Anne Main: Crimes against humanity in Myanmar must be examined and people held accountable

28th November 2017

Speaking in a debate on the Rohingya crisis, Anne Main criticised the Pope for failing to use the word “Rohingya” and calls for the world to put the Myanmar Government and military on notice that any crimes against humanity will be examined and people will be held accountable with trials.

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). I, too, visited the camps, and like her I made that promise. It still feels as raw today as when I went there.

I will make a few points in the short time I have. I agree with the Minister that this is not only a Muslim problem; we were told of Hindus who had been expelled because they are Rohingya. The very fact that the Pope may have been advised—I would not wish to give His Holiness advice—not to use the word “Rohingya” is very wrong. All of us should be free to describe the Rohingya for who they are and what they are. Apparently, a delegation from Burma came over a year or so back at the invitation of the Bangladeshi Government. They went into the camps and said they did not see any Rohingya, only Bangladeshis. That is the problem.

If the Myanmar Government deny people who they are, sending them back there will make no difference. There is a cultural problem here—tacit agreement with the process that has happened. The local people in Myanmar are “not unhappy” that these people have been driven out in the most horrific manner. That needs to be addressed. Otherwise, sending the Rohingya back will only send them back into a scenario in which they are permanently under threat, despised and robbed of their rights. I put it very clearly on the record that we must not accept any pressure to not use the terminology of their race. They are Rohingya and should be respected as such, and the fundamental flaw in this is that Myanmar does not recognise that.

I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said about permits, and I, too, am concerned that valuable groups such as Islamic Relief UK and Restless Beings want to work in the camps but cannot get access. If this is a legitimate aid process, as much as help as possible should be accepted.

I am also concerned about the estimated 285,000 people outside the camps. The camps are one part of the problem, but there are also huge numbers of people lost in the system. I respect the hon. Member for Tooting saying that this is genocide. I am not sure whether it meets the criteria for that—it looked that way to me—but it is certainly at least ethnic cleansing, and we must not pussyfoot around calling it what it is.

When we talk only about numbers of people and moving them around, we are denying those people their identity and their human rights. Therefore, to me, if nothing else comes out of the debate, we must at least put Myanmar, its Government and its military on notice that the world has noted what they have done. Simply allowing people back in—Bangladesh is under pressure and I see why it wants that repatriation—does not forgive the crime that has happened. That crime needs to be examined and taken to the highest level, and if it is a crime against humanity, which it looks like to me, people should be held accountable and there should be trials. I would welcome that and be proud if my own Government led the calls for it to happen.

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Later interventions in the same debate

On our visit, we saw people with nothing, as I am sure other hon. Members did. There is no way they would have the documentation necessary. Even if there were some sort of rules about documentation, the majority of people will not fulfil those criteria.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Stateless people will not have rights or protections, which is a serious concern. All the refugees we spoke to in the camps said they wanted to go back to Rakhine province, but only when it was safe and their security was guaranteed. Before we talk about, endorse, sanction or support any deals between the Myanmar Government and Bangladesh, it is important that security and protection is guaranteed and that we see the humanitarian charities and NGOs in there to protect those people’s rights.

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Does the hon. Lady share my concern that His Holiness the Pope made a speech in Burma today, yet still could not bring himself to mention the word “Rohingya”? It is not just our Government but the whole world that needs to do more.

Although the hon. Lady and I are in different parties, I agree with her words and sentiments, because language is very important in these situations. 

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