are deliberately not prescriptive in order to allow the precise format, coverage and emphasis to be developed according to the needs of the moment.

The amendments set out what the commissioner will do with the information reported to him. These reports from embassies and high commissions will inform and shape his strategic plan. They will also enable him to include in his report a statement of the nature and extent of slavery and human trafficking in these areas as well as in the United Kingdom.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1499

My final amendment to Clause 43 ensures that, for the purposes of this section, “specified public authority” shall also include all embassies and high commissions of the United Kingdom. If, as the Home Office strategy indicates, tackling modern slavery around the world is our intent, it should be in the Bill. These amendments ensure that. They will also encourage joined-up thinking between the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID, something I know that the Minister of State at the FCO, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, wishes to see. I know that efforts to achieve that have already begun. However, in many ways one of the strongest arguments for adopting these amendments is that they will certainly encourage the addressing of these conditions that are conducive to modern slavery, and will therefore support the work of the Home Office, the FCO and DfID.

Poverty, displacement and conflict are common root causes. Modern slavery is as much a gross abuse of human rights and dignity as it is a crime. It is all too common to discover that lack of access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities all play their part. A desperate need for medicine or treatment is all too often the push factor in driving individuals to succumb to apparent job offers that promise financial reward but deliver only despair and exploitation; for example, in the many forms of bonded labour found particularly in south Asia, the nexus of modern slavery.

We would be well advised to take note of Dr Aidan McQuade, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, when he reminded us in a recent Guardian article:

“How the UK and other governments comport themselves in the coming weeks will be a critical test of how serious they are”.

The rest of the world is looking on to see how serious we are; we really can lead the world, if we are bold enough to address the global issue. In her foreword to the Government’s strategy the Home Secretary wrote:

“The time has come for concerted, coordinated action. Working with a wide range of partners, we must step up the fight against modern slavery in this country, and internationally, to put an end to the misery suffered by innocent people around the world. Together, we must send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes. And we must do all we can to protect, support and help victims, and ensure that they can be returned to freedom”.

I wholeheartedly agree. To that end, I reiterate my thanks to other noble Lords who have offered their support and I beg to move.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I am very glad to support the amendment and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for having introduced it.

This seems a particularly acute and disturbing example of how we live in a totally interdependent world. It is to live in a fool’s paradise to think that we can find the solutions by acting on our own within the confines of what we call the United Kingdom. This is an international issue—an international disease—and it has to be tackled internationally. Our credibility in building up the kind of international action that is necessary will relate very much, as the noble Lord has just emphasised, to how the world sees our serious commitment within the United Kingdom to putting muscle into our concern.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1500

I will say also that I am one of those who welcomed the bishops’ letter last week. I was thinking about this earlier in our deliberations this afternoon when we were talking about how we tackled this issue in the United Kingdom in courts, and about whether there had been prosecutions, convictions and the rest. All that is crucially important, but it is happening in the context of a values crisis. We have to ask ourselves very seriously what the prevailing set of values is that established the context within which all these things happen.

I am not a doctrinaire socialist—or, at least, not a dogmatic socialist. I am pragmatic in my socialism; there is a place for the market. However if you build up a culture in which the market is supreme, and it is, to say the least, an amoral market, where is the authority and the ethos within which you can make a success of these things because of the conviction that is there? There have to be other absolutes besides price as regards the kind of society in which we want to live. If we really want to be effective in this, we must have international action and effective legal arrangements in Britain. However, we must work at developing a sense of decency and solidarity—internationally, as well as within our own society—in which these things are unthinkable. If they are just another extension of the market, where people say, “Well, I can make money this way. Why don’t I do it?”, where will we be?

I remind the House, as I have done before, that Adam Smith, who made such an important contribution to the context and concept of economic liberalism and capitalism as it operates, did not at first, as a young man, write about economics at all. He wrote about ethics. He was a very strong Scottish Presbyterian. He took the ethics and values of society for granted and then approached the market. I am afraid that we have bred a society in which the market as a driving force has been seen as something that does not have to take values into account, unless it is forced to do so, and that is what we have to tackle in all these issues if we are ultimately to be successful. However, I really do congratulate the noble Lord on having reminded the House about the indispensability of international solidarity in this campaign.

9 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, as a former council member of Anti-Slavery International and a former member of the Christian Aid board, I support my noble friend’s amendments because they link contemporary slavery in the UK with slavery in the rest of the world. We forget that it was not long ago that non-governmental organisations explained that there was slavery in this country—it was not something that was far away—so we are following that line. The amendments become obvious when you realise that so much slavery is indivisible and that traffickers, and indeed victims, of slavery respect no boundaries.

I was unable to be present on 8 December when my noble friend Lady Cox moved similar amendments in Committee, but I have read carefully her contribution and the Minister’s reply. That there is an international dimension to modern slavery almost goes without saying, except that it is not mentioned in the Bill. We are all aware of the direct overseas experience of slavery and trafficking that my noble friends Lady

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1501

Cox and Lord Alton and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, bring to the House. In Committee, the Minister, at col. 1638, acknowledges that experience and says that we need to go further. But I ask him again: how can we go further? I am not sure whether the Minister has yet stated how the Home Office can go further, apart from referring to passages in the strategy document. My noble friend referred to the letter that we have received from the commissioner, which is of high quality and points out the country plans that he will be following. It strengthens these amendments to read those passages in the letter.

I was most grateful to the Minister for inviting us to meet the new commissioner a fortnight ago. In that conversation, it became clear that the commissioner is already closely in touch with foreign and UK embassies, and he sees this as an important part of his job. He will of course need adequate resources to cover this, as we have touched on elsewhere.

In practice, I do not think that the amendments commit the Government to very much. Apart from close regular liaison between the commissioner and embassies in the course of his work, all that is needed is annual reporting of relevant incidents by embassies and high commissions, rather in the way that this is done annually by the Foreign Office in the case of human rights. It is not an unreasonable request, and my noble friend has already described the more detailed arrangements for this. However, it is important to make the connection in the Bill. The Government are rightly taking all these issues very seriously, and the Minister has, again and again, shown his personal commitment—some of it, I have no doubt, from his experience in China when he was doing his MBA. Sensible changes have been proposed during the passage of the Bill. I suggest that this is one of them and I look forward to his reply.

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab): I support the series of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who seeks to insert a much-needed international perspective in this Bill. No one would dispute that modern slavery is a global problem and therefore no one should dispute that modern slavery needs an international as well as a national response. Our international response in this Bill is lacking, as other noble Lords have pointed out, and this is disappointing. That is why I support the noble Lord’s amendments. They would be effective in helping push the issue of slavery and trafficking up the world’s political agenda, especially Amendment 38. Having each embassy and high commission produce an annual report on government action to fight slavery and trafficking would mean more research into slavery across the world, more information collected and shared, and greater dialogue with a wide variety of the world’s government officials, NGOs, journalists, academics and, more importantly, survivors, monitoring, working together, and sharing and developing partnerships across the world. Learning what works best to tackle the causes of slavery and trafficking, to protect the victims and to prevent it happening in the first place is essential, and we can learn a lot from these annual reports. Through embassy engagement, we can create global solutions to eradicate this global problem.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1502

Finally, as we discussed in Committee, involving embassies and high commissions in preparing an annual report about trafficking and slavery in their areas of operation is not new. America has been doing it for the past 14 years. Since 2001, they have produced a Trafficking in Persons Report. I cannot see why we in the UK should not do the same. Therefore, I hope that the Government will accept these amendments.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): In the letter from Kevin Hyland, on page 4 on international collaboration, it is clear that the commissioner designate sees it as an essential part of his role to bring together the necessary partners, nationally and internationally. He talks about working with British embassies and high commissions and wanting a significant increase in bilateral, multilateral and joint investigations, some of them supported by EU funding. In the past there have been some excellent bilateral arrangements, particularly one with Romania called Operation Golf, and there were other very good arrangements that worked with Europol and so on. Do the Government think that the current powers of the commissioner are sufficient for him to carry out all the duties that he talks about on page 4—and, if so, is it necessary to have it in primary legislation?

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, in speaking in support of the amendment I want to ask the Minister a question. We had a discussion earlier today about the Secretary of State fixing the budget for the commissioner and we had a debate about public bodies being required to co-operate with the commissioner. Is it the Minister’s understanding that the amendment on setting the budget for the commissioner embraces the whole area of overseas travel and maintaining those international relations? Why are embassies not included in the public bodies that are expected to co-operate with the commissioner? It would be helpful to have some clarification on those two issues.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I wait with interest to hear the Government’s reply. They have an amendment down, which refers to Clause 41(3)(f) and to,

“things that the Commissioner may do in pursuance of subsection (1)”,

which is about encouraging good practice. As it stands, the paragraph says that it may include,

“co-operating with or working jointly with other persons, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere”.

The amendment would make it read, “or internationally”. I have no doubt that the Minister intends to do this, but it would be helpful if he could explain the extent to which he feels that his amendment differs in spirit and objective from the one moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for proposing these amendments and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

This is yet another area where we have seen considerable progress since Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to powerful speeches made by a number of noble Lords at Second Reading, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who spoke passionately

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1503

and persuasively about this issue. That speech was very influential in shaping the Modern Slavery Strategy

. A particular element is involved here which I will come back to. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the strategy is helpful in that it is a cross-government strategy. Rather than being domestically focused—clearly, by definition, the Home Office is domestically focused—the strategy reaches across all government departments. Importantly, the Modern Slavery

Strategy complements the Bill as it says what the Government will do as a result of the legislation that is passed.

Page 10 of the Modern Slavery Strategy highlights the fact that, as part of Pursue, we will work internationally to,

“improve our own capabilities and cooperation with international partners”.

The work being done in the Santa Marta group is part of that. I pay tribute particularly to the work being done by the Vatican in that respect. On 9 and 10 April last year, the Home Secretary and international law enforcement representatives attended a historic event at the Vatican to discuss how the church and law enforcement could work together to combat modern slavery. At the conference, the Home Secretary announced the creation of the Santa Marta group—a group with senior law enforcement officers from around the world chaired by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who will work on joint practical measures to strengthen and co-ordinate our response to tackling modern slavery globally. The Santa Marta group met again in London on 5 and 6 December 2014 and has committed to meet again in Spain later this year. The meeting in December was very successful. I think that it was attended by all the 40 or so country representatives from around the world and reflected the two sides of the operation—the country plans undertaken by DfID and the FCO, which have already been referred to, and the crucial work undertaken by the National Crime Agency in tackling the organised crime dimensions by placing people overseas.

The Modern Slavery Strategy goes on to describe in some detail on page 54 the overseas Protect work in which we are engaged. That is not to suggest that this is a sentiment or gesture comprising words only. In the past 18 months, 14 modern slavery projects have been delivered in seven countries. Does more need to be done? Of course, much more needs to be done. I am trying to paint a picture to show that even when this issue was being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny, the Santa Marta group was involved in it. We recognise that the international dimension is absolutely critical in tackling this heinous crime, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. We cannot do it alone. We need to have the Pursue and Prevent programmes. The aims of the Prevent programme will clearly be international.

The designate Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, wrote that he saw international collaboration as being a key part of his operation. I know that he is just about to visit Nigeria and he has been to Spain. All his visits have been facilitated, as one would expect, by the missions in the respective countries. That work is therefore being undertaken.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1504

9.15 pm

We have the documents, the strategy and the work of the international commissioner. Clearly, the international travel dimension will be reflected in his budget. He is of course independent, and I cannot say what he should do but, as a result of the Bill, in addition to all that, he will have to prepare his report and strategy. Given his remit—which he has described so eloquently; he gave more column inches to the international dimension in his four or five-page letter than to any other topic, which suggests how important he sees it being—it would be surprising if that aspect did not feature strongly in the strategy he puts forward and in the annual report he lays before Parliament.

As regards where we are going with this, we have had conversations. I met the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I know that there has been great interest in this subject. We looked carefully at where we could put in the Bill something that indicated its international dimension. It seemed to us that the logical fit, given that the commissioner was involved in that, was very much that we should look to amend Clause 41(3)(f), which, rather than containing just a generic “elsewhere”, specifically puts “internationally” into the Bill.

I say to my noble friend, or, rather, the noble Lord—he is a friend—that I can see him grimacing, as if to say, “Is that it?”. I can totally hear him say that but, if that were it, I would have given a very weak response to a very serious problem. What I have tried to outline ahead of that is that we have serious international co-operation, which was commenced by the Home Secretary before this legislation started moving through the Houses of Parliament. We also have the clear commitment that this is a personal passion and belief of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner-designate. Most crucially as far as we are concerned, the Government have clearly set out what they expect to do in terms of delivering on this in their cross-government strategy being worked on by the interdepartmental group.

I am conscious that the noble Lord will push further because he is a champion—in many ways in the model of Wilberforce—who has to keep going. It took Wilberforce 30 years to get his legislation through; at least we have some legislation heading towards the statute book. It may not be everything but it is a significant step forward, and it is vital that we do not leave NGOs or any other organisations—and, most crucially, victims in the wider community—in any doubt that we see the international dimension as absolutely central to tackling this crime. However, as we remove the plank from our eye, we might be able to see a little more clearly where we might operate better internationally. We have a major problem in our own country and it is critical that our first priority is to tackle that. Then, as we are successful in doing so, I believe that our efforts will be more recognised internationally. On that basis, I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates. He certainly was reading my mind when he referred to Amendment 36 and the replacement of “elsewhere” with “internationally”. If

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1505

that is all that the Government can offer, it is not just that I do not find that a very comforting or acceptable approach; it is more about what my noble friend Lady Cox will make of this when she returns from Sudan. I would not want to be in the Minister’s shoes when my noble friend comes back from those troubled parts of the world. I do not think that it will satisfy her either.

The noble Lord referred to William Wilberforce. I was thinking as he said that that Henry Thornton, one of Wilberforce’s supporters, defended him when he was accused of being interested only in issues overseas. William Hazlitt had criticised Wilberforce for not also taking up the cudgels to deal with things such as children being sent down the mines and public health issues at home. In defending Wilberforce, Thornton said that it was rather like criticising Christopher Columbus for discovering America but not going on to discover Australia and New Zealand as well. In other words, there is only a certain amount that you can achieve at any one time.

I recognise that the noble Lord has made huge efforts during the course of this Bill, along with many Members of your Lordships’ House, to make great progress. He has used the metaphor of being on a journey on a number of occasions. He struck that same metaphor in the response to this debate in reminding us that there is a strategy that will affect all departments from the Santa Marta Group. I pay particular tribute to the British ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, who has played a very important part in facilitating the discussions begun by that group and which have helped to concentrate the minds of people elsewhere in the world on these questions. He was also right to remind us that the appointment of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner will be an important contribution to highlighting these issues overseas.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, was right to remind us of the question of the budget. We did not get an entirely satisfactory reply from the Minister on that point. I thought my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss put her finger on it, as always, when referring to the letters sent by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in saying, “Are these powers sufficient?”. We still do not really know the answer to that. I am not in a position to make that judgment this evening.

I recognise that the Minister has shown a lot of good will, in his usual manner, in dealing with the amendment. Again reverting to the imagery he conjured of Wilberforce and his companions, it took them 40 years to get from the beginning of what they wanted to achieve to the end. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of the anti-slavery legislation—Wilberforce was on his deathbed when word was brought from Parliament that it had been enacted—it was very significant that all over the world, not least in the American Congress, other legislatures followed the example that had been set in the United Kingdom. We should look back to that period and remind ourselves that what we do here will affect what goes on elsewhere. That is why it is important that we get this legislation absolutely right. Although I want to reserve the position of my noble friend Lady Cox, who will no doubt be in

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1506

touch with the Minister on her return—she may want to return to this at Third Reading—for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.


The independence and lines of accountability of the Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner:

Clause 40: The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner

Amendment 27

Moved by Lord Warner

27: Clause 40, page 30, line 40, at end insert “and may bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 27 is in my name and in those of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 29 in this group, which is in the same names.

I begin by acknowledging the efforts made by the Minister to respond positively to the many points raised in Committee by Members of this House from across the Benches. The House will recall that in Committee there was great concern that the Bill did not go far enough to ensure the independence of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Simply to call the commissioner “independent” was not sufficient if the Bill did not fully reflect that description. The Government have eventually, after a struggle, recognised those concerns to some extent in their Amendment 28. However, I gently draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that it does not even go as far as the rather modest collective amendment we have put down as Amendment 29.

Unfortunately, there is a somewhat grudging flavour to Amendment 28, which makes me retain my concern about the extent to which the commissioner remains clearly on a leash—even if, admittedly, on a slightly longer one—from the Home Office. That is why I

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1470

have tried to provide an override provision in Amendment 27, which would enable the commissioner to,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”.

That means exactly what it says. If the commissioner at any time considers that he or she is being thwarted or nudged away from airing publicly any significant concern that he or she has, he or she can draw upon the provisions in Amendment 27 to access either House of Parliament to ensure that the issue is brought into the public domain.

7 pm

The amendment is not directed at any particular Home Secretary but is a provision based on what some of us have observed in Governments of all or any political make-up as reluctance to have difficult or embarrassing issues surface publicly. My colleagues want to ensure a stronger legal bulwark against any such temptation.

It is clear that Parliament has used such a bulwark elsewhere in relation to the Children’s Commissioner, whose functions are set out in the new Section 2 of the Children Act 2004 brought forward last year in the Children and Families Act 2014. New Section 2(3)(e) gave the Children’s Commissioner exactly the same access to either House of Parliament at any time he or she considered it necessary when discharging his or her functions. It states that the commissioner may,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament”.

Therefore, not that long ago, this Parliament gave a commissioner with responsibilities for very vulnerable people—in that case, children—an absolute guarantee of access to Parliament should the need arise. Paragraph 436 of the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act makes it absolutely clear that the Children’s Commissioner can do this either through his annual report or by other means, such as writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. To put it graphically, if I may, if a Minister tries to gag the Children’s Commissioner or censor his utterances, the commissioner can go straight to Parliament.

We should also remember that other countries with equivalents to the anti-slavery commissioner give the person direct access to Parliament. The rapporteur from the Netherlands made clear to the Joint Select Committee on the Bill her ability to do this. She saw it as an important way of giving confidence to people outside that they could bring their concerns to the rapporteur.

As we discussed in Committee, the commissioner needs the trust and confidence of a wide range of agencies and interests if he or she is to be successful. That trust and confidence will be damaged, as the Joint Committee said, if there remain doubts or perceptions that the person’s independence is shackled by the Executive. No amount of warm words from Ministers can remove those doubts and perceptions. A statutory guarantee is required and Amendment 27 gives that guarantee. Having accepted that position in relation to the Children’s Commissioner as recently as last year, I hope that the Minister can do the same for the anti-slavery commissioner by accepting my

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1471

amendment, which is framed in exactly the same way as the Children and Families Act 2014. If the Government are prepared to agree to Amendment 27, I will be strongly inclined not to press my Amendment 29. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, indicated, I am one of those who put my name to the amendment, and I am very happy to add my support to it in a short intervention this evening. Before doing so, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of both the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, in dealing with Members from all sides of the House during the passage of this legislation, whether in the series of meetings organised in your Lordships’ House or in the face-to-face meetings with some of us who participated at the Home Office. We are all grateful to them for that. It is exemplary and it should recommend itself to other Ministers who are keen to facilitate their legislation through Parliament. This, of course, does not mean that we have always been of one mind or that we are necessarily going to agree about Amendment 27 to Clause 40.

