Britain must stop collaborating with genocidal Myanmar regime

#HumanRights

Both before and after last year's genocide, British diplomats refused to push for robust action against the Myanmar government

Peter Oborne's picture
Wednesday 29 August 2018 10:51 UTC
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Today's United Nations report on Myanmar finds that commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlain and his generals committed the ultimate crime: They oversaw a genocide.

The UN report demands that they be investigated, preferably at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, for the indiscriminate killing and mass rape of the Rohingya people.

Though this report is devastating for Myanmar's army, it also shames the international community, and Britain in particular.

Warning signs

This genocide, like those in Rwanda and Srebrenica, would never have happened if the rest of the world had done its duty.

All the warning signs were there: pogroms, hateful language, the herding of Rohingya into camps, the suppression of their civic identity and attempts at birth control. All were effectively ignored.

Britain bears the heaviest responsibility because of our role as penholder for Myanmar at the United Nations Security Council. Both before and after last year's genocide, British diplomats refused to push for robust action against the Myanmar government.

The new foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, should take urgent action to dump the morally bankrupt Myanmar policy he inherited from his predecessor, Boris Johnson

Instead, the UK opted to engage in quiet, back-door diplomacy with Aung San Suu Kyi. Ministers were wary of alienating her, and consistently willing to make serious moral compromises.

The best demonstration of this has been British backing of some of Myanmar's pathetically inadequate domestic investigations of the three big bouts of violence against the Rohingya - in 2012, 2016 and last year.

After the pogroms in 2012, the UK hosted a Burmese official who visited a "conference hosted by the Institute of Business and Human Rights and focused on encouraging responsible investment in Burma". This was followed by a state visit by then President Thein Sein in 2013.

The same sucker punch

In December 2012 in parliament, MP Alan Duncan made the claim - which would quickly be proven to be hogwash - that the "Burmese government have founded an independent commission to investigate the situation in Rakhine state". The resulting report was pitiful and self-exonerating.

The UK government fell for the same sucker punch in the aftermath of the 2016 violence by supporting another domestic investigation. MP Alok Sharma, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, said in the Commons that Myanmar had "committed to an independent investigation" into the violence. 



Members of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar present their final report on 27 August 2018 in Geneva (AFP)

Of course, the probe turned out to be a sham, but it was obvious at the time that no one with their eyes open could possibly characterise the inquiry as "independent", given that it was led by an ex-general and rights groups had already slammed it as hopeless.

This policy is still in evidence today. Foreign Office Minister Mark Field issued a superficially impressive response to the UN fact-finding mission's report, stating that "there must not be impunity" and that the report "warrants attention of both UN Human Rights Council and Security Council".

Sham investigation

This sounds very strong indeed, but actually isn't, as Field continues to support Myanmar's sham promise of a domestic investigation. Mark Farmaner, the director of the Burma Campaign UK, puts it well: "This is astonishing. The official Foreign Office response to the UN Fact Finding Mission report is to say it will do the exact opposite of what they called for, and keep backing domestic investigations instead of ICC referral."

The new foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, should take urgent action to dump the morally bankrupt Myanmar policy he inherited from his predecessor, Boris Johnson.

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The world must end its soft approach on Burma

That means, first of all, that Britain should now use the word genocide -  or at least acknowledge the credibility of the mounting evidence that points towards genocide.

Britain must also cease supporting (and effectively lending legitimacy to) yet another government-commissioned inquiry, which will merely give Myanmar officials yet more time to destroy evidence in Rakhine state, while acting like they are doing something. 

Britain must at once call on Myanmar to allow the UN's human rights agency access to the sites of violence in northern Rakhine state. We must also demand that Myanmar cooperate with the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who has been barred from the country.

The role of the ICC

Britain must condemn the fact that the UN is denied, in its own words, "effective access" to northern Rakhine state to help the remaining Rohingya population who haven't fled and are living in dire humanitarian conditions.

Britain should support targeted sanctions of senior military figures responsible for the genocide, and encourage other states to do so.

Above all, Britain should endorse referral to the ICC. The fact that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office leads the Myanmar file at the Security Council means that we have a superb opportunity to partner with the US and others to heed the UN's call to refer Myanmar to the ICC.  

It can now be said with confidence that the crimes committed in Myanmar were every bit as hideous as those committed in the Srebrenica massacre 23 years ago. It is time to react accordingly

Bear in mind the UN report finds that four out of the five categories of the act of genocide have been identified. In the former Yugoslavia, only three of the categories were fulfilled.  

It can now be said with confidence that the crimes committed in Myanmar were every bit as hideous as those committed in the Srebrenica massacre 23 years ago. It is time to react accordingly, and for Britain to cease our collaboration with the genocidal Myanmar regime.

- Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

- Emanuel Stoakes is a journalist and researcher who specialises in human rights and conflict. He has produced work for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Independent, The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, The New Statesman and Vice, among many others.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Rohingya refugees attend a protest march on the anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp, on 25 August 2018 (AFP)