26 September 2017

Fiona Bruce MP, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, has welcomed action by the UK Government to suspend its training programmes with the Burmese Army until violence against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority is halted, and has written to the Foreign Secretary urging stronger action by the United Kingdom in response to the appalling human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding on the Burma-Bangladesh border.

At least 400,000 civilians have fled across the border from Burma to Bangladesh since the Burma Army began a major offensive against the Rohingya civilians almost three weeks ago. Thousands have been killed, and there have been allegations of horrific human rights violations, including beheadings and the killing of children. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the crisis as “catastrophic” and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeijd Ra’ad Al Hussein has said that it is “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The crisis was sparked by attacks on Burmese police posts by a small militant armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which itself is a response to decades of severe persecution and dehumanization by the Burmese authorities against the Rohingya people.

Writing as Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Fiona Bruce MP has welcomed the United Kingdom’s initiation of two UN Security Council discussions and the UK’s humanitarian response to the crisis. However, she calls on the Foreign Secretary to go further.

“We warmly welcome the United Kingdom’s leadership at the UN Security Council in response to this appalling tragedy unfolding,” Fiona Bruce writes. “However, we believe the crisis is so serious that it is time now to work for a UN Security Council resolution and a new UN General Assembly resolution, imposing specific targeted measures to put pressure on the Commander-in-Chief of the Burma Army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to stop his soldiers from shooting and killing men, women and children and burning villages.  It is Min Aung Hlaing who is the only person in Burma with the power to stop this.  We condemn the attacks by ARSA, but the Burmese Army’s response has been grossly disproportionate and has resulted in a humanitarian tragedy unprecedented in Burma’s recent history. This is the worst human rights crisis faced by Burma in recent years, and it is a country that has faced too many very serious human rights crises for decades. We welcome the UK’s suspension this week of its own training programme with the Burmese Army, seek an extension of the current European Union arms embargo on Burma to apply to the sale of all equipment to the military in Burma and call on the UK Government to work for a similar global arms embargo and work for a reimposition of a visa ban on members of the military in Burma. For as long as the military in Burma is engaged in crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, the United Kingdom should send a strong signal to the military condemning its crimes. It should build on its initiatives at the UN Security Council by seeking a resolution. The tragedy unfolding on the Burma-Bangladesh border has all the hallmarks of Rwanda, Srebrenica, Kosovo and Darfur. It is time to act to prevent another ethnic cleansing becoming another genocide.”

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission has followed human rights in Burma since the Commission’s establishment in 2005. Indeed, its very first human rights inquiry was on Burma, and ethnic Shan activist Charm Tong spoke at the Commission’s first public event with the then Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague in April 2006, and met the then Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron. In 2010 the Commission held a further hearing on Burma.

“Our Commission has a long-standing and deeply-felt interest in Burma,” adds Fiona Bruce. “I personally travelled to Burma with the Speaker of the House of Commons in 2014 and several of our members have had a personal involvement with the country. In particular, our Vice-Chair Benedict Rogers has travelled to Burma over fifty times over many years to help promote democracy and defend human rights for all the peoples of Burma, and written authoritatively about this. We have celebrated Burma’s progress in recent years, but now we have a responsibility to speak out and the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians and prevent further suffering.”