The issue is the accountability of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I suspect that it may be one of those issues where we will not find agreement because it cuts right into lines of accountability through the Home Office. Departmental issues may take precedence over what I think may well be the private views of members of the Government but which they may not be able to voice here this evening.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is commendable for its clarity. However, as he also indicated, it is a shrewd amendment, not least because it is based on the Children and Families Act 2014. If what we did a year ago was right in that context, surely it is right to follow exactly that precedent here again this evening.

It seems to me that one of the most important things is to recognise that, however good the nature or good will of individual Ministers, they, and even Home Secretaries, come and go. We are in a period where we face a general election. There may be a different set of Ministers—perhaps from the same party or maybe from other parties—in the very near future, so assurances given on the Floor of your Lordships’ House in the course of debate, even though they are given in good faith, cannot carry over in the same way that legislation carries over. Parliament does not come and go, unlike individual Ministers, and that is why it is so important that we place these words on the face of the Bill.

There have been plenty of precedents where uncomfortable, inconvenient and untimely issues have arisen, and departments have endeavoured to shelve them or kick them into the long grass, to suppress them or simply to ignore them. This amendment would prevent that. If we deemed such a provision to be necessary to protect children, surely it is necessary to protect victims of slavery, many of whom will in any case be children.

In a letter to me just a couple of days ago, on 20 February, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Mr Kevin Hyland, said:

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1472

“My independence will be unwavering, whether that be toward law enforcement, government, the private sector or indeed any organisation”.

I repeat:

“My independence will be unwavering”,

in the direction of government, as he specifically states. Either he is independent or he is not, and this amendment gives him the parliamentary access which will guarantee him that unwavering independence. I hope that this evening the Government will indicate either that they will take this matter away and look at it between now and Third Reading or that they will recognise the spirit in which the amendment is being moved by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and give some guarantees to the effect that he is seeking.

Lord Rosser: While the government amendment is welcome in extending the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner and allowing the commissioner to appoint his or her own staff, there are other areas where there still appear to be constraints on the commissioner’s independence.

The commissioner must still seek prior approval of strategic plans from the Home Secretary on his or her activities and areas of focus, and annual reports may also be subject to redaction before they are laid before Parliament and published. Apart from the impact on the commissioner’s independence, it is not clear within what timeframe this checking and seeking clearance has to be undertaken in order to avoid the prospect of delays, for example, in the publication of a report or the approval of a plan or programme. The delaying of the publication of reports by the Home Office is an experience apparently not unknown to Mr Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Annual reports from the anti-slavery commissioner may be redacted on the grounds that material may jeopardise the safety of an individual, prejudice an investigation or, in the view of the Secretary of State, be against the interests of national security. Perhaps the Minister could say how frequently it has been necessary to redact reports where the same conditions and criteria as it is proposed to place on the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s reports already apply in relation to comparable commissioners or bodies.

As has been said, following the passing of the Children and Families Act 2014, the Children’s Commissioner can bring any matter to the attention of Parliament. And again, as has already been said, the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act state that the commissioner might do this, for example, through annual reports to Parliament or by writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. Under the 2014 Act, the Children’s Commissioner must as soon as possible lay a copy of his or her annual report before each House of Parliament.

In his letter of 16 February, the Minister said that,

“the Government’s intention has always been that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be independent”.

But it appears that there are varying degrees of independence—or lack of independence, depending on which way one wants to look at it. Perhaps the noble Lord could say whether the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be in the same position

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1473

when laying his annual report before each House of Parliament or writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee as is the Children’s Commissioner under the Children and Families Act 2014—and, if the answer is no, why that should be the case.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, put a direct question to me that other noble Lords have asked. It is because the nature of the information often involves serious crime and young children, and there are matters that may not be appropriate. That is something that is applied to other organisations—for example, with Borders and Immigration, with which the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner shares an office.

I shall make some contextual remarks and thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for returning to this issue. He acknowledged that we have been on a journey with this Bill. The word “independent” was not in the Bill when it was in the other place. That was added and then, rightly, your Lordships asked what it actually meant in precise terms and whether the person has the right to appoint their own staff, or whether they should be able to draw them just from within the pool of the Home Office. Then we found out and were able to confirm that he had already been appointing staff from outside in his designate position, and that he had brought in people from NGOs working in this area to assist in this role.

One point that was helpful in the discussion when Kevin Hyland, the designate commissioner, came to speak to Peers, was that, from his own role, he wanted to be closely aligned to the Home Office because he felt that it gave him a certain amount of authority in dealing with modern slavery—not just within the Home Office but across government. We now have a cross-government strategy, which we have published. He felt that that was very important and that the fact of reporting to the Secretary of State at the Home Office would strengthen his ability to get the changes he wanted in engaging with police officers and other agencies. From his own point of view, he saw no contradiction—to pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—and he wanted to be unwavering in how he put forward his case and reacted to his role, as he put it in his letter. I emphasise that that came out on 20 February; I do not think that anybody in the Home Office was consulted about it—and, of course, it was absolutely welcome. He wants to build a strong relationship with parliamentarians and to engage in that process.

The idea of any of us who have had the privilege of meeting Kevin Hyland thinking that he would be anybody’s poodle, let alone on a leash, is something that we do not accept. We want to make sure that he has a very serious statutory role to perform, charged by and answerable to the Secretary of State. His task is to ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators prosecuted. Under previous groups, we talked about how that might be done. This is a very good example of how that might be moved forward.

7.15 pm

I know that there are concerns that reports are reviewed by the Secretary of State, but there is another element here, which I want the noble Lord

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1474

to be cognisant of in pursuing his amendment. Amendment 27 would effectively allow the commissioner to report to Parliament about anything without the important necessary safeguards which would avoid inadvertently jeopardising national security, putting victims’ lives at risk or undermining an ongoing prosecution. Moreover—I ask the noble Lord to think very carefully about this point—Amendment 27 would legislate outside the legislative consent Motions passed by the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly, which were agreed specifically on the basis of the current powers to safeguard matters of important public interest. The amendment would leave a Bill that, if passed, would breach the Sewel convention, and put this critical UK-wide part of the Bill at risk. That is a very serious point for the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to consider.

I have tried to make the point to the noble Lord that, in welcoming his amendment, we have introduced our own amendment, which guarantees the commissioner’s independence of role over his budgets and recruitment of staff and also ensures that it is open to any committee to request the commissioner to come and speak to it. It is entirely within its ability to do that, and any Member of Parliament is entirely at liberty to communicate directly or to meet him, as has already been the case on many occasions. We simply underscore the importance of that role, and have this hesitation only in accepting the noble Lord’s amendment at this stage—it could put at risk some of the prosecutions being brought forward, if information should be inadvertently released. Given that we are dealing with matters of organised crime, that would be a very serious matter, which I know will weigh heavily on the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I ask him to keep that in mind.

Amendment 29 would entirely negate the effect of these essential provisions by allowing the commissioner to report to Parliament about any matter and override existing statutory information safeguards and restrictions on disclosure, such as those in the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Official Secrets Act 1989. I urge noble Lords not to effectively remove the critical and proportionate safeguards set out in the redaction provisions. I must also bring an important issue to the noble Lord’s attention, in the Sewel convention. That is very important to bear in mind. He is aware that the Government cannot support amendments in breach of the Sewel convention. To raise such a controversial constitutional issue at this stage in the life of a Parliament would put at risk important provisions for a UK-wide commissioner.

Given these serious risks, and my assurance that the commissioner will already have his annual reports laid before Parliament and be able to appear before parliamentary committees, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and support the government amendment to strengthen the independence of the commissioner.

Lord Warner: My Lords, that was all very interesting. I thought that there was a certain amount of scrabbling around by the Minister at the end when he went into the Sewel convention and letters of consent. He seemed to be struggling to put the old arguments together—and

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1475

I can see that there has been some burning of the midnight oil in the Home Office to try to scratch together some of these arguments. It was interesting to hear the Minister talk of us going on a journey. It certainly has been a journey; it has been a rather hard slog through a lot of mud to try to get a bit more independence into this person’s role. I agree with him that this has been a journey. However, I have considerable doubts about whether it has been successfully completed.

I am genuinely grateful for all the work that the Minister has put in since the Bill came to the House, and I very much share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. However, that does not alter the fact that we are legislating for the future, not just for now. I have heard nothing in the Minister’s arguments which convinces me that this House should not include in the Bill an ability for this commissioner that is the same as that of the Children’s Commissioner to have direct access to Parliament when the need arises. I say to the Minister—

Lord Bates: The noble Lord claims that he heard nothing, but what does he say to the point about the Sewel convention? It is a serious constitutional point about how this proposal would affect the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Warner: My Lords, if I may be allowed to finish what I was going to say, it would probably be helpful to the Minister. I am not one simply to reject out of hand some of these constitutional issues. However, we are also concerned about the position in this country—England—as well as the position in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. We have the largest population and we are probably dealing with the largest number of enslaved, exploited and trafficked children. If the Government consider that this amendment needs to be amended between now and Third Reading, they could do so and have negotiations with the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and so forth. People have these discussions with other government departments when there is a reasonable period of time in which to do so.

In conclusion, on the basis of what I have heard, I see no reason for not testing the opinion of the House.

7.23 pm

Division on Amendment 27

Contents 154; Not-Contents 178.

On November 17th the House of Lords debated the new Modern Slavery Bill:

modern slavery william wilberforce 2
Article 4 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that :

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

modern slavery

The  Bill which had its Second Reading in the House of Lords yesterday is a genuine, welcome and long overdue attempt by the Government to address contemporary forms of slavery – particularly human trafficking and to meet our Article 4 obligations. I particularly pay tribute to the work of the Rt.Hon Frank Field MP, Sir John Randall MP and  Baroness Butler-Sloss, as well as many NGOs and individuals, particularly Anthony Steen and Danny Smith of Jubilee Campaign. Although there will be attempts to amend and strengthen the Bill, it would be churlish today not to congratulate the Home Secretary and her team for the work which has been done thus far.

The Government has also shown a welcome willingness to incorporate changes suggested during the pre-legislative process, particularly further support for victims, and their later decision to incorporate a new provision on transparency in business supply chains  although there needs to be clarity on the terms of reference for the consultation, the proposed end date for the consultation, and when the Government expects to present legislation on that issue.

In a letter to Peers last Friday the Government announced  that Mr. Kevin Hyland has been appointed as Anti-slavery Commissioner. He has great experience of law enforcement but I was surprised that this appointment preceded the parliamentary debate on what the role and mandate of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be. Is this role to be about policing or about leadership and strategy?  It would have been bettere if Parliament had been given the  chance to discuss the necessary skill sets before an appointment was made.

We also need to discuss the concerns raised last week in their Report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who suggested that the Bill provides insufficient protection for the independence of the Anti-slavery Commissioner, specifically in relation to appointment, staffing, powers to report on subjects other than those authorised by Government, and Government redaction of reports.  The Committee argued that without greater independence and a broader mandate the new post risks becoming an adjunct of the Home Office concerned mainly with law enforcement, rather than a vital new part of our national human rights machinery.

As to the main provisions of the Bill, I don’t think anyone could reasonably claim that the Bill as drafted is the last word. Rather, it is the like the proverbial Curate’s Egg: “there in parts”. This unfinished work is capable of significant improvement when the House reaches Committee and Report Stages.

Shortly after entering the House of Lords in 1997, and after visits to countries like Sudan, Burma, and North Korea, I began to press the then Government to legislate on modern forms of slavery and on human trafficking.

Human Trafficking

In June 2002 having been told by the Government that “At present there is no specific offence of trafficking in human beings and so no data exist about the confiscation of assets of those engaged in this practice” I attempted to amend the Proceeds of Crime Bill. People trafficking had become the fastest growing facet of organised crime, generating £4.3 billion a year – the third largest source of profit for organised crime after the trafficking of drugs and firearms.

I told the story of an Albanian woman, kidnaped, raped and , believing she had been rescued was brought London, only to be forced into prostitution by her trafficker. A year later I described Saw Naing Gae an eight years old Burmese child whose parents were shot dead by the Burmese military. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Two cases among hundreds of thousands; cases which demonstrate that this is a global issue demanding global solutions.

Human trafficking 2

In 2002 my amendments called for the proceeds of trafficking to be channelled into the support of victims and the resourcing of a strategy to tackle this scourge at source – something I was glad to see the new Commissioner called for over the weekend.

Supporting me in 2002, the late Lord Wilberforce, a law lord and descendent of William Wilberforce, described trafficking as “a pervasive crime committed in all kinds of areas by all kinds of people. It must be dealt with by a great variety of authorities and police forces all over the country, many of which have no idea of the nature of the crime or the remedies available to deal with it.”

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

Two years later, the failure to combat human trafficking was underlined by the tragic death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay – part of a criminal racket, exploiting workers all over England, and estimated to funnel £1m per day back to China.

In 2006 Parliament created the Gangmasters Licensing Authority but 2013 research by Durham University found it had insufficient teeth; and that those trafficked for labour exploitation would soon exceed those trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Professor Gary Craig, said there was a “real problem” getting people to acknowledge that “slavery exists in the UK” and that his research “suggests there may be upwards of 10,000 people at any one time in the UK in conditions which we would class as modern slavery.”

The mandate of the GLA should be extended, have powers of arrest and investigation and keep fines to fund its work. Professor Craig says the resources directed to the GLA are “totally inadequate.”

cockle pickers2

Part of the hold over migrant workers like the cockle pickers is the debt bondage which affects more than 20 million people. Modern-day forms of slavery—based on discrimination because of racial origin, forced labour, child labour, trafficking and debt bondage—all underpin the economic and trade relationships from which we and many other countries continue to benefit.

In confronting all of this does this Bill do enough? Does it justify the Government’s claim to be “world leading” and to be making “legislative history”? Measure the claim against, the independence of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner; the treatment of victims and migrant domestic workers; and the development of transparency of supply chains.

The European Convention on Human Trafficking and the European Directive require us to provide support services to victims. In 2012 report of the Group of Experts (GRETA) invited “the British authorities to enshrine in law the right to a recovery and reflection period” and recommended the UK should “ensure that all potential and actual victims of trafficking are provided with adequate support and assistance from their identification through to their recovery.” GRETA specified that among other things this should include:   “adopting clear support service minimum standards for victims of trafficking and the provision of adequate funding to maintain them.” It’s hard to see how we can comply unless, for instance, legal aid is restored for victims of trafficking and slavery?

modern slavery victims

By contrast with our provisions, in October, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to introduce statutory support services for the victims of trafficking and to introduce statutory child trafficking guardians. Are we really going to provide victims of trafficking less protection in England and Wales than in Northern Ireland?

The most vulnerable group of victims will always be children. It is said that 60-70% of trafficked children have gone missing from care.

In April the House decisively supported Lord McColl’s proposal for introducing Child Trafficking Guardians. But compare the weakness of Clause 47, stating that the Home Secretary will merely produce guidance on support services with the definition of the role which we voted in favour of in April.

I would like to see the Bill introduce a specific offence of child exploitation and trafficking and include a statutory principle of non-prosecution so that children who have been trafficked are not detained, prosecuted or punished for offences committed as a direct consequence of their trafficking, slavery or exploitation.

modern slavery domestic workers

The Bill also fails migrant domestic workers. We need to provide minimum standards for protection and support and create a right of migrant domestic workers to change employer and to apply to renew their visa while in full time employment; and implement the strong recommendations of both the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill and the Joint Committee on Human Rights who called for the reinstatement of the pre 2012 protections for migrant domestic workers.

Last week I met with the Transparency in Supply Chains Coalition and I strongly support their proposals to strengthen the Bill in five respects: (i) coverage; (ii) minimum requirements; (iii) reporting; (iv) monitoring and enforcement; and (v) review. These recommendations draw on their wide experience of corporate responsibility and supply chain management, and also in light of experience of the implementation of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010,

child labour india

The need for measures to tackle modern slavery in company supply chains is amply demonstrated by abuses and exploitation of workers in cotton mills in Tamil Nadu, India. The mills in this region supply high street retailers such as C&A, Mothercare and Primark.

kiln workers pakistan

Or think of the children of brick kiln workers in India and Pakistan who have no future except to adopt the profession of their parents because they have no opportunity to access education.

The report – Flawed Fabrics – published in October details forced labour abuses, including physical confinement in the work location, psychological compulsion, and false promises about types and terms of work. These are modern slaves and our high street decisions keep them in servitude.

flawed fabrics

The findings included “prison-like conditions” in which the women are literally bonded, and girls as young as 15 recruited from marginalized Dalit communities in impoverished rural areas – some of which I have seen first-hand. It reports that workers were lured away with the promise of good wages and working conditions, only to experience “appalling conditions that amount to modern day slavery and the worst forms of child labour.”


The report makes several recommendations on brands, retailers and manufacturers it highlights the need for supply chain mapping, transparency and identifying risks.

Such monitoring needs to go beyond tick box approach. NGOs working on the issue have highlighted how easy it is for mills to welcome inspectors, make a presentation to them while behind the scenes the workplace is tidied up, health and safety equipment handed out temporarily, and move under-age workers out of sight. It is essential that the Bill include minimum measures of disclosure with an emphasis on a collaborative approach to monitoring. It is essential to have effective legislation requiring companies to effectively monitor their supply chains and to ensure that this is done beyond the first tier of suppliers. This needs to be done across all large companies to ensure a level playing field.

There should be a requirement on the face of the Bill that a company’s report on slavery in the supply chain must be referenced in the Directors’ Report for each financial year; a requirement in the Bill that reports should be placed in a prominent position on the company’s website (prominently linked to from their homepage); a central repository of the company reports on a government website; a clarification on the face of the Bill that the provision should be the responsibility of the Board and/or CEO; and a recognition that year on year reporting should be progressive.

I would also like to see a requirement for all UK embassies to prepare an annual account of trafficking and slavery in the countries where they are located, to form part of an annual report to Parliament by the Slavery Commissioner, comparable to the US State Department’s annual report of the Office of Trafficked Persons.

In 2006 in the run up to the bicentenary celebration, in 2007, I took part in a House of Lords debate on the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

slave ship2

I mentioned that the city of Liverpool, where I served as a Member of the House of Commons for 18 years, had been at the epicentre of the historic slave trade. Ships like the ironically and perversely named “The Blessing” literally stole people from their homelands and ferried them into servitude and misery.

slave ship

It is estimated that by the end of the 18th century, 60 per cent of Britain’s trading activities centred on Liverpool In total, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.5 million slaves. It is a poignant and shaming experience to stand, as I have done, at the Gate of No Return in Benin, from where so many of Africa’s slaves were wrenched away from their homes, their families, their culture and their identity.


I have a chair at Liverpool John Moores University and am Director of its Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. William Roscoe was one of those who defiantly stood against the slave trade and, in 1807, during the three months he served in another place, he was able to join with William Wilberforce, in voting against the transatlantic trade. Sadly, he did not live to see the repeal of the slave laws in 1833. Men like Roscoe and Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Grenville Sharpe, Ouidah Equiano and the Rathbone family, help to redeem that sordid period of our history.

roscoe statue

Many of our predecessors in Parliament argued against repeal insisting that to do so would spell ruinous economic disaster for England and her Empire. Economic interests remain a potent factor in the continuation of slavery and is why today even more people are enslaved than in those distant times.

