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Mon. October 02, 2023
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IA-Forum Interview: John Bercow MP
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IA Forum: You have taken a strong interest in Burma. Why do you think the issue is so important? John Bercow MP: The issue of Burma is crucial because some of the most savage and bestial abuses of human rights to be found anywhere in the world take place against the people of Burma. There is an illegitimate military dictatorship there which abuses and subjugates its own people. That regime needs to be brought to heal; we need to move towards a democratic system with respect for the rule of law and fair treatment for the people of Burma. We need in the process to secure the release of the political prisoners who’ve been incarcerated, not because they’ve committed any crime, but because they opposed the military dictatorship. That is why the issue is important, and that’s why I spend quite a lot of time in Parliament talking about it and trying to take other Members on board, to increase pressure for change. IA Forum: What do you think the UK government has done to address the problem and what would you like to see it do differently? Bercow: The government has made some effort to raise the issue of Burma within the EU government and within the United Nations Security Council. However, EU sanctions against Burma are pitifully weak and the UN has so far not been prepared to act decisively to put the government of Burma on the spot and force it to change its behaviour. So the consequence is that people are still suffering very badly, and without an end in sight. My view is that the British government should redouble and intensify its efforts to strengthen the EU sanctions ands to secure a UN Security Council resolution which instructs Burma to stop the murder, the rape, the torture, the forced labor, the incarceration of dissidents, and to start the process of moving to a new democracy in Burma. Ministers in the British government need to raise the issue with ministers in other countries, not just within the EU but also within the UN and particularly on the Security Council. We need to intensify discussion with and put pressure in particular on China to change their mind about dealing with Burma because the behaviour of its government is totally unacceptable and must change. IA Forum: That leads me to my next question. Countries like China and Russia seem determined to deal with the Burmese leadership. Do you think the world will be able to put effective pressure on Burma without the support of China or Russia? Bercow: I think it’s going to be much more difficult without China and Russia. What we’ve got to do is to persuade China and Russia that the long term security of the region requires the international community to bring about change in Burma. The truth is that there is now some regional instability as a result of the behaviour of the government. There’s the significant problem of disease, there’s a roaring drugs trade, and there is a proliferation of arms. And governments which are effectively dictatorships are dangerous people with whom to do business. If we do not tame the government of Burma and bring about a dramatic improvement in its behaviour, the long term suffering of the people of Burma will intensify and the danger exists that insecurity will spread throughout the region. My view is that China and Russia ought to recognize that they have the responsibility to exert pressure on the government of Burma and they should try to work with those ASEAN nations which are increasingly embarrassed by the behaviour of this barbaric regime. IA Forum: How successful do you think the Burma campaigns targeted at specific companies, for example Total Oil, have been? Bercow: So far it’s quite obvious they have not been successful. Total Oil is investing on a very big scale. The fact that we have not brought about the withdrawal of Total is not a reason not to continue to try and do so. There has been some disinvestment from Burma and I’m delighted some big name companies have withdrawn, notably British American Tobacco, for example. But there is still more to be done and Total needs to be told in no uncertain terms that its insistence in propping up one of the most sadistic military dictatorships to be found anywhere in the world is not only unethical but highly irresponsible. The fact that they spend some modest sum of money on humanitarian or education projects is neither here nor there by comparison with the huge investment that is propping up the regime and allowing it to spend more and more money on weaponry and instruments of torture whilst spending very little on the health and education of its own people. Thus far we have not been successful in bringing about a change. I would like to see the British government persuade the government of France to exert pressure on Total, and if it did manage to exert pressure we might be able to bring about a change. But we just have to keep going. We keep having to work at it; we keep having to make the argument, explaining the damage that is being done by that government which is being contributed to by irresponsible investment. IA Forum: Do you think there are any grounds for optimism that things might change in the near future? Bercow: I think there are some grounds for optimism. And I would suggest two. First, as I said I think the other ASEAN countries are becoming increasingly embarrassed by the behaviour of the government of Burma. The fact that Burma was denied a presidency of ASEAN is I think a minor victory for those of us who are campaigning against that government. ASEAN, I think, recognized that it would be completely injurious and appalling if that regime were allowed to assume the presidency. So that was a victory, albeit a miniscule and modest one. It was a sign of the growing awareness amongst the ASEAN nations that they themselves suffer by association with Burma. Burma is something of an embarrassment to them. The second sign is that at least we are getting the issue discussed in the United Nations. There was an initial discussion and there was subsequently a discussion of a non-binding resolution. I very much regret the fact that China and Russia vetoed the resolution, but the fact that there was a discussion, that it was on the agenda, that the arguments could be aired, was an improvement. There hadn’t previously been any agenda item in the UN Security Council on Burma for decades, if at all. So there has been a modicum of improvement in that respect. I think those of us who want to see action against the government of Burma need to regroup to try to work out with our own government how best pressure can be exerted and persuasion used to get other countries on board so that it will be possible in the future to get a resolution which requires a change in conduct on the part of the Burmese regime. And I think we need to use every opportunity that we can to highlight what an appalling regime it is. We are approaching the 62nd birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, and I think she’s recognized around the world as an outstanding prisoner of conscience and a quite remarkable heroine. The fact that she has been so appallingly treated must not be forgotten. We have to remind the world at every stage, using the outlets provided by the media about what’s been taking place in the country and how important it is to achieve change. So, in the medium to long term, I remain an optimist that in the end people will want freedom with the rule of law and the pleasure and privilege of living in a just society and they will be determined to bring that about. You can abuse people, you can violate their human rights, but you can’t do so forever. Eventually people will say enough is enough; and with concerted multi-lateral action to assist democrats in Burma, change will be achieved. So the days of the regime are numbered. These people have no moral basis for being in government at all and in due course they are going to get their just desserts. John Bercow is Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Buckingham in the UK

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