Bishop of St Albans presses Government on Burma and Rohingya citizenship

St Albans 2On the 12th January 2017 Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead held a debate about the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim people in Burma. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith,  pressed the Government to encourage the Burmese authorities to move towards full citizenship and rights for the Rohingya community, and to allow access for independent monitors to northern Rakhine.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the plight of the Rohingya Muslims is indeed desperate and the emergence in 2016 of an organised militant insurgency has only deepened the severity of that crisis. But such an escalation is hardly surprising. As the excellent report into the situation in Rakhine state by Crisis Group puts it:
“People pushed to desperation and anger, with no hope for the future, are more likely to embrace extremist responses, however counterproductive”.

The systematic persecution of the Rohingya people by the Burmese Government, most obviously manifested in the denial of citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, has created a fertile recruiting ground for militants. It is a simple human truth that people who have no say in their future and no means to participate in the democratic life of their country are liable to resort to extremism in order to achieve those means.

The violence of the recent Government crackdown, with reports of mass killings, rape and the destruction of villages by the Burmese military, will only further stoke anger in the Muslim community at both a domestic and an international level and increase the threat of a spiralling cycle of radicalisation.Yet the Rohingya community is not, for the most part, a radicalised community. According to Crisis Group, community elders and religious leaders have repeatedly eschewed violence as harmful to their ultimate goal of democratic participation in the life of their country. While that remains the case, there is still hope that progress can be made towards reconciliation, but the longer progress remains stalled, the greater the danger that Rakhine will plunge into ethnic cleansing and civil war. The situation is delicate.
The fledgling civilian government of Burma still sits in a perilous position. The path to community reconciliation and full citizenship for the Rohingya people will inevitably be tempered by the very real threat that Burma could slide back into military rule.However, progress towards those goals remains a real possibility. There are parliamentarians in Burma who are committed to defending religious freedom, and every effort should be made to equip and support them. The Rakhine commission, set up in August at the request of Aung San Suu Kyi and chaired by Kofi Annan, is also a positive development and it is vital that the international community support its work.
Of course, little can be achieved if the violence in Rakhine escalates further. If reconciliation is to remain a real possibility, the military must cease its heavy-handed response to recent violence. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government are making that message clear to the Burmese authorities.

It would be helpful to know what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to push for independent monitors to be granted access to northern Rakhine and what can be done to encourage the Burmese Government to move towards full citizenship and rights for the Rohingya community in the medium term. Without cause for hope that the situation can and will improve through peaceful, democratic means, more angry young people will turn to extremism and militancy and the cycle of violence will only deepen.

Baroness Goldie (Con, Minister) [extract]: …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans reflected with great sensitivity and wisdom on the delicate political balance in Burma. That is at the heart of how the international community responds. This is a nascent democracy, and though others may have their individual views on how that democracy is functioning, in my opinion it is immeasurably better than the regime that has ruled Burma for decades. We have to be very careful and recognise that under international law Burma is an independent state. The international community wants to support, provide help where it can or, indeed, challenge when events seem to be taking place that raise huge concerns, but at the same time we must be respectful of the status of that embryonic and very young democracy. Nevertheless, Her Majesty’s Government are pressing for openness and respect for human rights.

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