According to the International Labour Organization around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery, estimated to generate a profit of $150 bn per annum.

It is significant that Rathbones – who can count Liverpool’s William Rathbone IV as one of the strong voices raised against historic slavery, have been at the forefront of the campaign for transparency in supply chains, saying: “The power of business needs be enlisted in the fight against modern slavery, as only business has the global reach and necessary resource to make a genuine difference.”   Rathbones have published a letter signed by investors with £950 billion of assets under mamanegement.

Along side investors like that the Modern Slavery Bill can also play its own part in that fight but we will need to strengthen it further before it is enacted if it truly is to set a world standard.

modern slavery william wilberforce 2 modern slavery and wilberforce

Zdenka Fantlova’s The Tin Ring and Vasily Grossman’s The Road – remembering the realities of the Holocaust.

Before attending a performance of the powerful drama, The Tin Ring, brilliantly brought to life by Jane Arnfield in the intimacy of Mr.Speaker’s House at Westminster, I hadn’t known that Zdenka Fantlova would be in the audience.

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

It would be impossible not to be profoundly moved by the poignant and harrowing story of this now elderly woman. And where better to be challenged to affirm life over death and love over hate, than in the heart of the British Parliament – a building which also survived Nazi attempts to destroy it, along with the democratic values it represents.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

As The Tin Ring unfolds we learn that, somehow, the remarkable Zdenka defied all the odds, all the horrors of the concentration camps, and somehow survived.

Somehow, she had retained and never been separated from the tin ring which Arno, the boy she loved, had secretly passed to her in the camp.

And, somehow, this troth serves as a repudiation of the visceral hatred and violence represented by Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and all the other monstrous Nazi extermination centres.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring takes us into Dante’s Hell but here is someone who has survived and emerged to give the lie to Hitler’s confident belief that he could act with impunity and never be held to account; someone who is able to speak for the countless mothers, sisters, wives, and lovers whose kith and kin were slaughtered; someone able to channel the suffering, pain, and their shocking loss into a defiant testimony.

Zdenka’s story reminds us how great is the power of true humanity; the greatness of the power of love; the triumph of life over the ideology and culture of death. Here is a love story to rebuke the evil hate story of the Shoah.

Arno’s tin ring comes to represent love, hope, truth and life itself.

The narrative reminds an all too easily forgetful world of the savagery of the Holocaust: the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.

The political and moral consequences of this collective amnesia – let alone the catastrophic human consequences – are appalling.

The Tin Ring uses the powerful medium of drama to address this danger of collective forgetfulness and obscene attempts to rewrite or minimise the history of those times.

But if collective memory is to have any purpose it must surely prompt us to reflect on reports, at home, of anti-Semitism and the scapegoating of minorities.

What, too, does it say to us about contemporary and horrific genocidal events overseas, from Sudan to North Korea, from Syria to Burma. Or do we mimic Neville Chamberlain’s infamous remark, as Hitler invaded Zdenka’s Czechoslovakia, that it was “a far away country about which we know very little.”

After the Holocaust world leaders declared “never again” – and after every subsequent genocide, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo, Burma, Kosovo, and the rest, they have said exactly the same thing.

We need to understand gross inhumanity precisely because it has, does, and will happen all over again.

Not long after watching the Tin Ring a friend gave me a copy of Vasily Grossman’s book, The Road.

It’s a collection of essays and short stories. Some were written after he had written first hand reports of the Battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press. Grossman – from a Russian secular Jewish background – sees the Communist USSR as the only hope in the struggle against Nazism. After Stalingrad he travels West with the Red Army and takes first hand accounts of the  industrial scale inhumanity which characterised Treblinka. My friend rightly says that The Road “should be compulsory reading for those for whom World War Two is ancient history – as a reminder of how lucky we are to be living in era of relative tranquillity.”

The Road is an amazingly powerful account of the sheer depths of evil to which man can sink. The Treblinka narrative is poignant and disturbing and Grossman’s belief in the Red Army and Lenin’s legacy, now entrusted to Stalin, is touched by a naively optimistic view of Communism. The later stories in his collection, affected by Stalin’s Great Terror and Purges, the Gulags, and the suppression of his own writing, leaves Grossman with a more realistic view of Stalin’s Soviet Union: and he was fortunate that Stalin died just before Grossman himself was about to be arrested.

Stalin died just before Grossman's intended arrest

Stalin died just before Grossman’s intended arrest


In reading The Road and watching The Tin Ring I was reminded of the remark of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, who said “do not ask where was God at Auschwitz, ask where was man.” That same question is at the heart of Zdenka’s story, and Grossman story.

If we are to find the correct answer t0 Sack’s question “where was man?”  we will need to immerse ourselves in accounts like those contained in The Road and how good it would be if  plays like The Tin Ring were staged more widely and seen in universities, civic halls, churches and popular venues – prompting us to raise our voices and to take action on behalf of today’s Zdenkas and Arnos and challenging those who promote their own versions of twentieth century xenophobia and hatred of minorities.

Burma – Plight of Rohingyas and Kachin – Religious Freedom and Coercive Population Control Policy in Burma

Religious Freedom in Burma: June 19th 2013
 Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi has responded to three Written Questions tabled by Crossbench Peer and Vice-Chair of the APPG on International Religious Freedom, Lord Alton, on the subject of Rohingya Muslims.

In the first question, Lord Alton asked whether the Foreign Office have made representations to the government of Burma following reports of the reintroduction of a two-child policy for Rohingya Muslims; and whether the Foreign Office intend to ensure that British organisations do not provide support for the implementation of such policies in Burma.

In her reply, the Minister stated that the Foreign Office continues to raise its concerns about the reported reintroduction of a two child policy with the Burmese Government. The Minister stated that trade partners in Burma should be “under no illusion” that their support for the implementation of such a policy would be “completely unacceptable” to the British Government.

The Minister welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement that any enforcement of a two-child policy would be discriminatory and not in line with the upholding of human rights in Burma, and concluded by mentioning a number of reports which claimed that the Burmese Government did not announce the Rohingya two-child policy and that they would investigate such claims.

In the second question, Lord Alton asked whether the Foreign Office intend to take steps to protect religious minorities, in particular Rohingya Muslims, from the reintroduction of a two-child policy pertaining specifically to those minorities in Burma; and what assessment the Foreign Office have made of such a policy.

In her reply, the Minister stated that according to a Rakhine State government spokesperson, a district order enforcing a two-child limit for families in Northern Rakhine State “was re-imposed in mid-May.” After mentioning that de facto restrictions on the rights of Rohingya to marry and give birth have been in place since the 1990s or earlier, the Minister said a specific regulation was first introduced in Northern Rakhine State in 2005, when an additional statement was appended to local marriage certificates prohibiting couples from having more than two children.

The Minister went on to state the UK Government is “opposed to any measures which contravene the human rights of any community in Burma”, adding that the Foreign Office is currently voicing its concerns with Burmese government ministers in Naypyidaw, citing the government’s human rights obligations, and the apparent contradiction between the Rakhine State government’s approach and the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission report, which was endorsed by President Thein Sein.

The final question asked what assessment the Foreign Office have made of the impact on Rohingya women of the reported reintroduction in Burma of a two-child policy which would apply to the Rohingya Muslim minority.

In her reply the Minister stated that, while the Government has made no formal assessment of the impact on Rohingya women of the two-child policy, since at least 2005 children in Northern Rakhine State born to unmarried parents, or to families with more than two children, have been considered ‘illegal’. The Minister mentioned credible research by nongovernmental organisations, which has shown that the restrictions on marriage and childbirth in Northern Rakhine have led to serious health consequences, highlighting how pregnant women have resorted to unsafe, illegal and self-induced abortions.

 In a recent statement, Baroness Warsi welcomed the conclusions on Burma adopted at the latest UN Human Rights Council, calling on the Government in Naypyitaw to ensure that people belonging to all religious minorities in the country are protected.

After stating that the return of all refugees must be “safe and voluntary and consistent with internationally recognised humanitarian principles,” the Minister encouraged the Burmese Government to uphold their commitment to open an Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

David Alton and

Question: June 5th 2013 – Followed by Question for Short Debate3.14 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of LiverpoolTo ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of ethnic tensions and progress towards democracy in Burma.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, we have seen positive steps to end ethnic conflict and strengthen democracy. We welcome the agreement in Kachin to work to end hostilities and to establish political dialogue. However, concerns remain, including recent attacks against minority religions, especially in Rakhine state, where we support humanitarian work, and have called for accountability for the violence there and for citizenship for the Rohingya.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, having seen for myself quite recently the spread of violence against the Rohingya to other parts of Burma and following…

View original post 12,386 more words

North Korea Freedom Week – New book was launched at House of Lords on May 21st and published on May 24th

Shin Dong Hyok featured in Ooberfuse song marking North Korea Freedom Week

Shin Dong Hyok featured in Ooberfuse song marking North Korea Freedom Week

Listen to Vanish The Night by Ooberfuse (featuring the voice of Shin Dong Hyok who was born in Camp 14 and witnessed the execution of his mother and brothers):
See also:

At the Houses of Parliament - where "Building Bridges - Is there hope for North Korea" - published by Lion - will be launched later this month.

At the Houses of Parliament – where “Building Bridges – Is there hope for North Korea” – published by Lion – will be launched later this month.

To order, use your local bookshop or Amazon:

Op-Ed article for The Catholic Herald April 2013

Last month I was in Burma. In the past I had entered the country illegally but this time I had a visa. This time I was able to meet freely with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with Government Ministers, and to speak at an open air meeting of the National League for Democracy. This time I was able to meet with members of the country’s ethnic minorities, some still at war with the regime. This time I was able to travel freely and see the first signs of Burma’s Spring.

Eighteen months ago none of this would have been possible. My visit reminded me how quickly things can change and it made me wonder whether there are lessons in Burma for another isolated rogue State: North Korea.

There are considerable differences between the two countries – not least the absence of a Daw Suu – and in many respects North Korea is simply sui generis. But for decades both have been isolated from their neighbours; both have been dominated by military cliques; both have squandered natural resources while their Command Economies stagnate and their populations suffer; both have had a contempt for democracy and human rights. Both have to live with a powerful neighbour: China.

In North Korea nearly sixty years of austerity, failed self-reliance and famine have left its people suffering in unimaginable ways. There is malnutrition and hunger and earlier this year there were unverified reports of cannibalism.

But, from Burma to the Berlin Wall, the ending of apartheid, Northern Ireland’s Peace Process, and reform in China, unexpected changes can occur quite rapidly.

South of Korea’s De-Militarised Zone there has also been dramatic change.

Kim Dae-jung, the Catholic Opposition leader, who survived assassination attempts and spent six years in prison, saw off military dictatorship and became the country’s democratically elected President and a Nobel Laureate.

At the time, the highly acclaimed Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Stephen Kim, called for “great courage” in opposing “the long dark tunnel of dictatorship” and his cathedral became a place of sanctuary for those who ushered in today’s vibrant democracy and social market economy.

Now it is North Korea which stands at a crossroads.

Will its leaders, like the poet, Robert Frost, take the road less travelled by, the one which would make all the difference. Or, instead of a road leading to peace, prosperity and re-unification, will they continue with the near farcical but dangerous bellicosity which has taken the world to the brink of a new Korean war?

Too often North Korea has been like the boy who cried wolf – with all the dangers and risks of miscalculation implied. Specialising in diplomatic blackmail, it uses brinkmanship to remind the world that it’s still there.

Its leadership uses missile movements and threats of war as a distraction from the internal challenges which it faces.

This is replete with dangers and is accompanied by a power struggle involving the young Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-Taek, and his aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui (now a four star general); the removal, disappearance and killing of top military figures (from an army of more than one million men); and the danger of a Sarajevo moment where a stray bullet or missile precipitates a full scale response and conflagration.

Creating a crisis with the world beyond their borders is designed to intensify the country’s siege mentality and to unite it behind the Kim family; and to show its disdain for the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2094, supported by Russia and, even more tellingly, by China.

China’s new President, Xi Jin Ping, said “No country should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.” However, during March, China simultaneously doubled her oil exports to North Korea .

If Xi is serious about his “ China Dream” he will need to match words with actions and might begin by opening China’s 800 mile border letting refugees cross freely instead of being shot dead as they try to wade the River Yalu or River Tumen – which I visited last September and where fleeing Koreans are routinely murdered.

I have been in North Korea four times. At Panmunjom, where, in 1953, the now suspended Armistice was signed after the deaths of 3 million people, I wrote that : “It’s better for men to build bridges than to build walls.”

Walls require less creative genius and few engineering skill. Bridges, by contrast, are more complex – though they do have the disadvantage of being walked over. The international community should discount that disadvantage and begin a process of critical engagement – with the objective of a Peace Conference that finally ends the war.

Dialogue and engagement should not be an excuse for appeasement or for timidity in speaking truthfully about the nature of the regime, its ideology, and its policies.

We who share a common belief in human rights, human dignity and freedom must be fearless in confronting brutality and ruthlessness but the on-off policies of the past sixty years, designed to counter North Korean belligerence, have been based on the same “military first” ideology as the policies practiced in North Korea.

For both sides, it has largely been a case of military first, second and third. In this Korean version of the Cold War the acronym MAD ( Mutually Assured Destruction) seems peculiarly appropriate. A military conflict between the North and South would simply lead to colossal loss of life: overwhelmingly Korean lives.

To avert such scenarios we will need a more reasoned and nuanced approach than mutually assured destruction. Such a strategy would –as the Helsinki Process did in the 1980s – take as its starting point the assumption that force will always be met by force but with both sides categorically eschewing territorial ambitions and renouncing the use of military firepower to secure such ambitions. The simultaneous objective would be a calibrated peace process to achieve, in the long term, the complete de-nuclearisation of the peninsula and the reunification of Korea.

In engaging with North Korea we must enter into its psychology – which was shaped by humiliating and cruel occupation by Japan, by a ferocious war, by a genuine fear of foreigners, and by sixty years of paranoia and violent Stalinism – complete with its network of gulags, purges, and a control of citizens and their minds which Stalin would have envied.

North Korea is, in many ways, the victim-turned-perpetrator of systematised abuse – and we need to comprehend this if we are to help it take the less travelled road to reform and reunification.

The West miscalculates when it assumes that North Korea’s leadership can be induced to commit political suicide. It also miscalculates when it assumes that the accoutrements of capitalism – from fashion wear to decent cars, to South Korean music tapes and DVDs – will be enough, by themselves, to assuage the cultivated fear of the world beyond its borders.

As North Korea stands at the crossroads, it must take the same small steps which Burma has taken. What is needed now is a painstaking and patient bridge building strategy, one which cajoles and coaxes, but does not appease.

David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) is Chairman of the All Party Group on North Korea. His book, “Building Bridges: Is There Hope for North Korea?”, co-authored with Rob Chidley and published by Lion, is published next month and may be ordered in advance from Amazon.

Kim Dae Jung Library - his prison Bible and Rosary

Kim Dae Jung Library – his prison Bible and Rosary

Kim Dae Jung Library - his prison uniform

Kim Dae Jung Library – his prison uniform

Kim Dae Jung Library - some of the letters he wrote from his prison cell during the military dictatorship of South Korea

Kim Dae Jung Library – some of the letters he wrote from his prison cell during the military dictatorship of South Korea

At the Tumen River border with North Korea in North East China, September 2012, where border guards shoot North Koreans trying to leave their country

At the Tumen River border with North Korea in North East China, September 2012, where border guards shoot North Koreans trying to leave their country

North_Korea Cambridge 2011ShinDongHyuk-200x200north_korea_mapKim Dae-jung, JPII

 Jang Jin-sung at Westminster

Jang Jin-sung at Westminster

Food Should Never Be Used As A Weapon Of War

Food Should Never Be Used As A Weapon Of War

Around 2 million died during the last famine in North Korea.

Around 2 million died during the last famine in North Korea.

 Jang Jin-sung at BBC World

Jang Jin-sung at BBC World

Burma – Plight of Rohingyas and Kachin Raised In Parliamentary Debate June 5th 2013 and

Question: June 5th 2013 – Followed by Question for Short Debate3.14 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of LiverpoolTo ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of ethnic tensions and progress towards democracy in Burma.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, we have seen positive steps to end ethnic conflict and strengthen democracy. We welcome the agreement in Kachin to work to end hostilities and to establish political dialogue. However, concerns remain, including recent attacks against minority religions, especially in Rakhine state, where we support humanitarian work, and have called for accountability for the violence there and for citizenship for the Rohingya.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, having seen for myself quite recently the spread of violence against the Rohingya to other parts of Burma and following last week’s violence in Lashio, in Shan state, and this week’s reports of the escalating exodus of people from the Rakhine state into neighbouring countries, what pressure is being put on the authorities in Burma to prevent such violence, to bring the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice, to ensure the rule of law and to resolve the Rohingya’s demands for full citizenship and constitutional rights, which after all lie at the heart of the problem?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord always comes to these matters hugely informed, usually having just travelled back from the place that we are speaking about, and I am grateful for that. I think the noble Lord is aware that the United Kingdom has been one of the most front-footed and vocal critics of the violence within Rakhine state. Concerns have been raised by the Prime Minister to the President and by the Foreign Secretary to the Foreign Minister; and Huge Swire, the Minister with responsibility for Burma, and I raised these issues specifically with two Ministers, the Minister responsible for ethnic reconciliation in the President’s office and the Minister with specific responsibility for Rakhine state. We discussed, among other issues, the long-term settlement of citizenship. There has been some progress, but I completely share my noble friend’s concerns about the violence that is spreading beyond Rakhine state.

5 Jun 2013 : Column 1172

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the recent human rights report on Burma concluded that ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have taken place against the Rohingya? In view of those views, does she agree with the conclusions? A simple yes or no answer will suffice and will tell us all we need to know.
Baroness Warsi: I think the noble Baroness will be aware from her own experience as a Minister at the Foreign Office that it would be inappropriate for me to give a simple yes or no answer to a report that clearly needs to be supported by further independent investigative work. I am, of course, hugely concerned about the concerns raised in that report, and our ambassador has already raised them with the Burmese.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the broader problem in the transition to democracy in Burma is that the legal, security and police forces have not come to terms with the idea that Burma is now a multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic state? In advance of the 2015 elections, what are the British Government doing to assist in bringing about reforms in those areas, particularly if that involves training and practical assistance?
Baroness Warsi: I can inform my noble friend that we are doing specific work on police reform. There have been a number of visits both ways to try to progress that work. We are also working on reconciliation after conflict. Burmese Ministers have visited Northern Ireland, colleagues from Northern Ireland have visited Burma, and officials on both sides have been in touch. We are clearly focused on this area.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as a result of the Burmese army’s continuing offensives and violations of human rights in Rakhine and Shan states and still in Kachin state, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced and are living in destitution? I have visited many of them and witnessed their suffering. What representations are being made by Her Majesty’s Government to the Burmese Government to allow access by international aid organisations to all people in need in Burma?
Baroness Warsi: Noble Lords may be aware that there will be a full debate on Burma during the dinner hour later today, so this is very much an opener; we will have the full course later on. I will be able to give the noble Baroness a lot of detail later about that issue, and about the work that the human rights and refugee commissioner is doing.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the discussion in the European Union has focused in recent weeks on whether sanctions were lifted too early. I want to be clear that I have not formed a view as to whether that is the case. What have the United Kingdom Government said in EU foreign service circles about that matter, and what course do they plan to take?
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1173

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord will be aware that the sanctions were first suspended, and that every member state had to agree to those sanctions remaining in that suspended state. If a single member state had agreed to those sanctions not remaining, the whole regime would have failed. We felt that we needed to put our energies into getting agreement across member states to make sure that the arms embargo remained in place.

