The UK must support efforts to refer Myanmar’s regime to the international criminal court over evidence of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people and human rights abuses, according to MPs on the international development select committee.
They also called for a complete review of UK aid to Myanmar, which was worth £100m in 2018, saying the sums were agreed at the time it appeared the country was on a transition to democracy.
The committee concludes that no such transition, or any genuine peace process, is under way, adding they were barred from visiting the country to visit UK aid projects when visas were denied by Myanmar authorities at the highest level at the last minute.
The idea of collective action against the Myanmar regime has been stalled at the UN due to opposition from China, a veto-wielding member of the security council.
But the committee says the UK and allies should still seek to gather “support for the UN security council to refer Burma to the international criminal court and to apply targeted financial sanctions at all identifiable key figures”. Myanmar is not a signatory to the ICC.
It welcomes a move by the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to seek a ruling whether she can investigate the deportation of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.
After ambassadors from the UN security council visited Myanmar last month, they called for the safe return of refugees, but also recognised Myanmar’s sovereignty. More than 680,000 Rohingha have been forced to flee Rakhine state since the violence started in August 2017.
There has been a tension within the UK’s Foreign Office over the degree to which Britain should give Myanmar’s state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, further leeway due to her need to appease a military junta that still runs foreign policy and defence.
But the British parliamentary committee says the former Nobel prize winner and political prisoner has become part of the problem. It accuses her of a “longstanding approach of denying human rights abuses have taken place and seeking to obstruct moves towards justice and accountability [and] failing to counter hate speech through positive speech and messages of tolerance and restraint”.
The MPs point out that, since the last British aid programme was prepared, “there has been ethnic cleansing, the breaking of ceasefires, a closing of civil society space, including restrictions on media freedoms and the persecution of journalists, and a reduction in religious freedom”.
Following this bleak assessment, the committee said the UK’s government’s language and actions towards Myanmar needed to change dramatically, including by imposing targeted sanctions.
The committee says: “[Myanmar] must realise that there is a bill to pay for the actions of its army and the inaction its government and society. The dramatic changes to the situation in Burma must drive dramatic change in UK policy.”
The UK government continues to promote trade links and provide technical assistance to the Myanmar government. The only substantive change in its policy, according to the committee, has been an end to funding for the Myanmar armed forces.
The committee’s chair, Stephen Twigg, said: “British taxpayers must be assured that their money is not being used to subsidise a government accused of crimes against humanity. If there is nothing to report, we recommend suspending these programmes.”
The committee, which has twice before reported on the plight of refugees expelled from Rakhine state, say they are now deeply concerned by the threat to the Rohingya’s fraught and fragile foothold in Bangladesh as the monsoon season approaches.
The UK has provided £70m in aid to help address the impact of the monsoon at Cox’s Bazaar, the main refugee camp, including help to ensure the inhabitants have access to safe drinking water.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.
Twigg said:“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.”