An influential committee of MPs has criticised the Government for an “unacceptable” failure to respond to the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
The House of Commons International Development Committee said ministers had not acted quickly enough in sending experts to help prevent sexual violence against the Muslim minority group in Myanmar’s Rakhine province.
Despite “substantial evidence” of rape, sexual violence, torture and mutilations being carried out against the Rohingya, the committee said, barely any UK experts have been dispatched to the area.
The UK Government’s 2012 Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), established a group of 73 experts who can be sent to conflict areas around the globe to help prevent sexual violence and bring perpetrators to justice. However, just two of them have been sent to Myanmar and refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The UN estimates that more than 650,000 Rohingya have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since last August, while charities say more than 10,000 people have been killed in the violence.
International observers have accused the Burmese military of carrying out widespread attacks against the civilian Rohingya population. The International Development Committee said rape and sexual violence had been been used continuously in Myanmar as “weapons of war”.
In a damning report, the MPs said: “Given the airplay that the UK’s ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’ has been given by the Government, we are disappointed that it took so long to send any of its specialist resources on sexual violence to advise on dealing with the experiences of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
The committee’s chair, Labour MP Stephen Twigg, added: “The UK has 70 experts ready to deploy to Bangladesh to assist with this situation and yet we haven’t sent them. This flies in the face of the UK’s commitment to deter gender-based violence, championed by William Hague in 2012.
“It is unacceptable that it is taking the UK so long to send any specialist resources on sexual violence to advise on the experiences of the Rohingya in Rakhine State. Previous reports from our committee (2006 and 2014) reported the high incidence of rape in conflicts in Burma. The UK Government should have expected this and prepared accordingly. As an international community, we should consider what message this conveys to other regimes.”
The committee also expressed “grave concern” over plans to repatriate 100,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar without adequate guarantees about their safety.
The MPs said: “We are concerned by the emphasis on returning refugees to the Rakhine by the Bangladesh and Burmese government when the situation still seems fraught and very far from safe, dignified and durable.”
“It is unacceptable to propose that the Rohingya be returned to live in Burmese-run internment camps; inevitably to be faced with further privations, potential abuses and uncertain access for outside agencies; and likely only to be displaced once again if there is further violence.”
UK Government ministers have previously called on the Burmese authorities to conduct a “thorough and transparent” investigation into allegations of violence against Rohingya civilians. However, previous such reports have cleared the military of wrongdoing – a conclusion the UK Government called “simply not credible”.
The International Development Committee criticised the UK’s approach, saying: “We seriously doubt the efficacy of urging the Burmese authorities to investigate the conduct of its own forces personnel in a “thorough and transparent manner”.
“The Burmese internal inquiry has already cleared its forces of any wrongdoing in a way which the UK Government describes as “simply not credible”. We urge the UK Government to seek other paths to a resolution of this issue.”
It added: “The UK Government should reflect on why so much evidence of discrimination, marginalisation and abuse of the Rohingya people within Rakhine State in Burma was seemingly ignored for so long, rather than translated into effective action by the international community.
“We recommend that the UK, and like-minded states, should reflect on how to establish a more proactive approach to atrocity awareness and prevention.”
Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK Director, said: “MPs are right to express concern about the proposed returns of Rohingya to Myanmar (Burma), we share their alarm.
”Amnesty has declared what's happening in Myanmar to be apartheid - both the civilian and military authorities in Myanmar need to dismantle that, before any of its victims can be expected to decide whether to return.
“If Rohingya people do choose to go back to Rakhine State where they faced such appalling discrimination and violence, then Amnesty and other monitors must be allowed access.”
A Government spokesperson said “The UK has led the international response to the Rohingya crisis and this report recognises our swift action. We are providing lifesaving UK aid to victims of ethnic cleansing, calling on the Burmese military to stop the violence and pushing the international community to step up their support.
“We have been clear in our condemnation of the terrible atrocities that have occurred in Rakhine State; we have now raised Burma five times at the UN Security Council to keep the international community’s attention focused on this crisis and we continue to engage with the Burmese authorities at the most senior levels to urge the inhumane violence to end.
“As the International Development Secretary has said today and when she visited Bangladesh in November, the conditions for a safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya people to Burma are a long way from being met. We continue to push for returns to be in line with UN principles and for international oversight on both sides of the border.”
(c) 2018 The Independent