Baroness Nye: After President Obama’s visit to Burma last year, the Burmese Government agreed to allow the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights to open an office. What representations have the British Government made on this matter to try to speed things along?
Baroness Warsi: We continue to make representations on this matter. We, too, felt hopeful when President Thein Sein said that he would allow this office to be opened. He reiterated that commitment when he met President Obama, and we continue to press him to make real that commitment.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, all these concerns about Burma/Myanmar are very welcome and reflect very well on noble Lords and Members of this House who are concerned about these things. However, could we also add the thought that it is something of a miracle that the country of Burma/Myanmar is now moving towards rejoining the comity of nations? In the longer term, if we work positively and closely with the authorities and face their terrific and very difficult concerns, we will bring them to the democratic pattern that we all admire and maybe even to being members of the Commonwealth. Will the Minister recognise this positive side of our work with Burma for the future?

Baroness Warsi: I absolutely recognise the comments made by my noble friend, whether those concerns relate to prisoner release, freedom of the press or political participation. Of course, we must recognise and congratulate the Burmese for moving in the right direction.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Empey and I had the privilege of being invited to speak with representatives of the Government of Myanmar and, subsequently, with the opposition caucus. They wanted to look at lessons to be learnt from Northern Ireland, although the sizes of those countries have very little in common: 1.8 million against 57 million. The one thing missing is a Senator George Mitchell, someone who can be picked, I suggest, from Australia, New Zealand or somewhere in that region and who will act as the honourable broker in resolution. That is something that we as a Government should be committed to.

Baroness Warsi: Clearly, the noble Lord comes to this matter with expertise and experience. We can take heart from the fact that out of the 11 disputes in Burma, 10 ceasefires have been signed and a reconciliation process has started. The challenge is now whether the
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1174

Burmese Government have the political will to see through into real action the commitments that they have made in these reconciliation agreements, but I take the noble Lord’s points.

