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Lords question government on Burma Army attacks

13 Jun 2018

Lord Alton of Liverpool tabled a debate in the House of Lords on 12 June, drawing attention to reports of the Burma Army attacking Christians in Burma’s Kachin State and asking about the UK government’s response, including “what consideration they have given to the case for referring the government of Burma to the International Criminal Court?”

According to the United Nations (UN), renewed fighting between the Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army has led to the displacement of at least 4,000 civilians since early April. In a statement on 9 June, to mark the seventh anniversary of the resumption of conflict in Kachin State, Global Kachin Communities claimed as many as 7,000 have been displaced in the past two months.

In his response, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), expressed the government’s “deep concern” at the situation in Kachin State since April:

 “We have called upon the Burmese military and all parties to cease hostilities and allow the humanitarian access that is required to be provided to displaced people. Turning to Rakhine, the Burmese authorities must show that the commission of inquiry can deliver accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities. If not, the Government will consider supporting international routes to justice.”

The Lord Bishop of St Albans noted that “the reported atrocities against the Rohingya have been described as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide”, and asked  “whether the human rights violations in Kachin and Shan states meet the criteria of at least crimes against humanity and war crimes?”

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon agreed that ethnic cleansing has taken place against the Rohingya, adding that “the situation in Kachin is of deep concern, but because of the lack of access for international agencies it is difficult to determine the issue of genocide more specifically. As regards judicial opinion, we will be guided appropriately, but we have certainly seen ethnic cleansing take place in Rakhine state—there is no better term for it—as well as in Kachin. What we are seeing is very troubling, but a full assessment cannot be made because of the lack of access.”

He later said that “there is a degree of hope, in that for the first time the United Nations is now gaining access to parts of Burma. We will continue to impress on both the civilian and military authorities for that access to be applicable universally across the country.”

On 26 April, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland, an experienced diplomat, as his new Special Envoy on Myanmar.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader, said: “We welcome this short debate in the House of Lords to highlight the appalling plight of the Kachin people. Seven years after the Burma Army broke a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the humanitarian consequences of this conflict are very grave and the human rights violations continue to be perpetrated with impunity. The world has, understandably, focused on the terrible suffering of the Rohingyas, but it is essential that the Kachin and others in northern Burma are not forgotten, and that urgent steps are taken to end this conflict, bring about a genuine, meaningful and inclusive peace process through political dialogue, ensure unrestricted access for humanitarian aid to reach those displaced by war, and address impunity.”

Notes to Editors:

      1.    The full text of the House of Lords debate can be found here

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