Violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar

I have recently been contacted by a number of constituents expressing grave concerns about the most recent attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation in Rakhine State and humanitarian camps.

I share these concerns and condemn the violence and displacement of Rohingya Muslims and wrote to the Foreign Secretary last week, calling for immediate UK action.

For a number of years there has been the systematic rape, murder, burning and beheading of people from the Rohingya community. The recent violence is a climax to the brutality that the Burmese have been carrying out against these people.

The vast majority of Rohingyas want nothing but peace, but it is they who have suffered most as a result of the violence committed, supposedly in their name, by a small number of armed militants. Because of so-called collective punishment for such attacks, more than 100,000 innocent Rohingya men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes in a campaign that UN officials say may amount to ethnic cleansing.

Many displaced Rohingyas have ended up in squalid camps, and, according to UN figures published yesterday, some 35,000 have fled across the border to Bangladesh in just 24 hours. There, and in Myanmar itself, these families are in desperate need of our aid.

I am deeply disappointed at the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian Government, to speak out more forcefully against human rights abuses in Rakhine. It is, though, General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, who of course bears ultimate responsibility for the army’s atrocities. As Shadow Foreign Minister Liz McInnes said in the Commons yesterday, “It is he who ultimately must be held to account.”

The UK Government must do everything they can to help to bring an end to this senseless violence. Ministers must set clear and unambiguous red lines for Myanmar’s authorities—civilian and military—when it comes to respecting human rights. If those red lines are crossed, there should be consequences. For instance, in the light of recent events, it seems wholly inappropriate that in the past three years this Government have sold weapons worth more than half a million pounds to the Government of Myanmar.

Refugees who have made it to Bangladesh during the past week have told horrific stories of massacres in villages that they say were raided and burned by soldiers. Along miles of the border news outlets report thick black smoke can be seen rising from small settlements surrounded by green fields with reports that tell of soldiers who have carried out massacres of Rohingya gathering their bodies up and burning them.

Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians. The UN halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds.

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar has stated that deliveries were suspended “because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance”, suggesting authorities were not providing permission to operate.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it also had to suspend distributions to other parts of the state, leaving a quarter of a million people without regular food access.

There is an urgent need to ensure that displaced people and other civilians affected by the violence are protected and are given safe access to humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, and health services.

I will continue to work with colleagues in the Shadow Foreign Office team to press the Government to take urgent action, both bilaterally and through international organisations, to bring an end to the violence and ensure vital humanitarian access.

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