Question for Short Debate
7.28 pm
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress being made in Burma to end ethnic tensions and to secure democracy.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, just over a year ago on 21 June, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressed both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. There was an understandable sense of euphoria and a sense of “problem solved”. Daw Suu now sits in the Burmese Parliament rather than under house arrest. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released and ceasefires have been agreed with most of the country’s ethnic groups. Space for media, civil society and political actors has increased significantly, and in two years’ time Burma will have elections. Sanctions have been lifted, and Burma’s President, Thein Sein, is travelling the world, feted by world leaders. Only this week the BBC World Service became the first international
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1233
media organisation to deliver news on a mobile platform in Burma, where it has some 8.4 million listeners. Does this not imply that the problem is solved? Is it not time to move on and focus on the world’s other problems?
During a recent visit to Burma it became clear to me that the euphoria is premature, misplaced and profoundly dangerous, a point I made at Question Time earlier today. During that visit, Daw Suu told me—I shall quote her exact words—that some countries are,
“going overboard with optimism, making the government think that it is getting everything right”.
She said that we must be less euphoric and more realistic, and that nations such as ours must get their response right. This should include a rather better and sympathetic understanding of the constraints which are still being placed upon Daw Suu herself.
To explore those issues, I tabled today’s Oral Question and this Question for Short Debate, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who are participating tonight. The focus is on ethnic tensions and the limitations of recent developments. The immediacy of those challenges was underlined by the anti-Muslim violence last week in Lashio in Shan state, which also involved attacks on journalists trying to document what occurred. Mosques, schools and shops had been burnt down, and violence took place in more than 18 townships hundreds of kilometres apart from one another.
As I saw during my visit, partly facilitated by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and from its reports and those of Human Rights Watch, if the challenges posed by ethnic violence are not addressed, they have the capacity to derail Burma’s evolution from military dictatorship into a plural, federal democracy. I met representatives of the Rohingya and the Kachin, whose home states are the two of the bloodiest theatres of ethnic violence. Over the past year, some 192 people have been killed and 140,000 displaced in Arakan state.
The plight of the Muslim Rohingya people is well documented, most recently by Human Rights Watch in its chilling 150-page report, All You Can Do is Pray. It details mass graves from violence that swept Arakan state in June and October last year. At a meeting on 21 May, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Burma considered that report, along with the first-hand account of Rushanara Ali, the Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow, who had recently been in Arakan state.
The Rohingya are among the most persecuted and marginalised people in the world, and they are now facing an intensified campaign of ethnic cleansing. This week, Channel 4 highlighted the plight of thousands of displaced Rohingya who have been forced to flee to Thailand, where they are held in deplorable conditions in detention centres. When the Minister comes to reply, I would be grateful if she could tell us what representations have been made specifically arising out of that report by Channel 4.
I first raised the plight of the Rohingya in your Lordships’ House on 17 July 2006, when I urged the Government to co-ordinate an approach to the United Nations, and I asked that that should be done particularly with Islamic countries to raise the plight of the Rohingya and the deplorable conditions in the refugee camps.
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1234
They are the perfect breeding ground for nurturing a generation of alienated and hostile jihadists. I have repeatedly urged the Government to take action: five parliamentary interventions in 2010, twice more in 2011, again in 2012—and on 28 February this year, I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, whether she would,
“confirm that since 2012, around 5,000 Rohingya Muslim people have been murdered and that many thousands have disappeared”.—[
Official Report
, 28/2/13; col. 1157.]
I also urged her to mediate a visit by the United Nations special rapporteur on religious liberty to the Arakan state. She and I agreed that the Rohingya are living in a system of 21st century apartheid with their citizenship rights having been formally stripped from the constitution. The years, the months and the weeks have passed by, but there has been very little sense of urgency among or a coherent, determined response from the international community.
Six weeks ago, through five further Parliamentary Questions, I again raised the conditions in the camps. I asked about the core issue, the question of the Rohingya claim to citizenship. The Government of Burma need to repeal the 1982 citizenship laws which stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship, rendering them stateless. They need to introduce a new citizenship law in line with international norms. They should also be challenged for trying to impose a two child policy on the Rohingya, which in the past seven days Daw Suu has described as, “illegal and against human rights”. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Government would be willing to encourage the establishment of two independent inquiries: one through the United Nations to investigate the violence in Arakan state last year and to assess whether crimes against humanity have been committed, a phrase that was used in your Lordships’ Chamber earlier today by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock; and the other perhaps consisting of independent academics and other experts to assess the historical basis for the claims of the Rohingya in order fully and conclusively to address the claims of the Government of Burma and many in Burmese society that the Rohingya are, as they put it, illegal Bengali immigrants. Years of misinformation about the Rohingya in Burma need to be countered with a full, comprehensive and independent assessment of the history and the facts, if the suffering of the Rohingyas is ever to end.
Similarly, as part of a serious peace process, Thein Sein’s Government must end the Burmese army’s offensive against the Kachin people. While it is to be welcomed that the Government of Burma have agreed ceasefires with many of the ethnic armed groups, over the past two years they have inflicted a very serious offensive against the Kachin people in north Burma. Last week, Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the agreement reached between the Government of Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organisation, calling it a first step towards reconciliation in the country. Perhaps the Minister can share with us the details of the seven-point agreement and her assessment of its durability.
Over the past 18 months, a number of fragile preliminary ceasefires have been agreed. However, there is a need not only for a ceasefire, but for a peace process. As one Karen put it, “A ceasefire is simply pressing the pause button, and we need to find a way to press the stop button”. That can be achieved only
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1235
through a peace process that involves a meaningful political dialogue with the ethnic nationalities to find a political solution to decades of war.
The military campaign which began two years ago has led to the displacement of 100,000 Kachin civilians, at least 200 villages being burnt to the ground, and 66 churches destroyed. Grave human rights violations have included rape, torture and killings. A recent report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide detailed the story of one Kachin who had been jailed for a year. During his interrogation, he was hung upside down for a day and a night, beaten severely, mutilated with hot knives, and a grenade was shoved into his mouth, his torturers threatening to pull the pin. One Kachin has said that, “The impact of the war this time has been enormous. Many have lost land, plantations, livelihoods … people are living in the middle of nowhere, hopeless, desperate, suffering”. What are the Government doing to encourage the Government of Burma to develop a serious political dialogue with the ethnic minorities? Those nationalities comprise 40% of the population, inhabit 60% of the land, and live predominantly along the country’s borders in some of the most resource-rich areas that lie along the major trade routes. It is therefore in Burma’s own interests, and those of the international community, to see decades of war end and peace and stability established. That can be achieved only through real political dialogue. So far, the changes on the ground in Burma, welcome though they are, amount primarily to a change of atmosphere rather than a change of system.
I want to end by returning to the recent and shocking rise in religious intolerance, hatred and violence. During my recent visit, I visited a Muslim community in a village called Ayela, two miles from Naypyidaw, which is the new capital. I arrived just three days after a large mob of Buddhists from another area had attacked the village. In this particular case no one was injured or killed, but only because they were able to escape. In many other places, notably Meiktila and Oakkan, there has been appalling loss of life. The tragedy is that, previously, the Buddhists and Muslims had lived together for 200 years. However, someone said to me, “We don’t even dare greet each other in the street”. There are various theories about why this wave of anti-Muslim violence has erupted. I would be interested to know what role the Minister thinks that the militant group known as “969” has played.
I end by saying this. I have made three earlier visits to Burma, the first 15 years ago, illegally into Karen state. I am honorary president of the charity, Karenaid. That I can now visit legally and meet ethnic leaders and democracy activists is a small but welcome harbinger of change. However, the international community has a responsibility to do all it can to help in the effort to bring about fundamental change.
7.38 pm
Lord Patten: My Lords, Burma is at grave risk of joining the list of permanent world trouble spots as a failing state. On present trends, it is sinking fast into a terrible cesspit of racial violence and ethnic cleansing, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has just portrayed so
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1236
graphically; he knows much more about it than I do. I believe that Burma desperately needs three things. First, it needs enlightened and outspoken healing democratic leadership; secondly, it needs a miraculous outbreak—I believe in miracles—of religious understanding and human decency between Buddhist, Muslim and Christian alike; and, thirdly, its people need to recognise that unless they bring about stability, they will fail to hoist themselves out of poverty through economic development, something that is achievable within a generation.
On the first point, with hindsight it seems much easier in Burma, as elsewhere, to foment change out of a repressive regime than to embed the further necessary changes thereafter. Remember the soundbite delights of the so-called Arab spring a couple of years back. Tell that to the Copts in Egypt or the Christians in Iraq or Iran alike. Where are the outright and immediate appeals to human decency from the heroines and heroes of recent political change in Burma? They are sadly but understandably muted so far.
Secondly, there is no evidence at all of an outbreak of religious understanding in the face of Burmese, Burman and Buddhist persecution of Muslims and Christians, increasingly led—surprisingly, as they are religious—by some gung-ho Saffron Revolutionary Monks, such as the Venerable Wirathu, who said after last week’s burnings and killings, which spread on 29 and 30 May to the north-eastern town of Lashio, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already referred:
“The Rohingya there burned down their own houses so that they could live easily in the refugee camps”.
He then went on to say that the burnings and killings by Buddhist mobs in Meiktila was “forgivable”. The story is similar for the poor Baptists and others in Kachin, who look as though they will face the fate of the Kurds in ever more repressive Turkey, as we have seen in recent days in that country. To an outsider like me, it looks as if the lessons of these recent changes in Burma simply express that it is best not to be a minority of any kind at all. The world community and the Minister need to show a lead in this.
Thirdly, one can only hope that economic change can ride to the rescue as the majority of hard-working, decent Burmese of all religions realise that this increasing endemic violence will prevent their experiencing the rapid advances out of poverty that an Indonesia or a Thailand managed so quickly in a couple of decades. The Burmese could grow their economy by four or five times over the next 25 years with all the inward investment that is needed to build a new deep-water port at Dawei or roads into Thailand. It is a country that I read may soon experience the delights of having a Coca-Cola bottling plant, but it will be among pitiful poverty, with hardly an ATM in sight and hardly any mobile phones or the other things that increasingly power democracy through the messages that they send.
Maybe, in the end, the realisation that they can lift themselves out of poverty will produce that national miracle where there is, as yet, neither much uplifting political leadership or an outbreak of human decency among majority and minority groups. It could well be the engine of social cohesion and national salvation for Burma—something I never thought I would say of economic growth.
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1237
7.43 pm
Baroness Nye: My Lords, I declare an interest as a board member of the Burma Campaign UK and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for arranging this timely debate and for his tour de force on the situation in Burma now.
As the recent McKinsey Global Institute report says, Burma is an unusual country in that it,
“remains an underdeveloped agrarian economy in the heart of the world’s fastest growing regional economy … one of the few remaining largely untapped markets in the world”.
It has many potential drivers of growth and areas that foreign investors can target, but foreign investment will succeed only if there is a politically stable environment in which to do business. That means that human rights cannot be ignored in the rush to be in at the beginning of an expanding economy.
Following some initial positive steps by the Burmese Government in April 2012, the EU decided to suspend economic sanctions, which had gradually been introduced over the past 20 years. However, the EU specified four human rights benchmarks that would need to be met as a way of marking progress before it would consider lifting sanctions entirely. But two months ago the EU did lift sanctions entirely, seemingly without any regard to those benchmarks at all, as most human rights organisations report that the situation has deteriorated. I hope the Minister will agree tonight to publish any review of the benchmarks the Government have conducted which showed that they had been met, and explain why the Government did not support proportionality or a gradual suspension as and when those criteria had been met.
Take the issue of political prisoners, which is being kept under constant review by the Burma Campaign UK. The release of political prisoners has been used repeatedly by President Thein Sein to coincide with a foreign visit to show that reform is ongoing. None of those released prisoners has received any kind of medical care, compensation or acknowledgement that they should not have been in jail in the first place. They still have criminal records with their sentences suspended and no full pardons, not the unconditional release referred to in the EU benchmark statement. Those released are still subject to restrictions on their freedom, including on travel and future political activity. The repressive laws that sent them to jail in the first place are still in place so, as the already incarcerated are released, more are arrested. The UN special rapporteur, after his visit in February, highlighted not only the ongoing detention of political prisoners but the increasing reports of the use of torture.
The Burmese Government have set up a review committee but questions remain about its composition, mandate, timing and lack of independent international experts. Will the Minister update us on whether the Government have confidence that this committee will finally resolve the issue of political prisoners in Burma? I fear the families of the remaining and the newly arrested political prisoners would beg to differ.
The second benchmark was to end conflict but throughout last year, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the conflict in Kachin deteriorated, with the Burmese army using air strikes on civilians and rape
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1238
and sexual violence as weapons of terror. With the signing of the seven-point agreement in recent days, there appears to be the basis of a genuine process of reconciliation in Kachin, which is to be welcomed. However, those 75,000 displaced people in Kachin still urgently need humanitarian assistance, which brings us to the third benchmark.
Agencies are still reporting difficulties in gaining access to the IDP camps in Rakhine, and to Kachin and Shan. The situation will get worse for the people in those camps in the low-lying areas during the approaching rainy season. However, as noble Lords have said, the most disturbing development last year was the violence against the Muslim and Rohingya communities. Indeed, on the very day that sanctions were lifted due to the satisfactory progress that the EU decided had been made, Human Rights Watch issued a damning report which documented crimes against humanity and the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
After the violence in Rahkine, the President called for the “illegal Rohingya” to be sent to third countries and transferred civilian power to the military in a state of emergency that was extended last month. The recent news that the 1994 ban on Rohingya having more than two children is being enforced again is a clear violation of their human rights. Does the Minister accept the evidence of the Human Rights Watch report that ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity are happening in Burma?
Concentrating on the economic opportunities that Burma offers, without parallel regard to human rights issues, means that progress on reform can stall. The exit of Vodafone from bidding to become Burma’s first foreign mobile phone company after seeing the final licence conditions shows the perils of companies trying to do business before the country relaxes its controls on access to information and freedom of expression.
In a recent debate on Europe in this House the Minister applauded,
“the intelligent use of sanctions, which in the case of Burma have been attributed as one of the most effective levers in encouraging the regime to implement democratic change”.—[Official Report, 31/1/13; col. 1695.]
I therefore look forward to hearing from the Minister about what changed her and the Government’s mind about the effectiveness of those levers? As an editorial in the Daily Telegraph—not a newspaper I usually agree with—said, on the day that sanctions were lifted:
“Mr Hague and his EU colleagues have now cast aside all their sticks, leaving themselves with no option but to rely on the regime’s goodwill”.
In the absence of those sanctions, what is the policy of the British Government towards the achievement of human rights in Burma?
7.48 pm
Lord Williams of Baglan: My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating it and also for his long-standing interest in human rights in Burma. I first visited Burma in 1988, a few months after the suppression of the student revolt, which left many thousands of students killed. Brave students—braver than me—whom I met faced subsequent harassment and in many cases imprisonment. I worked then for Amnesty International.
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1239
I have visited Burma many times since, most recently in 2008, following Cyclone Nargis, which ravished the country and claimed more than 140,000 lives. Terrible though that tragedy was, it may well have been a turning point in modern Burmese history, forcing a reluctant and harsh regime to recognise that it could not cope with the scale of the disaster.
When I last visited, 12 months ago, I found a county much changed, despite the continuing human rights violations that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have addressed this evening. That transformation is, I believe, the most significant in Southeast Asia since the ousting of President Suharto of Indonesia in 1998. Over the past 18 months, we have seen significant progress, although it remains one of the poorest countries in the region and one with a human rights record which, to say the least, needs to be addressed and improved greatly. There has been dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein. The sweeping victories of the opposition National League for Democracy in by-elections last April were described by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as,
“a dramatic demonstration of popular will”.
Two weeks ago, in the White House, President Obama received President Thein Sein. As President Obama recognised, the scale of the challenge facing Burma, in a difficult transition to more representative governance, is enormous. The country and its Government need all the international assistance, as well as pressure, that they can receive.
I commend our Government for the support that they have given to Myanmar and its people. In that regard, I believe that Prime Minister Cameron’s visit in 2012 was critically important and I wonder whether the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has any news of a return visit by President Thein Sein, when many of the issues that have been brought up here this evening could be addressed. I commend the Government for what they are doing; in particular, DfID’s support in assisting the process of ethnic reconciliation. Can the noble Baroness also say more in that regard? I believe that the UK can, and should, play an important role and am especially pleased by the current visit of the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards. I hope that that visit will lead soon to the appointment of a British military attaché in Yangon. Any news on that would be welcome. The Burmese Government have agreed to many ceasefires—or, more appropriately, cessation of hostilities—over the years but they lack the will and the capability to transform those tenuous agreements into lasting political accords.
Several days ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, the Government and the Kachin Independence Organisation agreed a seven-point peace pact. For the first time, in a striking development, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy, Mr Vijay Nambiar, was present during that meeting. I hope that that is perhaps an indication of a greater involvement by the UN in helping Burma in this difficult task of ethnic reconciliation. The most difficult aspect of that at the moment, as has been rightly addressed, is the situation affecting the Muslim population of Rakhine state. The UK must follow that situation closely, and guard against further substantial breaches of human rights,
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1240
but I believe that, equally and at the same time, we must tread a difficult path and support Burma’s leadership —Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein—in the very difficult path along which they are trying to advance their country.
7.53 pm
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate and pay tribute to his active interest in, and commitment to, the cause of freedom and human rights around the world, including in Burma.
I make no claim to any expertise on this specific subject, but I declare an interest for four reasons. First, I hope to visit Burma next month with the All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health—unless of course my visa is refused as a result of my contribution to this debate. Secondly, I co-chaired the Conservative Friends of International Development. I recognise that Burma is a major recipient of British aid but it is in need of even more humanitarian assistance. Thirdly, I am contributing to this debate having met and talked to Benedict Rogers, deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and a well known Burma specialist, who has visited Burma many times, most recently with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in March. Fourthly, last summer I put my name to a letter to the Daily Telegraph, along with noble Lords from across the Chamber, expressing concern about the desperate plight of the Rohingya people. We called for emergency aid to all the victims of violence in Rakhine state, pressure on Bangladesh to allow refugees fleeing persecution across its borders, pressure on the Government of Burma to stop the violence, a serious effort to revise, or repeal, the 1982 citizenship law, which stripped the Rohingyas of citizenship, and a new citizenship law in line with international human rights norms. I repeat those calls today.
I echo many of the points already raised in this debate. Although it is indeed absolutely right to recognise the extraordinary and welcome changes taking place in Burma, to encourage further reform and to open a hand of friendship to the people of Burma as the country opens up and moves towards freedom, it is also essential that we recognise that Burma is just at the very beginning of change, that the early signs of increasing freedom are fragile and that there are many grave challenges still to be addressed.
In the time available, I wish to focus my remarks on a couple of these challenges. First, as others have already noted in depth, the recent anti-Muslim violence is of serious concern. Clearly, there are attitudes within parts of Burmese society that are deeply troubling and need to be addressed through public education and inter-religious dialogue. Such efforts must be encouraged at grass-roots levels, as well as at a national level. However, more urgently, it must be a priority for the international community to urge the President and his Government to end the climate of impunity and to ensure that the security forces act swiftly, effectively and fairly to prevent violence, stop violence when it is occurring, protect vulnerable communities and bring the perpetrators of hatred and violence to justice. Can my noble friend give her assessment of the Burmese
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1241
Government’s response to these crises and say what concrete steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to address these serious concerns with the Burmese Government?
Secondly, I am very pleased that Britain has continued to increase aid to Burma and has been the largest single donor to the country. That is a record to be proud of. I am also pleased that, as part of our aid to Burma, Britain has provided humanitarian assistance to displaced people within the country and along the borders. However, as my noble friend will know, there are two areas which are in particular need of further and urgent assistance: Kachin state and Rakhine state. The war in Kachin state has displaced at least 100,000 people and left more than 200 villages destroyed. In Rakhine state, more than 130,000 people, mainly Rohingyas, have been displaced and are living in camps which the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, described six months ago as “dire”. Will my noble friend tell the House what efforts Her Majesty’s Government are making to secure unrestricted access for international humanitarian aid to all displaced peoples in Kachin and Rakhine states, including those outside government-controlled territory, and what contribution Britain is making to the needs of displaced people in these areas?
I wish to end with one of the most serious challenges in Burma and an issue that should be at the centre of Her Majesty’s Government’s focus on the country, given that it is a personal priority of the Foreign Secretary: sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war. Over the past decade, hundreds of cases of rape and sexual violence have been documented by women’s organisations in six different states. Of the cases of rape that have been documented, almost half are women who were raped and also killed. In Kachin state, many women have been raped during the conflict over the past two years. According to an article in the Guardian in February, Muslim Rohingya women, including teenagers, were raped. Will my noble friend tell the House what plans the Government have to ensure that Burma is included in the Foreign Secretary’s preventing sexual violence initiative?
7.59 pm
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tireless work for oppressed people and his commitment to obtain first-hand evidence, enabling him to introduce this debate with characteristic authority, knowledge and concern. I will focus on my experience of recent visits to the Shan and Kachin peoples and meetings with representatives of the Rohingya, Karen and Karenni ethnic nationals. Of course I also welcome reforms, including the freedom of the iconic democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of several hundred political prisoners, although hundreds more remain in prison. But all ethnic national peoples share fears that reforms may be used by the Burmese Government to further their own agenda, including more exploitation of their resource-rich lands. When I was in Shan state with my NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, or HART, one of the Shan leaders said:
“When the lights went on in Rangoon, all the world rushed to Rangoon; no-one stopped to see us in the darkness”.
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1242
The UN Human Rights Council resolution on Burma passed in March highlighted many aspects of the darkness, including,
“arbitrary detention, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as violations of international humanitarian law”.
These violations of human rights and military offensives against civilians have forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic nationals to flee their homes to live in destitution as IDPs or into exile in neighbouring lands. I appreciate the visit by Minister Hugo Swire to the Rohingya people in Rakhine state but, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Alton and other noble Lords, their plight remains dire with an increase in anti-Muslim propaganda, attacks on communities and the destruction of mosques, homes and businesses. The condition of those who have had to flee into camps is desperate, with many dying from lack of medical care or other essentials.
In Kachin state in June 2011 the Burmese Army broke a 17-year-long ceasefire with military offensives, including aerial bombardment of civilians and widespread violations of human rights such as extra-judicial killings, rape and torture. We in HART visited Kachin state in February and we saw the suffering of the people, 100,000 of whom have had to flee from aerial bombardment and ground defences. We visited some of them living in destitution in makeshift camps along the border with China and we heard gruesome accounts of brutality inflicted on civilians. In Shan state fighting continues in the north and the Burmese Government continue exploitation of this resource-rich land. During our last visit to Shan state we met civilians who had to flee their lands because of military offensives by the Burmese army or expropriation of their land by deals made by the Burmese Government with foreign investors, such as the pipeline being built from India to China which has driven countless Shan civilians off their lands with derisory or no compensation. We met one lady in a camp for Shan IDPs who had lost absolutely everything. All she had left were the ragged clothes she was wearing, and she was one of many.
Given the gravity of the suffering of these ethnic national peoples, there is widespread concern over the Burmese Government’s refusal to allow access to international aid organisations, a point that has been raised by other noble Lords. Other ethnic national peoples who have signed cease-fire agreements, such as the Karen, emphasise that those ceasefires are used by the Burmese Government to extend roads into their lands, for possible future hostile military activities or to increase the expropriation of their natural resources, such as teak and other forms of timber. Although the Kachin leadership and the Government have resumed talks, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, this is also simply seen as a precursor to a ceasefire and not real peace. The Burmese Government have a sorry record of brokering and breaking ceasefires.
Following the lifting of EU sanctions, what specific tools, mechanisms and leverage do the EU and the UK have to encourage and pressure the Government of Burma to address these grave concerns of the ethnic national peoples and to establish a genuine lasting peace process leading to a political agreement enshrining
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1243
justice and equality for all peoples of Burma? Finally, what progress is there in encouraging the Government of Burma to sign and ratify the international covenant on civil and political rights, and will the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief visit Burma with an assurance of unhindered access to all parts?
I conclude by referring back to the words of the Shan leader:
“When the lights went on in Rangoon, all the world rushed to Rangoon; no-one stopped to see us in the darkness”.
I hope the Minister’s replies tonight will prove that the UK Government have stopped to visit them in the darkness and will do all in their power to prevail on the Burmese Government to bring them into the light of genuine peace, freedom, justice and equality as citizens of Burma.
8.04 pm
Baroness Berridge: My Lords, when faced with such expert eye witnesses to the tragic facts on the ground in Burma as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, it is hard to know what to add. But for outside observers I suspect the abiding image is the satellite photo from late last year that so clearly showed the destruction in Rakhine state. A picture does indeed speak more than 1,000 words. I will concentrate on the proposed international and domestic actions which could assist in bringing to an end the ethnic and religious intolerance against the Rohingya people. I declare an interest as the chair of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom.
At international institutional level in the UN and the OIC there has been much debate around international religious freedom as outlined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, the events in Burma bring sharply into focus the distinction between protecting individuals’ human rights, which is what Article 18 enshrines, and protecting religions—in this case Buddhism—which is not what Article 18 protects. The UN and member states need to show in this situation that they can use soft power, institutional mechanisms and financial pressure to protect the Rohingya Muslim population. I had the privilege of accompanying the Minister on a trip to Srebrenica in 2009. Of course there is a different dynamic for the UN when you are actually physically present as an atrocity such as Srebrenica occurs. But bearing in mind the situation in Syria, I sense that there is a particular need for the international institutions, especially the UN, to show that they can effectively protect a Muslim population like the Rohingyas. Can the Minister tell this House whether there is a danger of extremists influencing Burma’s Muslims from neighbouring nations if the UN fails to act to protect the Rohingya people? Also, could she outline, due to her role in the Department for Communities and Local Government, whether she has received representations from British Muslims on this issue? Nowadays there are very few international issues that do not have a potential domestic dimension.
Although ethnic and religious issues are not always separable, it is clear from the propaganda of the Buddhist monk Wirathu and the 969 campaign that there is a religious dimension to these atrocities. It is
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1244
sad to note that with the Rohingya people there is almost certainly a racial dimension as well. There is mention made in news reports such as in the
in April 2013 that Wirathu’s teachings have large followings on YouTube and Facebook, but does the Minister know if these followings are in Burma as well? I join with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in congratulating the BBC World Service for being the first international news service to broadcast from a mobile platform in Burma where there are now estimated to be 4 million mobile phone subscribers. But highly developed states struggle with the issue of the boundaries of freedom of expression on new technology. How are the Burmese Government coping with this issue and might some simple assistance with monitoring and removing footage have a huge effect and assist long-term peaceful co-existence between Burma’s religious communities?
I would particularly value my noble friend’s assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will request an urgent visit by the UN special rapporteur on international religious freedom, not just to report on the current violations but to look at how a long-term strategy can be developed so that all Burmese people are respected as equal human beings, enjoy citizenship and live under the rule of law. Perhaps also the UN special rapporteur could be asked to look at the use of new technology in promoting religious hatred. There is much that can be done by the UK Government. Between 2011 and 2015 £187 million of UK taxpayers’ money will be spent on aid, according to DfID’s operational plan for Burma. In that plan there is a section entitled “Alignment to DfID and wider UK Government priorities” and the Minister has been prioritising the work on international religious freedom and Article 18. This alignment section does not mention her priorities and as it is clear that there are violations of Article 18 on the ground in Burma, should this not be reflected in DfID’s plan? DfID support is given not to the Burmese Government but only through United Nations organisations and trusted international and local NGOs. Is Her Majesty’s Government ensuring that the UN and these NGOs which are spending UK aid are funding work that assists the understanding of religious freedom at community level with Burmese citizens?
No one expects overnight transformation in Burma. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not a miracle worker and mature institutions of a democratic state take decades, even centuries, to form. But I do not believe with all the plaudits the world has given to the Burmese leaders and the aid and the investment that is now flowing in that asking them not to oversee or even assist in the annihilation of certain religious and racial communities is too much to ask.
8.10 pm
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. This debate takes place at a point where it is hard to make completely clear judgments because the evidence has not, as yet, pointed conclusively in any one direction. I found the latest report by the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar particularly helpful. I know it is unedited, but it was published on 6 March and is therefore very recent. It is an attempt at a balanced review, occasioned,
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1245
it appears to me, by a wish to give encouragement to former prisoners of conscience and to sustain, and even increase, their remarkable and brave efforts.
When Aung San Suu Kyi visited our Parliament, the admiration felt for her was evident. The facts that she was no longer a prisoner, she was active in political life in Burma and that she was able to speak and publish very widely were all powerful signs of progress. Her measured optimism was an encouragement and from what I heard of what she said, I conclude that she was not overoptimistic. She is plainly wholly seized of the massive issues in democratic life, the continued violence against opponents of the Government, their military leadership’s actions, the deadly assaults that still continue and the cultural subjugation of minority peoples. In part because of what she had to say and in part because of the changes that we can observe, we have also tended to add qualified encouragement. Earlier today the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, invited the Government to recognise the progress that has been made, and in a way, he is right, as is the noble Lord, Lord Williams, tonight. I know they are both far too wise to believe that things are now okay or may not go into reverse. None the less, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said this evening, ceasefires, prisoner releases and so on are welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, invites us to ask whether it is reasonable enough for us to look at both sides of this balance sheet rather more acutely and without any euphoria. Uncritical optimism is not a policy. Last September, the President of Burma said that changes are irreversible. Is that true? Eight amnesties have freed about 850 prisoners of conscience, but there are certainly in excess of 250 still in prison, and it is unclear to me why any kind of special committee is needed to oversee the process of their release. Does the Minister know the rationale? How have representations made by the Government about medical help for current and past prisoners or those who are in the revolving door of repeated arrests been received? Do the Government think that the Burmese authorities will ratify CAT and OPCAT and, if so, when? Do the Government regard this, as I would, as a benchmark test for eradicating the torture of detainees and others? How have the Burmese Government reacted to representations that we have made on the impropriety of imprisoning peaceful demonstrators? I know there have been improvements in this area, but there have also been significant lurches backwards.
Have the Government made representations on illegal land seizures and, if so, with what response? How much progress does the Minister believe has been made by the national planning authority on the pledge that has been made to halve the rate of poverty? My noble friend Lady Nye and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, have illustrated the economic potential, if it were to be grasped. Does the Minister have an estimate, which has been recommended several times in the past by the UN Commission on Human Rights, of when universal education for younger children—their human right, if I can put it that way—might be achieved?
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, this evening for her report on her recent visit and also to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for her proposals.
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1246
The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, made a very powerful statement on this. I, too, note with deep apprehension the reports of every kind of vile atrocity suffered by ethnic minorities in Burma. The announcement in the joint statement of work on de-escalation between the authorities and the KIO on 6 February is an important step, and China is to be thanked for the constructive hosting of the talks on Kachin state.
The crisis in Rakhine state raises the same deep apprehensions. Blame is attributed by both sides to each other. The offer by the UN of an independent investigation is welcome, but removal of the violent assaults and killings in the wider Rohingya community is surely the starting point before there is any prospect of a serious discussion on a federal outcome. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and my noble friend Lady Nye in asking this question—I hope I am not putting words in their mouth. Does the Minister agree that we are witnessing, in the words that they carefully chose to use, ethnic cleansing?
I appreciate the typically thoughtful statement by Hugo Swire MP, the Minister responsible for Burma. He is right to emphasise that our Government’s action must go beyond lobbying. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, called for a much wider and more active UK role. Policy will, as Mr Swire said, evolve, but I urge a process somewhat faster than evolution, which is a slow process. Let us include active sponsorship of ethnic reconciliation, no impunity and closer co-operation with China on these matters. Their roles, alongside the bravery of the opposition, should be at the forefront of all our involvement. Finally, if progress stalls, will we press for the reinstatement of sanctions?
8.16 pm
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for once again calling a timely and important debate. Burma is going through a complex political and economic reform process. It will take time and requires scrutiny, support and guidance from the UK and like-minded partners in the international community to realise the full benefits of what Burma can become. It is not simply a matter of relying on evolution, which the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, referred to; it is about going further and using every opportunity to make sure that Burma is heading in the right direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has visited the country, described horrific incidents, but he noted the progress that is being made. Perhaps the most visible is the growth in freedom of expression, including for NGOs and civil society. People are now able to buy a wide selection of newspapers, and civil society is active. We provide funding to support this, which includes a number of initiatives that strengthen civil society. For example, later this month, we will be hosting prominent former political prisoners from the 88 Generation who are coming to the United Kingdom.
Moves have been made to bring about an end to the internal conflict that has blighted the country since independence. The Burmese Government have signed ceasefires with eight of the 11 ethnic armed groups. We welcome last week’s potentially significant agreement
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1247
with the Kachin Independence Organisation to begin political dialogue and work to cease hostilities. We continue to support the Government and the representatives of the ethnic groups to reach robust and sustainable peace agreements through a political process. Recently we hosted visits from ethnic leaders and the Burmese Government to share our experiences of peacemaking in Northern Ireland, but I take noble Lords’ points when they say that this has to move beyond peace agreements into real reconciliation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asked specifically about political prisoners. There have been releases of large numbers of political prisoners, the establishment of a mechanism to review political prisoner cases and, for the first time in many years, the International Committee of the Red Cross now has access to Burma’s jails. The Foreign Secretary pressed the Burmese Foreign Minister in February to release all political prisoners. We note President Thein Sein’s statement on 4 June that all prisoners of conscience will be released soon. This is an optimistic statement and one that we will continue to monitor closely to ensure that progress is made. We particularly welcome his clear commitment not to enforce Section 401, under which released political prisoners can be returned to jail to serve the remainder of their original sentence. We have always emphasised that releases of political prisoners should be unconditional and we are pleased that the Burmese Government have publicly confirmed that they share that view. We will also continue to follow up on cases of reported abuse in Burma’s jails and we raise individual cases of political prisoners when we have the opportunity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, also raised the two-child policy. Aung San Suu Kyi has said that any enforcement of a two-child policy would be discriminatory and not in line with the upholding of human rights in Burma. The British embassy in Rangoon is raising our serious concerns with Burmese Government Ministers citing the human rights obligations to which the Burmese Government have signed up. A presidential spokesman said earlier this week that the central government did not announce the Rohingya two-child policy—this was something that was being done on a local level and they would be looking into it.
In relation to political reform, Aung San Suu Kyi has, of course, now taken a seat in Burma’s Parliament. It was an amazing moment when we all welcomed her at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. She is now building alliances across the political spectrum to drive reform forward. We welcome the announcement on 20 March that the Burmese Parliament will establish a committee to review the constitution. This is a crucial next phase in underpinning the wider political reforms. We are funding work to strengthen the capacity of the Burmese Parliament, an institution vital for deepening democratic politics. Over the past six months we have hosted Burmese parliamentarians from the Public Accounts Committee and the Bills Committee.
The issue of sanctions was raised by a number of noble Lords. I think I raised this matter in some detail in an Answer to noble Lords at Oral Questions earlier today. In the context of the ongoing political transition, on 22 April the EU lifted all sanctions on Burma
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1248
except for the arms embargo which remains in place. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear at the time that our work in Burma is not remotely finished. The judgment of the UK and of all EU member states supported by Aung San Suu Kyi is that Burma’s remaining challenges are now best dealt with not through sanctions but through deeper engagement.
We will continue to be a constructive, supportive and critical partner to Burma, committed to supporting the reform efforts that have started. Our vision is for Burma to become a prosperous, stable, peaceful and more democratic country with respect for human rights and the dignity of all people. Without that respect for all people, this vision of Burma will not become a reality. Guided by these principles we remain concerned by a number of issues that the Government of Burma must address in order to sustain the momentum of the reform process.
Most specifically there is the issue of Rakhine state and the human rights abuses there, which were referred to by a number of noble Lords. We are extremely concerned by allegations of these abuses during the violence last year which was documented by Human Rights Watch and the UN special rapporteur. The Rakhine commission set up to investigate the causes of last year’s violence emphasised the importance of ensuring accountability and the president has endorsed this but these commitments now need to be translated into action. We continue to press the Burmese Government to bring to justice all those accused of having instigated, incited or carried out violence in Rakhine state. This accountability needs to be delivered in a way that is transparent, credible and in line with international standards. The EU-sponsored resolution at the March 2013 UN Human Rights Council mandated the special rapporteur to continue to report on human rights in Burma for another year. It drew specific attention to the need for accountability. OHCHR staff are currently on the ground in Rakhine state monitoring the human rights situation and we are lobbying the Burmese Government to open a country office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a strong mandate which allows it to monitor the human rights situation in all parts of the country.
On the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, on whether ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity took place in Rakhine in 2012, further independent investigative work would be required for an informed assessment as to whether ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed.
My noble friend Lady Jenkin raised the issue of humanitarian aid and assistance. On humanitarian assistance, we have continued to call for unhindered access to conflict-affected areas at every opportunity. I raised this with Aung Min, the Minister for the President’s Office, when he visited the UK on 15 April. The Minister of State for Asia, Hugo Swire, raised with the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, when they met last week the need for improved humanitarian aid co-ordination. Ministers announced a further £4.4 million in aid to Rakhine on 15 May and we are giving £3.5 million to Kachin and have given £600,000 to support the Shan
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1249
Women’s Action Network in Shan state. Our total commitment over the four years up to 2015 will amount to £187 million.
The issue of Rohingya citizenship was raised by a number of noble Lords. This remains fundamental to resolving their statelessness. We have consistently said that there needs to a sustainable solution to citizenship for the Rohingya community, consistent with ensuring their human rights. I pressed senior Burmese Ministers on this in April and will continue to make the point. The Rohingya community, most of whom have lived in Burma for many generations, should be entitled to citizenship in line with Burma’s current legal framework. Any further independent work into the origins of the Rohingya community could have value on the question of their citizenship. We are in close contact with the UN which is reviewing the 1982 citizenship law to assess whether it is consistent with international treaties to which Burma is a signatory. Noble Lords will be familiar with the arguments that are made against the granting of citizenship in relation to the length of stay in a country, the look apparently of the people and the minority religious background. The irony of that argument was lost in light of the fact that they were discussing the matter with me.
The wider violence against religious minorities, which has affected other parts of Burma, is also a serious concern. Attacks against the Muslim community in Meiktila and other areas have led to deaths and the destruction of mosques, madrassahs, businesses and homes. The violence in Shan state last week has shown that there is still much more to do to prevent further outbreaks. As is the case with the violence in Rakhine state, the Burmese Government must ensure, in line with statements made by the president, that those guilty of acts of violence are held accountable. We are this week sending out a mission to assess what help is needed to improve the capacity of the police force so that it can sensitively and effectively deal with civil unrest and better protect minority communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of an impartial investigation. An international inquiry would be most effective if it had the support of all parties. The issue of Rakhine is under discussion at the moment at the current Human Rights Council and we are engaging with other countries as to whether this is something we could take forward. The noble Lord also raised the issue of the two-child policy. I think I dealt with that matter earlier. He also raised the issue of the militant group 969. There is evidence to show that the violence was organised. I do not have the information to attribute it to one group at this stage. The noble Lord referred to the Channel 4 report asking what representations we had made, I think, to the Thai Government. We have lobbied them and asked them to ensure that they adhere to international protocols governing the treatment of refugees. We have also asked them to ensure that full access to detained Rohingya refugees is given to international migration organisations and the UN. I am more familiar with the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who I visited on my last visit.
My noble friend Lord Patten raised the issue of trade. I agree with him. We have put responsible investment at the heart of our future commercial relationship with Burma. We want to encourage investment that
5 Jun 2013 : Column 1250
will benefit local communities and respect the local environment. He is right that if we give some people a stake in what could be a more prosperous future for all it could help with some of these tensions.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised the question of whether the president could visit the United Kingdom. We have asked President Thein Sein to visit the UK and we hope that it will be soon. That could be an opportunity again to raise these matters. The noble Lord also raised the issue of the visit by General Richards. I can tell the noble Lord that the UK now has a non-resident defence attaché who was appointed in February this year. A resident defence attaché will be in place, we hope, by November this year if it is agreed by the Burmese Government. That again could help with that relationship building.
My noble friend Lady Jenkin asked about PSVI. Over the summer the British embassy in Rangoon will be scoping options for increasing UK engagement and embedding PSVI approaches to tackle sexual violence in Burma.
My noble friend Lady Berridge specifically spoke of freedom of religion and belief. She asked a number of questions about which I will write to her in detail. To address the issue of radicalisation, we are concerned, both in relation to issues of radicalisation of the Burmese Muslim community, where the narrative has been fed in that they are a group that has been left to suffer in this way while other people stand by, and concerns among British Muslims and how the issue of the Rohingyas could be used as a recruiting sergeant by radicals and extremists in this country. It is something we are acutely aware of and in discussions with the Home Office about.
In conclusion, after almost half a century of repression, the past two years have seen Burma make rapid progress towards the goal of a freer and more democratic nation but there is still much more to do. In order to achieve greater democracy Burma must deal with the ethnic conflicts it faces and tackle discrimination against its minority groups. We will continue to engage with the Burmese Government to shape the process of this reform and we want the UK to contribute with meaningful and targeted assistance. Above all, we will ensure that human rights, preventing further violence and ethnic reconciliation remain high on the agenda and, to respond directly to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we will not stop looking for, speaking of, or supporting those who are still left in the dark.

