October 29, 2014

Burma Campaign UK today accused Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire of sticking his head in the sand, trying not to see or talk about human rights problems in Burma which don’t fit the positive picture he is trying to present. The accusation comes following his ducking questions in the British Parliament yesterday about the growing number of political prisoners in Burma.

During Foreign Office questions in Parliament yesterday, Sir Bob Russell MP asked Hugo Swire how many additional political prisoners have been arrested this year. Rather than admit that the number of political prisoners has more than doubled, with hundreds more having been arrested and awaiting trial, Hugo Swire bizarrely started talking about the release of 3,000 petty criminals.

The British Foreign Office, which has dropped human rights as its priority in Burma and instead now focusses on promoting trade, has been avoiding publicly talking about the fact that the number of political prisoners in Burma has more than doubled so far this year, and now stands at around 70.

Hugo Swire also avoided answering a question in Parliament about whether or not he shared concerns expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma about the backtracking of reforms.

“Hugo Swire is either trying to avoid talking about the number of political prisoners because it is embarrassing for his government, which has been praising the regime, or because he doesn’t want to embarrass the Burmese government, as he is trying to win business deals with them,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Either way, it is a shameful and unprincipled way to behave.”

Hugo Swire has previously tried to dismiss ongoing human rights violations in Burma, which includes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya minority, as ‘bumps in the road’.

Hugo Swire does not only try to avoid talking about human rights problems in Burma, he also tries to avoid hearing about them. He is the first minister with responsibility for Burma not to meet with Burma Campaign UK.

“If Hugo Swire thinks that by sticking his head in the sand about the growing number of human rights violations in Burma they will somehow go away, he is sadly mistaken,” said Mark Farmaner.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

The full text of the debate in Parliament is available here.

Burma Campaign UK has published a detailed briefing paper on how the British government has downplayed human rights abuses on Burma. It is available here.

Burma Campaign UK has published a briefing paper on how the British government has been avoiding answering embarrassing questions in Parliament about its Burma policy. The briefing paper is available here.

An article on Hugo Swire dismissing ethnic cleansing as a ‘bump in the road’ is available here.

An article detailing how the British government is trying to avoid talking about the growing number of political prisoners in Burma is available here.


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