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Major changes in UK Burma policy required following Rohingya crisis

22 May 2018

No more ‘business as usual’, concludes International Development Committee.

Crimes against the Rohingya

In the face of atrocity crimes, ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and continuing attacks against other ethnic groups, the UK can no longer continue with ‘business as usual’ in its interactions with Burma.

In a Report published today, MPs on the International Development Committee say that the actions and language of the UK towards Burma need to change in response to a regime which has carried out deliberate, state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing with devastating consequences for the Rohingya, Bangladesh and the international community.

The Committee calls on the UK and its allies to gather support on referring Burma to the International Criminal Court and to apply targeted financial sanctions at key figures. There needs to be a realisation and acknowledgement by the government of Burma that there are consequences for such human rights violations.

Chair's comments

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Burma must realise that there is a bill to pay for the actions of the Burmese army and the inaction of Burmese government and society. The dramatic changes to the situation in Burma must drive dramatic change in UK policy.

The UK should re-frame its aid and development programmes in Burma. DFID’s current priorities were drawn up in a time of great optimism, when Aung San Suu Kyi, a freed political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, had become de facto President, but the Government now needs to recognise she is becoming part of the problem.

British taxpayers must be assured that their money is not being used to subsidise a government accused of crimes against humanity. We are calling on DFID to outline all of the UK’s financial commitments in Burma, including those through multilaterals, and review them.

DFID, the UK Parliament and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy now need to take a long, hard look at whether any substantive progress has been made through their parliamentary strengthening programmes to equip the Burmese legislature to do more to hold the government to account. Our evidence suggests this is going backwards - not forwards. If there is nothing to report, we recommend suspending these programmes.”

Bangladesh

Despite the challenges faced by Bangladesh, the Committee commends the authorities and local communities who offered sanctuary to the Rohingya people. Bangladesh is already one of the world’s most densely populated countries, and is home to 21 million people living precariously in extreme poverty, vulnerable to natural disaster.

Evidence to the inquiry demonstrated that DFID’s work continues to make valuable contributions to the successful development of Bangladesh. The Report points to challenges ahead, and says that the stifling of political debate and restrictions and intimidation of media and civil society organisations should stop. Also, the inequalities suffered by Bangladeshi women and girls (in terms of abuse and sexual violence, child marriage, access to continuing education and unequal reward for work) need tackling urgently.

Stephen Twigg MP, added:

“On our visit to Bangladesh, we were struck by the energy and confidence of the people we met, the projects we saw and the places we visited. The strategic partnership between DFID and BRAC, Bangladesh’s own development facility and the biggest in the world, should be studied with a view to sharing the success and lessons from their partnership.

The progress attained so far should not be at risk from the responsibilities incurred by Bangladesh’s open-hearted welcome to the Rohingya. This is not a challenge which Bangladesh should face alone. The international community should step up to provide a long-term plan for countries who carry out a global ‘public good’ by hosting refugees, migrants or displaced persons.”

Further information

Image: Tommy Trenchard Caritas CAFOD September 2017 Rohingya crisis  

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