U.K. Parliament holds inquiry into Myanmar crisis

(BANGKOK, May 25, 2021)–The Government of the United Kingdom should take immediate action to deprive the Myanmar military junta of natural gas revenues, weapons, and political legitimacy, and ensure accountability for its past and present mass atrocity crimes in the country, Fortify Rights said today in a submission to the U.K. Parliament.

Fortify Rights today submitted evidence to the U.K. Foreign Affairs Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the U.K. government’s response to the crisis in Myanmar following the February 1 coup d’état. The committee will also hear oral evidence from U.N. Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews, Myanmar National Unity Government (NUG) Minister Dr. Sasa, human rights defender Thinzar Shunlei Yi, and others. The committee will then draft a report and make recommendations to the U.K. government.

“The U.K. can and should do more to end the junta’s impunity and ongoing reign of terror,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “The targeted sanctions imposed to date are important but incomplete. The U.K. should join other governments to deprive the junta of its financial lifelines and means of killing, while also redoubling support for human rights and accountability.”

The Fortify Rights submission recommends the U.K. “work with relevant governments and foreign operators of Myanmar gas fields to ensure the junta is unable to access natural gas revenues from its accounts and ensure revenues are effectively held in trust until democracy is restored.” Fortify Rights urged the U.K. to sanction the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise and other specified entities to ensure the country’s natural gas wealth is not controlled by the illegal military junta.

As the penholder at the U.N. Security Council, the U.K. should table a resolution that includes a global arms embargo, targeted sanctions, and a referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC), forcing a veto from China or Russia, if necessary, Fortify Rights said. The U.K. should simultaneously lead efforts beyond the Security Council to build an international coalition to achieve these same aims.

Fortify Rights also called on the U.K. government to reverse recently announced funding cuts to Rohingya refugee response efforts in Bangladesh and to conduct an urgent public review of U.K. aid spending in Myanmar to ensure it does not reach the military junta. The U.K. government should also work with countries receiving Myanmar refugees, including Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia, to ensure refugee protection.

In November 2019, The Gambia opened a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, alleging Myanmar violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention with regard to mass-scale, army-led attacks against Rohingya men, women, and children. In light of the coup, long-persecuted minorities in Myanmar, such as the Rohingya, face increased existential risks,Fortify Rights said.

“The U.K. should formally join the case at the ICJ brought by The Gambia against Myanmar for violations of the Genocide Convention,” Fortify Rights said in its submission.

Since the coup, the junta-controlled military and police reportedly killed more than 800 people and arbitrarily detained more than 4,000 nationwide. In a document seen by Fortify Rights, provided by the Myanmar junta to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ahead of an emergency summit to discuss Myanmar last month, the junta claimed it detained 9,848 persons, released 4,511, and charged 5,070 between February 1 and April 15. The junta has also launched airstrikes against villages in ethnic army-controlled border areas, reportedly killing, injuring, and displacing tens of thousands of civilians. The junta also cut internet access and mobile data nationally, preventing the population from communicating with each other and the outside world.

On April 16, elected legislators in Myanmar and others formed the National Unity Government (NUG) to fulfill the will of the people as expressed through the November 2020 elections. In its submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Fortify Rights recommended the U.K. government recognize and engage the NUG as the legitimate Government of Myanmar.

“The U.K. must acknowledge that the sovereignty of a country resides with the people and their duly elected government, not with those who hold the most guns,” said Matthew Smith. “At the same time, the NUG must promote and protect the human rights of all, including the Rohingya, whom the previous civilian government failed to protect from genocide.”

In its April 29 announcement launching the U.K. inquiry, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, referenced “deeply distressing reports” of the junta’s human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Myanmar, noting that “[e]fforts to curb the violence and brutality through the imposition of sanctions have, unfortunately, fallen short.”

“This urgent inquiry will determine how the Government can improve its response to the crisis, as well as how the U.K. can use its influence in organizations such as the U.N. to help deliver a peaceful resolution for the people of Myanmar,” he said.

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