Meeting with Dr.Myo Myint one of Burma's education ministers.



: and Meeting with Dr.Myo Myint one of Burma’s education ministers.

With ben Rogers of CSW on the Highway to way to nowhere..Naypyidaw...Burma's surreal new capital

With Ben Rogers of CSW on the Highway to nowhere..Naypyidaw…Burma’s surreal new capital

Naypyidaw - a parliament miles from any people

Naypyidaw – a Parliament miles from any people

Report from Burma March 2013.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi endured almost twenty years of house arrest before finally being allowed to stand for election to the Burmese House of Representatives, the Pyithu Hluttaw,  where, in opposition, she now leads the National League for Democracy (the NLD).   The regime continues to dominate the Parliament having kept 80% of the seats.

  During her June 2012 visit to Westminster I had the opportunity to meet Daw Suu and just before Easter I was able to visit her in Burma and to ask her how she sees her own future and that of her country.

   That such an encounter was possible at all says something about the changes which have been occurring in Burma over the past 18 months.

  My first visits to Burma, fifteen years ago, were made illegally into the Karen State and my subsequent requests for visas were refused. During the intervening years I have had several bruising stand-offs with the military regime – particularly in relation to the treatment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s ethnic minorities.

  When Daw Suu’s husband, the Oxford academic, Dr.Michael Aris, was dying of cancer he was desperate  to visit his wife. With two other Peers I went to see the Burmese Ambassador and, on  compassionate grounds, appealed for a visa to be issued.   The Ambassador’s response told me everything I needed to know about the regime.

   No, he stated emphatically, her husband could not visit her but, with hardly concealed cynicism, she could visit him: knowing that the regime would then never allow her to return to Burma.

  Michael Aris was a Catholic, educated at Worth Abbey. Daw Suu told me she has many fond memories of visiting Worth with her late husband and hopes one day to visit the monks and the abbey again.

   If I experienced shock at the regime’s unwillingness to grant the request of a dying man for a visa to visit his wife left, it was nothing in comparison with the shock of witnessing  the harrowing conditions in which more than 100,000 refugees were living along Burma’s border.

    Despite some welcome changes in Burma those festering conditions remain and the failure to resolve the country’s long standing ethnic tensions could still be the rock on which the country’s reform process founders.

   While in Burma I met members of the ethnic nationalities and it was notable that they did not share the same sense of optimism of Burmese  democracy activists.

  The situation in the Kachin State is particularly acute – and although there has been some de-escalation of the violence,  and peace talks have resumed, earlier in the year the regime carried out air strikes on the civilian population.  Shells were fired into the Kachin town of Laiza, killing civilians including children.  One Kachin Catholic priest is insistent that “we are hungry for love, peace and tranquillity but nobody is feeding us. We invite the whole world to help us.”

   What is clear is that it is of no help to Burma  to repeatedly laud its progress whilst simultaneously turning a blind eye to the failure of the regime to find political solutions for the ethnic nationalities. Only dialogue and new forms of governance based on federalism, equal rights, full citizenship and what Daw Suu rightly insists must be the upholding of “the rule of law” will resolve those issues.

    If the situation remains tense in the refugee camps, and the disputed territories, it is probably at its worst in the Arakan State, where the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists are in a state of virtual civil war. I met with some Rohingya spokesmen who say “we are a people at the brink of extermination.”  

  The humanitarian organisation Medecines sans Frontieres have used the same expression to describe the desperate plight of the Rohingyas.  In Arakan mosques have been burned, homes destroyed, women raped and civilians killed. Their representatives told me that in the past few months  more than 1,000 have been killed; 52 women raped;  13,000 house burnt; 547 injured; 60 mosques and 50 schools destroyed. More than 20,000 had fled the country. They added that these events had been driving people into the hands of extremists , and had provided an opening for Jihadists.

   This communal violence has also been spilling over to other parts of the country.

   After visiting Naypyidaw, the surreal capital of Burma which the military junta built after seeking the advice of astrologers, and which is situated hundreds of miles from any major population centres (a Parliament designed to be kept as far away from the people as possible), I went to a small village called Ayela.

   Up until the night before, for two hundred years  the Muslims and Buddhists had peacefully co-existed in Ayela.  Tin Aung, the secretary to the mosque, showed me the charred remains of their madrassas and the damage which had been done to their village mosque. He said that hundreds of people had descended on the village, chanting derogatory slogans against the Muslims and had torched the buildings and terrorised the people. Just 15 Muslims remain at Ayela; the rest fled.

  It remains to be seen whether those responsible will be brought to justice. If they are not no-one will be able to believe that the rule of law protects Burma’s minorities; if they are not, then rebuilding trust and developing security will prove impossible.

   During my visit I also went to look at Insein Prison  – where the Catholic human rights activist, James Mawdsley, was held after being sentenced to 18 years imprisonment when he protested about the plight of ethnic minorities and the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Although it is happily true that many political prisoners have now been freed, over two hundred  remain in jail; and some of those released have strict conditions and travel restrictions. There have also been reports of the use of torture against detainees.   Yet, as one man, who had spent six years in prison, told me, “we feel that gradually things are moving in the right direction.”  Much will depend on constitutional changes which, unless passed, would, for instance, prohibit Daw Suu from standing as a presidential candidate in 2015.

    Daw Suu is walking on a  tightrope – and not helped by commentators in the West for getting too close to the army and for not doing enough for the national minorities.    But it’s all too easy to do that from the comfort of a newspaper column.

  If Burma gets its transition right it could offer a model for change for other isolated countries, like North Korea.  Daw Suu needs our understanding and our patience as she tries to lead the country towards federalism and democracy. And, not surprisingly, her last words to me were a request that we should continue praying regularly for Burma.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Naypyidaw

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Naypyidaw


Taking evidence at Ayela

Taking evidence at Ayela

Meeting with Rohynga representatives in Rangoon

Meeting with Rohingya representatives in Rangoon

NLD Meeting at Rangoon's House of Memories

NLD Meeting at Rangoon’s House of Memories

Speaking at the NLD meeting at the House of Memories in Rangoon

Speaking at the NLD meeting at the House of Memories in Rangoon

Speaking on Human Rights at the NLD meeting at the House of Memories in Rangoon.

Speaking on Human Rights at the NLD meeting at the House of Memories in Rangoon.

Speaking at the Campion Institute Rangoon

Speaking at the Campion Institute Rangoon

Presenting community health awards at the Campion Institute, Rangoon

Presenting community health awards at the Campion Institute, Rangoon

Award winners at Campion Institute, Rangoon.

Award winners at Campion Institute, Rangoon.

Burma – Aung San Suu Kyi’s Visit To Westminster – and the continuing challenges facing the country

Addressing a Congressional Committee on the suffering of Burma’s Karen people

Immediately after Aung San Suu Kyi’s historic address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall on 21 June, a small ceremony took place in Speaker’s House.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Ben Rogers – leading campaigner and author on Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses Parliamentarians in Westminster Hall

James Mawdsley – who suffered imprisonment in Burma for demonstrating against military rule and for the rights of the ethnic minorities

Clad in full academic regalia, several of us from Liverpool John Moores University, including our former Chancellor Cherie Booth, greeted Burma’s democracy leader and Nobel Laureate, and presented her with an Honorary Fellowship. First awarded in absentia, in 2009, while Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest, it was originally received by her sister-in-law, Lucinda Phillips.

We’ve come a long way since Lucinda’s brother, the Worth-educated Catholic academic, Dr.Michael Arris, was refused permission, when dying of cancer,  to travel to Burma to be reunited with his wife. With the former Commons Speaker, Jack Weatherill, I visited the Burmese Ambassador and made a plea that, on compassionate grounds, Dr.Arris be allowed to travel to Burma. Their refusal to grant this request told me all I needed to know about this regime.

After receiving her Liverpool Fellowship Aung San Suu Kyi told me she had many happy memories of visiting Worth Abbey with Michael. On giving her a card from James Mawdsley, the young Catholic who spent 18 months in prison in Burma, after demonstrating against the military regime, she said she had read James’ book, The Heart Must Break, while she was herself under house arrest. James is now in seminary preparing for ordination.

Aung San Suu Kyi is an immensely courageous champion of democracy, human rights and human dignity. The honours she received, ranging from our small ceremony to the presentation of an honorary doctorate at Oxford University, addresses to the London School of Economics and the Sorbonne, and speeches to Parliament, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and the International Labour Organisation, not to mention sharing a stage with Bono in Dublin, turned the woman we have long admired as a hero of conscience into a global stateswoman.

During the three illegal crossings I have made into Burma’s Karen State and during my visits to Burmese refugee camps I would not have believed that Aung San Suu Kyi would one day be free to address both houses of the British Parliament.

Less than a year ago, such scenes would have been inconceivable.

That she felt sufficiently confident to travel abroad for the first time in 24 years is a sign of how far Burma has come since Daw Suu, as she is affectionately known, first met Burma’s new President, Thein Sein, last August.

Thein Sein has unveiled a reform programme which has, so far, resulted in the release of several hundred political prisoners, including the most high-profile dissidents, a relaxation of media censorship, more space for civil society activity and ceasefire agreements with many of the armed ethnic resistance organisations. Most significantly, Daw Suu and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 43 out of 45 parliamentary seats contested in by-elections in April, giving them a foothold in the legislature for the first time.

It is important, however, to remember that despite these glimmers of hope, there is still a very, very long way to go. We must avoid the temptation to get caught up in the euphoria of Daw Suu’s visit, and conclude that the job is done. Far from it. As she herself says, while there is room for cautious optimism, much more is required if a peaceful and democratic future for Burma is to be secured.

The changes so far primarily represent a change in atmosphere and, perhaps, in attitude by the regime, which is still dominated by the military even if they are dressed in civilian clothes. There is not yet a change in system. A quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, and the overwhelming remainder of the seats are held by military-backed parties which won the heavily rigged sham elections in 2010. The NLD has no more than six per cent of the seats.

For there to be real change, there must be serious constitutional reform, gradually reducing the military’s grip on political power. Repressive laws must be amended or repealed. Ceasefires with the ethnic nationalities must be turned into a serious peace process, with a political dialogue that leads to a lasting political solution to decades of civil war. Several hundred political prisoners who remain in jail must be released.

The question of Burma’s ethnic nationalities is fundamental to the country’s future.

Despite some ceasefire agreements with other groups, the Burma Army is continuing a brutal war against the predominantly Christian Kachin people in the north. Thousands have been displaced, villages burned, churches destroyed, women raped and civilians killed.

Further to the west, in Arakan State, state-sponsored sectarian violence between the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingyas has resulted in countless deaths, the destruction of many villages and the displacement of at least 90,000 people. Those who have lost their homes are living without water, food, medicine or shelter.

A grave humanitarian crisis is unfolding, out of sight of the international community because international media, human rights monitors and aid agencies have been denied access to the affected areas.

On Burma’s eastern border, more
than a million people have been driven from their homes and over 3,700 villages have been destroyed since 1996. At least 140,000 refugees live in camps in Thailand. During my visits to the Karen people in these areas I have  heard first-hand their stories of horrific abuse.

In recent years, the international community has cut funding for refugees and internally displaced peoples. Food and other rations have been cut below subsistence levels causing great stress and threatening to undermine health and community structures.

Burma’s refugees along its borders have developed many skills in exile and can play an important part in the reconstruction of their country.  Now is the time to invest in their lives and ensure that basic humanitarian needs are met so that they can return in good health and with safety and dignity when the time comes.

If we are to truly honour Aung San Suu Kyi, we should respond to her appeal for practical help. That includes expertise in democratisation, the rule of law, and funding for health and education inside Burma. It must include an urgent humanitarian response to the emergency in Arakan State, pressure on the regime to stop the persecution of the Rohingyas and recognise their citizenship which has so long been denied, and investment in serious inter-racial and inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation. It must involve a serious effort to end the war on the Kachin people, and encourage a serious peace process with all ethnic nationalities. And we must heed her appeal for help for refugees on the Thai-Burmese border.

Before visiting Europe, she visited the border, and in her Nobel Peace Prize lecture she said: “I met dedicated people who were striving daily to make the lives of the inmates as free from hardship as possible. They spoke of their concern over ‘donor fatigue,’ which could also translate as ‘compassion fatigue.’ ‘Donor fatigue’ expresses itself precisely in the reduction of funding. ‘Compassion fatigue’ expresses itself less obviously in the reduction of concern. One is the consequence of the other. Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue? Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering? I appeal to donors the world over to fulfil the needs of these people who are in search, often it must seem to them a vain search, of refuge.”

All who were present enjoyed the celebration of one of our generation’s greatest heroes, who ranks alongside Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, John Paul II and Mahatma Gandhi. Now, however, we must return to the long, hard, sober work she has given us to do. Aung San Suu Kyi needs our prayers and our practical support more than ever.


Aung San Suu Kyi’s extraordinary and historic visit to Europe stirred the hearts and minds of many, and put her country, Burma, firmly on the map.

Yet the scenes of her addressing distinguished gatherings in Parliament, Oxford University, the Sorbonne and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, and meeting royalty, presidents and prime ministers were in stark contrast with the many years in which the suffering of the people of Burma was ignored or unknown by all but a few individuals who worked hard to keep the flame alive.

It is 24 years since Aung San Suu Kyi left her family in Oxford to nurse her dying mother in Rangoon, and found herself leading a new movement for democracy in Burma which resulted in her spending most of the following two decades under house arrest.

During those two decades, she became the face of Burma’s struggle for freedom, but while her face became known, the suffering of her people was largely forgotten. Thousands of her supporters were jailed, subjected to horrific torture at the hands of one of the world’s most brutal regimes. At the same time, the military escalated offensives against civilians in Burma’s ethnic areas, using rape as a weapon of war, forced labour, the forcible recruitment of child soldiers, the use of human minesweepers and the destruction of villages. Religious minorities, particularly Christians among the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Karenni peoples, and the Muslim Rohingyas, have been subjected to severe persecution. Much of this suffering still continues.

