New Forest East

FOREIGN AFFAIRS – BURMA - 29 October 2007

FOREIGN AFFAIRS – BURMA - 29 October 2007

[Mr John Bercow: ... In light of the present situation, I have to call to mind all the experiences of the past 45 years and ask the House: what is new? The human rights abuses are not new, because as my right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (William Hague), the Shadow Foreign Secretary, noted, they have been taking place for 45 years under the auspices of the barbaric and illegitimate Government.  ...]

Dr Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend's powerful description of that behaviour is, as he says, not a new description of that regime. It is not new, either, in the history of totalitarian Governments of both left and right. Is it not strange that many of the countries that he listed as helping the Burmese dictatorship claim to have broken with, or at least moved away from, totalitarian dictatorship themselves? Cannot more be done to try to show those countries that if they are to live up to the claims that they make for their own political evolution, they must put pressure on the Burmese Government?

[Mr Bercow: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that underlines the importance of a much wider and more sophisticated concept of national interest. Many countries say that they do not want to interfere. We know perfectly well that, under international law, it cannot possibly be justified for a state to hid behind the cloak of sovereignty by practising egregious human rights abuses, so the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is well established in international law.]

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Dr Lewis: One organisation that has not been mentioned so far is the International Criminal Court. Given that the court was set up specifically to deal with war crimes and that it exists on a standing basis, which means that a special organisation would not need to be established, is it not possible to indict before the International Criminal Court the perpetrators of the atrocities of which we have heard so much?

[Mr Nigel Evans: It is certain that those people must be brought to justice, and there is a mechanism by which that can happen. I hope that the Minister has listened to my hon. Friend and will see whether anything can be done to advance that cause, which would send the right message to the people of Burma in their struggle for freedom.]

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[Mr Evans: ... I shall finish by quoting from the letter sent by the '88 student generation to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, on October 16; it casts light on the situation. It starts by saying:

“As you know, we are on the run and may be arrested any day. Even under this situation, we are still committed to work for national reconciliation in Burma by peaceful means. This may be the last letter we send to you before our own arrest and torture and we send it with the utmost urgency.” ...

Daniel Kawczynski: ... The Chinese Government must be approached differently, although very strongly, from the other ASEAN countries. We talked about Burma's borders with India, Malaysia and Thailand. Last week, I spoke to the Malaysian Foreign Minister in preparation for this debate. He expressed a willingness to try to put pressure on the Burmese Government but was frustrated by the lack of action by other ASEAN partners in working constructively together on this. We should put pressure on the Chinese but at the same time work on the other ASEAN countries. I want to make a brief criticism of the aid situation.]

Dr Lewis: Before my hon. Friend moves on to that new area, does he agree that the letter quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Nigel Evans) was reminiscent of nothing so much as the despairing broadcasts of the patriots in the Hungarian uprising in 1956? Does he also agree that the scenes of oppression that were witnessed were reminiscent, as regards China, of nothing so much as Tiananmen square? If we carry those parallels further, both regimes, having suppressed revolt, went on to loosen up the degree of repression, with beneficial results. Does he think that that might yet be reflected in Burma, providing that we continue to make enough of an outcry?

[Mr Kawczynski: Yes, I completely agree. What is happening in Burma is tantamount to what happened in Budapest in '56 and what happened in other eastern European countries. We must keep up the pressure on these dictators.]

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Dr Lewis: With luck, the Minister will tell me that I am anticipating a point that she is about to make. So far, she has not addressed the question of whether the Government accept that crimes against humanity have been committed, and whether they intend to do anything to follow up the suggestion from the Opposition that the International Criminal Court should be involved.

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): ... The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) asked about the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Undoubtedly, large-scale human rights abuses are taking place in Burma. However, it is not yet clear whether those violations constitute genocide or crimes against humanity as understood by international law. There is therefore no current case before the ICJ, but we are in close contact with our international partners and the UN on this, and we will keep it under review.]