Religious Freedom in Burma: June 19th 2013
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi has responded to three Written Questions tabled by Crossbench Peer and Vice-Chair of the APPG on International Religious Freedom, Lord Alton, on the subject of Rohingya Muslims.
In the first question, Lord Alton asked whether the Foreign Office have made representations to the government of Burma following reports of the reintroduction of a two-child policy for Rohingya Muslims; and whether the Foreign Office intend to ensure that British organisations do not provide support for the implementation of such policies in Burma.
In her reply, the Minister stated that the Foreign Office continues to raise its concerns about the reported reintroduction of a two child policy with the Burmese Government. The Minister stated that trade partners in Burma should be “under no illusion” that their support for the implementation of such a policy would be “completely unacceptable” to the British Government.
The Minister welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement that any enforcement of a two-child policy would be discriminatory and not in line with the upholding of human rights in Burma, and concluded by mentioning a number of reports which claimed that the Burmese Government did not announce the Rohingya two-child policy and that they would investigate such claims.
In the second question, Lord Alton asked whether the Foreign Office intend to take steps to protect religious minorities, in particular Rohingya Muslims, from the reintroduction of a two-child policy pertaining specifically to those minorities in Burma; and what assessment the Foreign Office have made of such a policy.
In her reply, the Minister stated that according to a Rakhine State government spokesperson, a district order enforcing a two-child limit for families in Northern Rakhine State “was re-imposed in mid-May.” After mentioning that de facto restrictions on the rights of Rohingya to marry and give birth have been in place since the 1990s or earlier, the Minister said a specific regulation was first introduced in Northern Rakhine State in 2005, when an additional statement was appended to local marriage certificates prohibiting couples from having more than two children.
The Minister went on to state the UK Government is “opposed to any measures which contravene the human rights of any community in Burma”, adding that the Foreign Office is currently voicing its concerns with Burmese government ministers in Naypyidaw, citing the government’s human rights obligations, and the apparent contradiction between the Rakhine State government’s approach and the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission report, which was endorsed by President Thein Sein.
The final question asked what assessment the Foreign Office have made of the impact on Rohingya women of the reported reintroduction in Burma of a two-child policy which would apply to the Rohingya Muslim minority.
In her reply the Minister stated that, while the Government has made no formal assessment of the impact on Rohingya women of the two-child policy, since at least 2005 children in Northern Rakhine State born to unmarried parents, or to families with more than two children, have been considered ‘illegal’. The Minister mentioned credible research by nongovernmental organisations, which has shown that the restrictions on marriage and childbirth in Northern Rakhine have led to serious health consequences, highlighting how pregnant women have resorted to unsafe, illegal and self-induced abortions.
In a recent statement, Baroness Warsi welcomed the conclusions on Burma adopted at the latest UN Human Rights Council, calling on the Government in Naypyitaw to ensure that people belonging to all religious minorities in the country are protected.
After stating that the return of all refugees must be “safe and voluntary and consistent with internationally recognised humanitarian principles,” the Minister encouraged the Burmese Government to uphold their commitment to open an Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For the Uyghurs, Genocide is a word which dares not speak its name. For the sake of women like Rahima Mahmut, Gulzira Auelkhan, Sayragul Sauytbay, and Ruqiye Perhat – whose heart-breaking, shocking, stories are recorded here – it’s time that the crime of genocide was given definition in the UK. On January 19th Parliament can use its voice and speak that name – insisting on justice for victims of Genocide and refusing to make tawdry trade deals with those responsible for the crime above all crimes.
For the Uyghurs Genocide is a word which dares...