On a few occasions, such as when Buddhist monks took to the streets in 2007 and when Cyclone Nargis wrought death and destruction the following year, Burma briefly hit the headlines – and then disappeared again. Over the years, a few international figures have tried to draw attention to the cause. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Czech President Vaclav Havel commissioned a report which led to Burma being raised at the UN Security Council. British politicians such as my colleague Baroness Cox, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, and the International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, visited Burma’s borders, as I myself have done, and these visits played their part in raising the issue.

Lady Cox and I have both relentlessly raised Burma in debates in the House of Lords. Little by little, all these steps helped keep Burma on the agenda, but it was as a result of the efforts of a relatively small group of people who stood steadfast even when the cause seemed hopeless.

Three individuals stand out as people who have contributed significantly to this cause, and as examples of what one person can do if they hold true to their principles, motivated by faith.

James Mawdsley, a young Catholic now in seminary, was arrested in Burma three times for staging one-man demonstrations for human rights and democracy. He came to me in 1998 to tell me of his plans, and to ask for my support. The first time he went, he was deported from Burma swiftly, but he returned, determined to challenge the regime. He particularly wanted to look them in the eye and ask them why they treat the Burmese people so brutally, and he wanted to see Burma’s prison conditions for himself. He knew the only way he could do either was as a prisoner. After his second arrest, James was sentenced to five years in prison, and released after 99 days. He returned the following year, and was given a 17-year sentence.. He was severely beaten and tortured in jail and spent more than a year in solitary confinement before his release.

Benedict Rogers, who works for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has campaigned tirelessly for Burma for more than twelve years. He has travelled to Burma and all its borders more than 40 times, and risked his life crossing the borders into the conflict-ridden jungles of Burma’s ethnic states many times. Deported by the authorities from Rangoon twice, he is the author of three books on Burma, which are essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the country.

His first book, A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen People (Monarch, 2004), is a powerful account of the military regime’s brutal suppression of one of the largest ethnic nationalities, involving crimes against humanity and war crimes.

His second book, Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant (Silkworm, 2010), puts the spotlight on the dictator who ruled Burma for most of the past twenty years, and unveils his cruel reign of terror.

This month, Rogers has published a new book, Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads (Random House, 2012), which tells the story of Burma’s struggle for freedom, past, present and future. Beginning at Burma’s independence in 1948, the book weaves together the story of the struggle for democracy against military dictatorship, with an account of the plight of Burma’s ethnic nationalities along all of its borders.

With chapters on political prisoners, the 2007 uprising led by Buddhist monks, Cyclone Nargis, the 2010 elections and the current reforms, Rogers has produced a book that is unique in providing a comprehensive and yet accessible analysis of Aung San Suu Kyi’s country. As he said at the launch of the book, in Parliament a week before Aung San Suu Kyi’s address in Westminster Hall, in order to help Burma, it is essential that we understand its past, monitor the present and prepare for the future. No other book fulfils this purpose better than Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads.

The third person who stands out is a young Catholic from Newcastle, Declan Stokle. His family took him to the Thai-Burmese border when he was just eight years old, and he has never looked back. He has spoken in churches, youth groups and schools, and in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain, Declan addressed the Hyde Park vigil. In front of a crowd of 80,000 people, he said: “I am asking you to fight the Burmese junta, not with guns and bullets, but with prayers and actions. I am asking you to fight against this injustice and to be the voice for the voiceless … For me, being a Catholic means standing up for those suffering an injustice – whether on my doorstep or 6000 miles away.”

This theme is echoed by the Archbishop of Rangoon, Charles Bo, who called on the Church in Burma to work for Burma’s freedom, based on justice and reconciliation. Speaking of the ethnic conflict in the country, he said: “There will be peace only when there is reconciliation, and development will be achieved only when there is true and genuine peace.” True freedom, he added, “is to be able to do what is right, honest, sincere, and pure, and not to do simply what one wants to do.”

In an interview during her European tour, Aung San Suu Kyi referred to Blessed John Henry Newman’s hymn, “Lead Kindly Light”. Brave people in Burma, and a few individuals outside Burma, have trod the narrow rugged path in the struggle for freedom and in support of her, in the years of darkness. Now, as Burma begins its fragile, tentative emergence into the light, our prayers, solidarity and practical support are needed more than ever. In the words of that beautiful hymn, “Lead thou me on!”

Burma: War Crimes Proposal

Written Answers

Tuesday, 21st November 2000.

Burma: Resignation of UN Special Rapporteur

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    Whether the resignation of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma, Mr Rajsoomer Lallah, was due to the lack of resources to fulfil his mandate; and whether they will give more funding to support his work. [HL4587]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has confirmed that Judge Lallah, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, resigned on 2 November. We have not seen his letters of resignation to the High Commissioner and to the Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which are confidential.

On the question of funding of such rapporteurs, they are supported by OHCHR. Given the importance the UK attaches to this key UN body, we voluntarily provide them considerable extra funds over and above our UN regular budget contributions.

Burma: War Crimes Proposal

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    In light of the recent decision by the United Nations Security Council to set up a court to try those accused of war crimes in Sierra Leone, whether the Government will urge that similar action is taken with regard to war crimes committed in Burma. [HL4588]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Special Court in Sierra Leone is being set up with the co-operation and support of the Government of Sierra Leone and consensus among Security Council members. Similar circumstances do not apply in the case of Burma.

Burma – Aung San Suu Kyi

David Alton has vigorously campaigned for human rights in Burma. After several appeals in the House of Lords, David successfully helped to release the pro-democracy activist James Mawdsley. James was arrested on 31 August 1999 for distributing anti-Government literature near Burma’s border with Thailand. He was given a 17-year jail sentence, but was released after 14 months in prison.


Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have received any reports on discussions between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and leaders of ethnic national groups within Burma.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords contributing to this debate, especially at such short notice. However, it is important to take this opportunity as the situation in Burma remains very grave.

The State Peace and Development Council is continuing to oppress all who promote democratic reform. The Nobel Laureate democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest, although her eloquent voice is heard. Less often heard are the voices of the ethnic national groups, many of whom are suffering and dying at the hands of Burma’s military regime. It therefore seems appropriate to focus tonight on their plight and their relations with the SPDC.

Four weeks ago, I visited the Karen and Karenni peoples of eastern Burma, with John Bercow, shadow Secretary of State for International Development. Just prior to that, I visited the Chin and Kachin people of north-western Burma. I shall focus on the evidence obtained from those visits. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has also visited the Karen people frequently and recently, and I think he may give some indication of their plight this evening.

There is also abundant evidence from many reputable organisations of the systematic violations of human rights of the national groups. Examples include Shattering Silences from the Karen Women’s Organization in 2004, Licence to Rape, brought out by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and No Safe Place by Refugees International in 2003.

I shall first consider the Chin and Kachin people. Forced labour is widespread in Chin state. Civilians are regularly forced to leave their homes to work as porters for SPDC troops, carrying loads of ammunition or rice weighing as much as 30 kilograms-over 60 pounds. Such an imposition occurs so frequently that many cannot tend their own crops, and flee to neighbouring India to survive. As porters, they have to carry such massive loads from dawn to dusk, with virtually no food, water or rest. Elderly people who fall by the wayside are beaten and may be killed or left to die.

The SPDC denies that it is using forced labour, but we were given copies of official letters, such as one from an SPDC company commander to village leaders in southern Chin state issued on 13 December 2003, demanding 40 porters from the village and 30 from another village nearby to report to the nearby SPDC camp to carry rations for the military. The SPDC maintains 10 battalions in Chin state, amounting to more than 7,000 soldiers. They frequently supplement their inadequate pay and meagre rations by attacking villages, stealing food and maltreating civilians.

As in the rest of Burma, the SPDC does not tolerate any political opposition in Chin state. Involvement in pro-democracy or pro-federalist activities can result in arrest, imprisonment and torture. A former teacher in Chin state described how he was arrested and tortured for holding classes for students in Chin language and culture. He was told that it was forbidden to teach Chin language and culture in schools. He was detained for a week. He was punched and kicked and his captors rolled a stick along his shins until the skin came off.

On the subject of religious persecution, it is estimated that 90 per cent of the Chin people are Christians. However, SPDC forces offer incentives to impoverished villagers to convert from Christianity to Buddhism. Children from Christian families, often between the ages of five and 10, are lured from their homes with the promise of education. They are placed in Buddhist monasteries, where their heads are shaved, they are trained as novice monks and they never see their families again. Crosses have been destroyed and villagers forced to build pagodas in their place, contributing finances and labour. Christians are required to obtain permits for renovation or construction work, but no permission for new church buildings has been given since 1994.

The Chin do not traditionally permit alcohol in their society, but since 1992, in an attempt to disrupt Chin traditions, the SPDC has brought in large quantities of an alcohol known as “OB”, a mix of methylated spirit and industrial spirit. It is highly addictive and extremely toxic. It is sold on streets, especially on Sundays, to young people. Boys and girls as young as 12 years old have been sold the alcohol by the army and police. Addiction leads to crime and possibly death. The medical effects include toxic liver failure and damage to brain cells. Last year in one town of 5,000 people, there were at least 10 deaths as a result of that alcohol consumption.

Since 2000, the SPDC military presence in Kachin state has doubled despite a ceasefire agreement. We were told that,

“forced labour for roads and pagodas occurs on a daily basis”.

Like the Chin, the Kachin are also estimated to be 90 per cent Christian and they suffer policies of oppression and religious persecution similar to those inflicted on the Chin people.

I turn briefly to the Karenni, Karen and Shan people in eastern Burma whom I also visited recently. Despite its rhetoric about implementing a road map to democracy and its ceasefire talks with the Karen leadership, the SPDC continues military offences against civilians, extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, forced labour, use of porters as human minesweepers, forced relocations and the use of child soldiers.

We interviewed many people who had had to flee from their homes and villages because they could not endure the repeated ordeal of being forced to work as porters, undertake other forms of forced labour for SPDC troops or being forced to serve as human minesweepers. Many have had to hide in the jungle as IDPs where they suffer multiple deprivations, lack of food, medical care and shelter. There is a high toll of suffering and death. It is cold at night, but they dare not light fires for fear of detection and subsequent capture by SPDC troops, with torture and the possibility of being killed. Lack of healthcare results in high rates of deaths from avoidable or treatable disease, as in the case of a mother who told me that five of her seven children had died of malaria. I heard of many similar cases.

The SPDC is exploiting its vaunted cease-fire with the Karen to escalate its military offensives against the Karenni people, moving troops to the Karenni border with relatively little resistance through Karen state, because of the ceasefire. From December last year to April this year, the SPDC mounted many severe military offensives in Karenni state and as recently as April 19, SPDC troops crossed into Thailand to attack Karenni targets with RPGs and rifles.

Overall, since 1996, over 2,500 villages in eastern Burma have been destroyed, at least 1 million people have been displaced, 365,000 people have been moved to relocation camps and 268,000 people are living as IDPs trapped in the jungle.

In view of this dire situation, may I ask the Minister a rather large number-indeed, a barrage-of questions? I realise that she will not be able to address them all this evening. However, they are relevant to the Question on the Order Paper as they relate to the context of the discussions and the sincerity of purpose of the SPDC. I hope that she may be able to answer the questions in due course. They also reflect the concerns that were expressed to us by those in the ethnic national groups whom we met. I emphasise that I know it is an unacceptably long list of questions.

First, will Her Majesty’s Government urge the European Union to impose targeted economic sanctions, which would penalise the regime, without having adverse effects on the majority of the population, for example, the prohibition of capital investment, trade in timber and marine products and investment in oil exploration and production?

Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government urge the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo, in view of the fact that the SPDC devotes approximately one half of its national budget to military expenditure, which is used in offensives against its own civilians?

Thirdly, will they urge the Governments of Thailand, India and Bangladesh to desist from repatriating displaced Burmese citizens without adequate security guarantees? Fourthly, will they urge ASEAN nations to consider suspending Burma from ASEAN? The need for such consideration is urgent in view of the Burma’s impending presidency of ASEAN in 2006.

Fifthly, will they urge the SPDC to open all of Burma to international humanitarian and human rights organisations? Sixthly, will they urge the SPDC to adopt a policy of tripartite talks involving the National League for Democracy and the ethnic national groups and to adopt a nationwide ceasefire on principles equally applicable to all parties in the conflict? Seventhly, will they impress upon the SPDC the unacceptability of its current procedures for the national convention, which involve limiting participation to those whom they invite, censoring contributions and denying media access? Next, will they raise with the SPDC the widely held concerns over violations of religious liberty, not only against the Christians, which I have detailed this evening, but also against Muslims in other parts of Burma?

Ninthly, will the Government urge the International Labour Organisation to intervene as a matter of urgency? Tenthly, will they consider initiating proceedings for bringing the SPDC to account for war crimes? Finally, will they consider more sympathetically support by DfID for cross-border humanitarian aid to the many thousands of IDPs in Burma, who are currently denied healthcare, adequate food supplies, shelter and education? Other national governments provide such cross-border assistance and personnel currently providing such cross-border aid adequately fulfil the criteria of accountability, transparency, impartiality and professional effectiveness. Furthermore, these criteria may be better fulfilled by these personnel than by aid organisations operating inside Burma under constraints imposed by the SPDC.

In conclusion, we owe it to any people suffering such atrocities to do everything in our power to help them. However, ethnic national groups such as the Karen, the Karenni, the Chin and the Kachin have a historic relationship with us-fighting alongside our soldiers and sometimes giving their lives for them. Therefore, they hope that we will not forget their loyalty or let them down now in their hour of need. I hope that this debate in your Lordships’ House will reassure those people of our loyalty to them and our commitment now to do everything possible to ensure they achieve the freedom, peace and justice that they desire so passionately and for which they are paying such a high price.

Lord Chan: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for securing this timely debate, particularly as the military rulers of Burma opened a national convention last week, 17 May, to finalise a new constitution for their country. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has a formidable reputation for championing people whose human rights are being violated in many parts of the world, especially in Asia and Africa.

The people of Burma, regardless of politics, ethnicity or religion, have suffered from more than 30 years of internal warfare and military oppression. After decades under a brutal military regime, a widespread movement for democracy culminated in the massacre of thousands of demonstrators throughout the country in 1988. The military dictatorship bowed to intense pressure and held elections in 1990.

May 27 marks the 14th anniversary of the 1990 elections when the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. The military regime, the State Peace and Development Council-SPDC-rejected the 1990 election results and refused to hand over power to the democratically-elected legitimate representatives of the Burmese people. Some of the elected representatives have been in detention or exile ever since.

May 30 marks the first anniversary of the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters in Depayin by 3,000 members of the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA), an organisation affiliated to, and controlled by, the military regime. According to Burma’s government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the military regime indicated that 282 people were killed in that attack. The life of Aung San Suu Kyi was endangered and she was taken into detention again without news of her whereabouts or her welfare for several months. The SPDC continues to hold Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, 1,400 people are detained as political prisoners; they restrict freedom of speech and association and insist that the new constitution guarantees that the military retain a hold on key political roles.

The national convention that opened on 17 May has been described as a sham by several bodies, including human rights organisations, Burmese pro-democracy organisations and most ethnic national groups, as well as most democratic governments around the world. Proceedings of the national convention exclude the participation of the main pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and most ethnic national groups.

The NLD and ethnic national groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Shan State Army-South (SSA-South) and the umbrella United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), have boycotted the national convention because the SPDC rejected calls to release NLD leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin U from detention, open all NLD offices and permit free discussion of the issues being considered in the national convention.

For example, citizens have been warned that if they discuss the constitution outside the confines of the national convention, they could face gaol sentences of between seven and 20 years. The national convention delegates are hand-picked by the SPDC and the whole event is a stage-managed rerun of the failed national convention that collapsed in 1996.

The governing council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union adopted a resolution on 23 April this year, in which it declared that the IPU:

“reaffirms its conviction that the National Convention in its present form is designed to prolong and legitimize military rule against the will of the Burmese people as expressed in the 1990 elections, and that this stands in direct opposition to the principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the ‘will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government'”.

Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and other noble Lords, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to send a strong message to Burma’s military rulers about our grave concerns for ethnic nationals who are being persecuted without respect for their human rights.

With regard to internally displaced people, most of whom are from ethnic national groups, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said about DfID’s humanitarian assistance. That assistance-through the Burmese Border Consortium-goes to 140,000 refugees in camps in Thailand, but no aid at all goes to the internally displaced people trapped inside Burma. There are several indigenous ethnic national organisations that go across borders to distribute humanitarian aid to the internally displaced peoples in the jungles of eastern Burma. These organisations provide a high standard of accountability and transparency to donors, with regular written reports, accounts of use of funds, videos and photographic documentation.

As part of a review of the Government’s Burma policy, I encourage the Minister to consult with ethnic national groups, including backpack health worker teams, to ascertain levels of accountability and reconsider their policy to cross-border aid to internally displaced people. DfID could also train the ethnic national groups to improve accountability. Christian Solidarity Worldwide supports aid to ethnic national groups.

Christian Aid, through its recent report, Burma’s Dirty War, urges the UK and Irish Governments, the EU and other nation states to:

“ensure that humanitarian organisations working with displaced people are provided with the necessary funds to support displaced people inside Burma and to continue to support refugees in Thailand”.

We have heard about religious persecution against the Chin, but Burma is one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom since 1999-according to the US State Department. The persecution of Christians in Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin areas, and Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan State, is widespread.

In Karen State, churches have been burnt down and Christian activities disrupted. A 53-year-old Karen Christian woman told Christian Solidarity Worldwide that in one village on 25 March this year, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army-a government-sponsored militia-ordered villagers to clear an area for the construction of a Buddhist pagoda in front of the village church. Materials were delivered on 27 March. Using a loudspeaker, the Buddhist army ordered Christians to build a pagoda. They threatened to kill the pastor of the church, who had to flee for his life. During Christian worship, the loudspeakers would blare out Buddhist propaganda, urging them to convert to Buddhism. The Buddhist army regularly made the villagers dig trenches and undertake forced labour, carrying heavy goods for them for no payment.

Will Her Majesty’s Government please raise with the SPDC the widely held concerns over violations of religious liberty, including compulsory contributions by non-Buddhists to the construction of pagodas, the closure of Christian churches and the persecution of Muslims?

Finally, I turn to refugees in Thailand. An estimated 140,000 Karen and Karenni live in camps along the Thai-Burmese border. Burma’s pro-democracy activists have been able to live in exile in Thai towns and cities, some claiming asylum through UNHCR.

But Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and its definition of “temporarily displaced people” is extremely narrow. Thailand recognises as refugees only those who are fleeing armed conflict, not those who are fleeing persecution and human rights violations.

In August 2003, Thailand reached an agreement with the Burma military government to deport 400 illegal Burmese nationals a month. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will urge the Thai Government to desist from repatriation of temporarily displaced Burmese civilians, without adequate security guarantees acceptable to those liable to repatriation.

There are more than 200,000 Shan people in Thailand who have no protection whatever and are not provided with shelter, unlike the Karen and Karenni. Thailand has also recently banned NGOs from engaging in activities which might “irritate bilateral relations” with Burma, according to the Bangkok Post of May 16 last week.

