Human rights organisations continue to raise concerns about the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar, particularly the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in the country. An estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims live in Burma, predominantly in the Rakhine State near Burma's western border with Bangladesh. The Rohingya "are disliked by many, if not most, Burmese who consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh", face persecution from the Buddhist majority and are "denied citizenship and freedom of movement".
Reports of alleged human rights violations in Rakhine State are incredibly concerning and the appalling violence there must end. According to the UN, more than 410,000 people have fled Rakhine State for Bangladesh and I am aware of comments made recently by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights describing this situation as an example of “ethnic cleansing”.
As well as a complete end to all further violence and the burning of villages, it is vital that those people who have lost their homes and been displaced urgently receive the food, water and medicine they so desperately need. The Burmese authorities must allow immediate and full humanitarian access and support for all of the people and communities that have been affected.
Once the cessation of violence and humanitarian access has been achieved, the work of building a lasting peace must begin. This should build on the recommendations of the recently published report by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and include a recognition of the rights and freedoms of the Rohingya people, as well as an end to restrictions on their movement. The UK and the rest of the international community must stand ready to support that process, but it firstly relies on the civilian and military authorities in Burma living up to their responsibilities within a modern democratic government. As a long-standing, critical friend, I believe we should expect and demand nothing less.
It is therefore vital that the UK Government strongly raise concerns with the Burmese authorities and set clear and unambiguous red lines when it comes to respecting the human rights of all the country’s people, including the Rohingya. I believe the Government should start by immediately suspending military aid to the Burmese authorities until they can demonstrate they are both able and willing to protect these rights.