This may affect the valuable work of Dr Cynthia Muang, who runs the Mae Tao Clinic near the Burma border in Mae Sot. She has treated almost 200,000 refugees since it was set up in 1989. The clinic’s activities are now being monitored, and,

“the authorities specifically ordered that any undertakings must not harm bilateral ties”.

Such vague wording could apply to any humanitarian or educational work which the SPDC dislikes.

I hope that the Minister will consider expressing concern to the Thai authorities and will urge the government of Thailand to desist from restricting the work of Dr Cynthia Muang.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Cox for initiating this debate on the situation in Burma. It would have been even more helpful if it had taken place after 7 June. The ambassador in Yangon is coming for a briefing and I hope that noble Lords know about that and have been invited. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will put her points and her questions to the ambassador.

I hold no brief for the government; I want to make that completely clear. I have no way of contradicting the points that have been made. However, if the noble Baroness were to go to some very poor parts of India, she might also find that a number of children have died as there is insufficient healthcare available. Every poor country has that problem. In Africa the situation is even worse than in India. We cannot lay everything at the door of the regime-that there is no healthcare or that people are poor or that nothing is available. That cannot entirely be laid at the door of the regime.

We have isolated Burma for some time. Before that, Burma isolated itself from us. In those days we said, “Wouldn’t it be good if they opened the door?” They opened the door and now everyone in this Chamber is saying, “Isolate them. Close the door. Don’t do anything. Impose sanctions”.

Noble Lords say that sanctions should be implemented in such a way that they hurt only the regime. Has anybody, as yet, devised a method by which sanctions hurt the regime but do not affect the people? All that the recent American sanctions have done is to put 70,000 to 90,000 people-figures are not exact-out of work. Burma is a very poor country. There is very little employment. The only employment for any intelligent young man is to go into the armed services. We have hounded out of the country all the companies over which we had any influence. There is no inward investment. There is no large-scale commerce in Burma. There are continual calls for reducing contact.

We have tried do this since the election 14 years ago. What has it got us? Where is it getting us? The regime is getting more entrenched, and feels it has got its back to the wall. It is a military regime: it is not going to collapse or give way just like that. We have two options: the option of dialogue and the option of armed intervention. We have tried armed intervention in another country-not very successfully-and we certainly will not be trying it in Burma. The only way forward is dialogue. It is time to talk, not to close doors on all conversation.

I am very interested to hear that the Burmese were such good allies of ours. Let us not forget that the national hero Bhojo Aung Sang fought against us with the Japanese. He later changed sides, but in the war he was not with us. It is not just the ethnic minorities we have to think about. The Bamar, the largest group, fought with us more than everybody else. The ethnic problems of Burma predate the present regime. They have been going on for a very long time, and it is well to remember that there are faults on both sides.

Other countries have had things done to their ethnic minorities. I remind this House of what China did in Tibet. Did everybody stand here and say “Let’s boycott China”? Why do we not boycott China? China has a very poor human rights record. It has no democracy, and it has treated its ethnic minorities-not to mention Burma-in a most appalling manner. But nobody is talking about boycotting China; we are talking about boycotting Burma. China enjoys preferred nation status with the United States; Burma is a small country with very little influence on anything.

Where does the regime get its funds? Does it get them from taxes? No, it does not. The money comes from gems and the opium trade. Who is it working with? China. It is the opium trade which keeps the generals funded. In fact, we have put them in a situation where there is no other way for them to get money.

It is time for us to stop listening to people like the Burma Campaign. I was at the pro-democracy group meeting in Parliament, and the representative of the Burma Campaign produced a ream of facts and figures on how much money the government get from tourism. Those of your Lordships who have been to Burma, as I have, will realise it is impossible to get facts and figures of any kind in that country. So how did the representative have them on tourism, to the last penny? Very little of the money spent by any tourist in Burma goes to the government. Most of the money goes to the people who provide the artefacts, who make the things, who work in hotels. All the hotels that people stay in are owned by companies which are outside the borders of Burma, by people from surrounding countries such as the Thais. There are hotels which are owned by the generals, but nobody goes to stay in them because the generals cannot manage to run anything. They cannot manage to run any factories, any hotels, or any tourism. The money goes much more to the people.

Taxi-drivers are going out of business because there are no tourists to carry around. Artisans are going out of business because there are no tourists to buy anything. I think it is absolutely appalling for us continually to call for boycott, boycott, boycott. It will not get us anywhere, and it will not help all those people in Burma we are championing today. For various reasons we are all championing the people of Burma. I went there last year, and I came back sad and frustrated because the people are wonderful. They deserve our support, not a wall around them saying, “Please do not talk to anybody”. It is time Her Majesty’s Government rethought their plans for Burma.

I think that Daw Suu Kyi is a most wonderful person, but she was invited to join the first constitution commission, which she refused. There was also talk when I was there last year that she was going to be invited to join this constitution commission. If so, she has obviously refused. She was also asked to become prime minister. When I put that fact to the Minister at the FCO, he said, “But there were strings attached”. Well, they are hardly going to hand over the country to her, are they? Of course there were strings attached. If she had-I am sure the noble Lord will have his chance. I am quite willing to give way-

Lord Alton of Liverpool: No.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I am sure that there were strings attached-nobody is going to hand over what they have to anybody else.

There is never all or nothing. If Daw Suu Kyi wants all, she will have nothing, as has happened for the past 14 years. If she found it unworkable to be involved in the affairs of Burma, she could then have said, “Look, they are doing this and I cannot support them in this manner”. It would have strengthened her position; it would have made all the neighbouring countries more aware of what was happening there. However, she refuses to have any interaction with the Government. We are following the same path of no interaction. But you cannot change things without interaction. You cannot change things without dialogue or involvement.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who has just resumed her seat, will know that I profoundly disagree with much of what she has just said. However, I am nevertheless glad to hear that point of view being expressed in our free Parliament. I hope it is an illustration to those who will read the accounts of this debate in places like Burma that contrary opinions can be held by Members of your Lordship’s House, and that we have the freedom to disagree. Although there will not be time for me to deal in detail with all the arguments that the noble Baroness has just put forward, let me just mention one or two things.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratically elected leader of the Burmese people, and this approach of “she wants to have it all or have nothing,” is not an appropriate way to speak of someone who has been elected as the leader of her nation, who has been excluded from the national convention talks and has been under house arrest. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Chan earlier, she also had an attack on her life just a year ago with 3,000 people attempting to take that life.

The noble Baroness mentioned the hotels in Rangoon. She knows as well as I do those hotels were built on the blood, sweat and tears of forced labour. People who travel to Burma and stay in those hotels should remember that. She also talked of the grinding poverty in the country. If that is so-and I agree with her that it is-then perhaps the Burmese military junta should spend less of their money on weapons, arms and their standing army, and use more of their money on the relief of poverty in their country. I congratulate her noble friend Lady Cox on characteristically-of course, I shall give way.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I have been told that in many countries the hotels are built on the poverty of the people. Burma is not the only country to do that. I accept totally that Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratically elected leader. For 14 years we have been saying that but it has not moved us forward. I am trying to move the matter forward. I have no brief for the junta.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness said that. It is worth reminding the House what the former UN special rapporteur on Burma, Mr Rajsoomer Lallah, QC, said in his report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar:

“The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned about the serious human rights violations that continue to be committed by the armed forces in the ethnic minority areas. The violations include extrajudicial and arbitrary executions (not sparing women and children), rape, torture, inhuman treatment, forced labour and denial of freedom of movement. These violations have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest that they are not simply isolated or the acts of individual misbehaviour by middle- and lower-rank officers but are rather the result of policy at the highest level entailing political and legal responsibility”.

That is not my personal, private view; it is the view of the former UN special rapporteur on Burma.

I say to the noble Baroness and to the House that I, too, have travelled-in my case, illegally-in Burma, but I have also travelled three times to the Burmese/Thai border and have seen first-hand some of the depredations that have occurred there. The Karen did not change sides during the Second World War; they were our allies throughout. Indeed, when I initiated a debate on this subject in your Lordships’ House in 1998, Lady Mountbatten of Burma was good enough to write to me, and I read her letter into the account. She reminded us that her father said that the Karen were our bravest allies and that they had become our forgotten allies.

The Minister will recall that during Question Time on 13 May I mentioned General Bo Mya, who is a holder of the Burma Star and the leader of the Karen National Union. I was able to visit General Bo Mya just a few weeks ago. I asked him-the noble Baroness may be interested in this-whether it was time to try to initiate dialogue and talks with the Burmese military junta. He agreed that it would be worth trying to do that. When I returned to London, I took a letter to the Burmese Embassy. I am glad to say that General Bo Mya was able to travel to Rangoon and to have the first talks there between the KNU and the Government in very many years. I regard that as welcome progress.

However, the non-participation of the KNU, the National League for Democracy, which my noble friend Lord Chan referred to earlier, and other serious and authentic voices inevitably turned the national convention, which was reconvened on 17 May, into a charade. The refusal of the SPDC to release Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin U, which is why they have failed to participate in the talks, is the reason for their non-participation. It is simple: if the SPDC want to make progress, it should release Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to come to the talks; it should release U Tin U and allow him to come to the talks; and it should release the 1,300 political prisoners who are held in Burmese gaols at present.

In a briefing note to your Lordships today-many will have seen the Myanmar News Bulletin-the SPDC attacked the NLD for ending, as it said, three years of active participation. But the SPDC must realise that the exclusion of leaders turns the convention into a charade. If that decision is reversed, progress towards what it calls,

“a peaceful, stable and sustainable democracy”,

becomes possible. Failure to make progress condemns the Karen and the other ethnic minorities to a desperate future.

Last year, with Congressman Joseph Pitts, I took evidence from the Karen about their continued suffering. The story of one child whom I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues. Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy, he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of about 30 other orphans. He was unable even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him-all this by the age of eight.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged 12, now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

Let me share another first-hand account. Aged 45, the mother of five children and pregnant with her sixth, Naw Pi Lay was murdered in June 2002 by the Burmese military. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen state 12 other people were killed, including children aged 12, seven, five and two years old.

Elsewhere in the same district at Htee Tha Blu village further human rights violations were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burned down their church and their homes.

When I visited the region in 1998 I illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen state. I heard and saw evidence of the internally displaced people, estimated now at some 600,000. I heard about and saw the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages. In 2003 I met one of the Free Burma Rangers who had just come out of the Karen state. He had been with a little girl of eight who still had a bullet lodged in her stomach. At great personal risk, he and many others had regularly gone into the Karen state to help people like her, often taking nurses and medics with them.

At Mae Sot, Congressman Pitts and I took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided me with over 100 pages of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed by Burmese military over the past 12 months. One day I hope that that evidence will be placed before an international court and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice for the genocide-I use that word advisedly because I believe that is precisely what has happened in the Karen state-that has been committed.

In evidence on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, the group I helped to found some 20 years ago, I was able to give evidence directly to the United States Congressional Committee on Human Rights. I detailed many of the other atrocities to which there will not be time to refer tonight. The report I have just mentioned lists three mass killings by the SPDC. It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder.

The SPDC routinely plants landmines. I visited a prosthesis centre and I met some of those who had had limbs blown from their bodies. I went to areas where landmines had been laid and the SPDC had then used Karen people as human minesweepers. I saw some of the victims, people whose limbs had been severed from their bodies, whose skin had been peppered with shrapnel, and others left blind.

I also talked to the families of people whose loved ones-men and women-had been seized and used as porters and construction workers and who had never returned. The SPDC kill many of the porters in frontline areas, especially when they are unable to work any longer because of exhaustion or sickness.

The international focus on Burma has long been on the heroic struggle of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, but a settlement with the NLD would represent a solution to only half the conflict. That is why it is so right that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has concentrated our minds on the position of the ethnic minorities.

The seven ethnic groups who have been fighting for self determination or autonomy at some point or another since World War II-the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Arakam, Kachin, Chin and Shan-will still need to have their grievances addressed. In Chiang Mai I met with the authors of a carefully meticulous 120-page report on the Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the Shan state over the past six years.

The report of the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women’s Action Network, Licence to Rape, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred, details how rape has been used as a weapon of war. Sexual violence, especially widespread gang rape, has terrorised and humiliated communities, flaunts the power of the regime, “rewards” troops and demoralises resistance forces.

Women who have been raped have frequently been abandoned or rejected by their husbands. One woman described how she was gang raped when she was seven months pregnant and then gave birth prematurely to her child. Another was told by her husband to leave, because:

“You didn’t control yourself. You are no longer my wife. Leave our home”.

The Burmese military junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp, yet they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

As Human Rights Watch points out in its superb report, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, which I commend to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather:

“by violating the internationally recognised principle of non-refoulement, the Royal Thai Government is placing refugees and undocumented asylum seekers in danger of persecution, arrest, economic sanctions or other reprisals from government authorities, upon return to Burma”,

I hope that when the Minister replies to the many questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, she will be able to say what discussions she has been having with the Royal Thai Government about this and whether she has urged them, as my noble friend Lord Chan said earlier to ratify the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and along with that the 1967 protocol.

All of us want to see an end to the depredations and violence inside Burma. The SPDC must appreciate that the world will remain sceptical about its sincerity to bring such change until it welcomes to the table all who have a stake in the country’s future and we will remain critical until they do so. The alternative is for Burma to go on bleeding to death.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, yet again we are deeply indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for reminding us of the appalling violations of human rights which have occurred in Myanmar and for bringing such an impressive weight of first-hand knowledge to your Lordships, which has been reinforced just now by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who also has been many times to the areas where oppression and violence is at its worst. I pay tribute to both of them for the immense courage and dedication they have brought to this task.

Several noble Lords have mentioned the constitutional convention which has been going on for just over a week in Myanmar and which was billed by the SPDC as a key step in its “road map to democracy”, but it has been rubbished by the UN Secretary-General, the European Union and the US as lacking credibility because the leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, and key ethnic group leaders were excluded. This debate provides an opportunity for our own government to say that we do not recognise the legitimacy of this stage-managed process as the first step on the road to anywhere. The regime may have embarked on what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described as a charade-an elaborate charade, I must say-intended to deceive the outside world, but let it be known that none of us are taken in.

Even the neighbouring states, which are so keen to expand their business with Myanmar, do not believe that the military intend by this move to hand over power to civilian government. That well known Liverpool fan, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said he did not feel comfortable about the process, although he still hoped the national reconciliation could be salvaged. That is very strong language by ASEAN standards. The Malaysian Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said that the SPDC had to be serious about engaging the NLD, and Indonesia said that it had hoped that the implementation of a road map would be all-inclusive with the involvement of all groups with different ethnic and political orientation. ASEAN foreign Ministers had issued a communiqué last June calling for a peaceful transition to democracy and had offered help in drafting the new constitution. But according to the government-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, one of the objectives of the conference is

“for the tatmadaw [military] to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the state”.

General Khin Nyunt, the Prime Minister and designer of the road map, said at a meeting of the “ceasefire groups”, which had demanded amendments to this objective, that the military wanted to play a political role along with other political groups. These ceasefire groups are former rebels from various ethnic minority communities. They did not accept the fiat issued by Lieutenant General Thein Sein, appointed by the military to chair the convention, that it would adopt the same six political objectives and 104 principles that were observed by the previous convention which had been so abruptly terminated by the regime in 1996, on the grounds that to do so would contradict the idea of the Union of Burma built on unity, equality and self-government. The participation by the military, they observed, was not in accordance with democracy, nor was it in keeping with the people’s wishes. This was the view of minority groups which had made peace with the regime.

The UN special rapporteur, Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, noted that the three bodies which had been set up to prepare the reconvening of the national convention did not contain any representatives of the ethnic minorities. It was apparent that for the convention itself-for the photograph I saw-they managed to recruit a few stooges from ethnic minorities, but they were certainly not representative. As the report just published by Amnesty International on the Rohingya shows, the reality for that particular group of about 1 million people is that their very existence is denied because they are deemed not to be members of an ethnic group, they are ineligible for citizenship and thus presumably also for participation in the convention.

At the beginning of the 1990s there were about a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Although most of those people subsequently returned in a repatriation programme sponsored by the UNHCR in 1994 and 1995, we questioned the voluntary nature of the returns at the time. Now there are reports of coercion being used against the 23,000 who remained in the refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. Médecines Sans Frontières, which blew the whistle on a previous occasion, says it had 550 complaints of intimidation of these refugees during 2003 from people who were still afraid to return. Since it would appear that once again the UNHCR is alleged to be providing inadequate protection for these people, and since the UK is a member of Excom, the governing council of UNHCR, we should demand an independent investigation of the situation in those two camps to make sure that the returns are purely voluntary.

It is important that we should be seen to stand up for the rights of this particular minority, which is Muslim, as has been mentioned. It is sometimes alleged that Europe and the US are less interested in the human rights of Muslims, and we must demonstrate that our concerns are just as great for the rights of all oppressed peoples, whatever their religion.

The Karen National Union has been mentioned. It has been engaged in armed struggle against the state in support of its demand for a federal union of nationalities since 1950. It boycotted the convention. The Karen is the largest minority-perhaps 5 million people out of a total population 42.5 million. Therefore, to ignore them is a fatal mistake on the part of the regime. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy won the second largest number of seats in the 1990 Parliament and it too is boycotting the convention, in common with the United Nationalities Alliance.

Those political parties, together with the NLD, represent over 90 per cent of the seats won in the 1990 Parliament. If there was a genuine transition to democracy, there would have to be proper mechanisms of consultation which would involve people on the ground, rather than a closed meeting of 1,000 or so hand-picked delegates, closely supervised by the military and told when to get their hair cut and exactly how they were to behave in the convention. If they had agreed to participate, all those parties together would have been allocated less than 1 per cent of the convention membership.

Burma – Human Rights

Written Answers

Thursday, 27th January 2000.

Burma: Imprisonment of James Mawdsley

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What representations they have made over the past month to the Burmese authorities about the continued imprisonment of James Mawdsley; and what news they have of his ability to receive and send letters.[HL638]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The British Embassy secured a call on the Minister of Home Affairs for Mr David Mawdsley, James’ father, to discuss James’ case on 10 January. He was accompanied by HM Consul.

Only one in five of the letters that James has written has been cleared by the Burmese authorities. The Embassy has spoken to the prison authorities at each of its regular consular visits about this, and has now written formally to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest. It is awaiting a reply.

James has received over 150 letters and cards, which are shown to him by Embassy staff during consular visits. These are returned to him after they have been censored by the Burmese authorities.

Burma: Human Rights

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What action they are taking to ensure that genocide charges are preferred against those members of the Burmese military responsible for the killing of civilians and the continued violation of their human rights.[HL639]

27 Jan 2000 : Column WA206

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We take every opportunity, for example through the EU Common Position, UN resolutions and the ILO, to make clear to the regime that the human rights situation in Burma is deplorable and they must take urgent steps to improve it. At present there is no international criminal tribunal with jurisdiction over Burma. The UK strongly supports the establishment of a permanent international criminal court which will have jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Burma – Genocide Charges

Burma: Genocide Charges

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    Whether they are giving consideration, under Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to the institution of genocide charges against the Burmese military leadership.[HL1332]

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: We are deeply concerned about human rights violations in Burma and are at the forefront of international action to press the military regime to improve the situation. But no international criminal tribunal exists at present which has competence to hear genocide charges against the Burmese military leadership. It is because of the need to end impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide wherever they occur that the UK strongly supports the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court.