HL Deb 09 July 2003 vol 651 cc273-5

3.14 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

What information they have about the health and safety of Aung San Suu Kyi following her imprisonment at Insein prison, and what measures they are taking to secure her release.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the UK was reassured that the UN Secretary-General special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, was able to see Aung San Suu Kyi on 10th June and confirm that she was well. However, Aung San Suu Kyi has not been seen by the outside world since. We remain deeply concerned for her welfare and the welfare of the NLD members detained on and since 30th May. We are actively discussing with our EU and international partners what further measures we will take to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD members are released as soon as possible.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, I strongly welcome the statement the Minister has just made. I ask her to reiterate the condemnation that many on all sides of your Lordships' House feel for the arbitrary actions of the Burmese military and, indeed, our admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi as she enters the second month of her imprisonment.

Can the Minister tell us more about the initiative that has been taken with our European Union partners and whether we are raising this matter inside the United Nations Security Council?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. While on my feet, I also acknowledge the role that he and other noble Lords in this House have played in lobbying so strongly for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and for an end to the violation of human rights against so many of the Burmese people.

We are in discussion with our EU partners. We are stepping up lobbying also with our ASEAN partners and with China and India. We will of course support any initiative that comes from the European Union. We have raised our concerns over Burma with our Security Council partners at the UN. Whether the matter is to be referred to the Security Council is under discussion. We strongly hope that it will be.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, has any response yet been received from British American Tobacco to the request made by Mike O'Brien that it follows the example of Premier Oil and withdraws from Burma?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the chairman of British American Tobacco agreed to consider the request by my honourable friend Mike O'Brien that it withdraws its investment from Burma. He will give a formal reply soon.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, while the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other recently arrested NLD members is rightly uppermost in our minds, does the noble Baroness agree that there are many other opposition members and indeed ethnic nationals who are currently unjustly imprisoned in Burma in horrific conditions? Will the noble Baroness give an indication whether, when representations are made by Her Majesty's Government on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, the case of all those unjustly imprisoned will also be raised? That is what Aung San Suu Kyi herself would wish with her valiant commitment to democracy.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, yes. Only a few days ago, the noble Baroness raised the whole problem of Burma and tabled a useful debate in the House. We were very clear with our European Union partners that we wanted to strengthen the European Union's common position on Burma. We ensured that references to violence and human rights violations in ethnic minority areas were included in that new strengthened EU common position.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness's statement that we are consulting members of the Security Council about what measures we could take at that level. She will remember that I made that suggestion on 24th June. In reference to Mr Razali Ismail's visit to Aung San Suu Kyi, is it not correct that he told the press conference that she displayed no visible signs of ill health, but that he did not have the opportunity to question her in any detail, either about her own well-being or about the appalling incident at the end of May when 70 to 100 of her entourage were killed?

Did the ICRC representatives, who visited Insein prison yesterday, have a chance to see Aung San Suu Kyi, or did they at least ascertain whether she was still present or that perhaps she had been moved, as rumour will have it?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we have reliable reports that Aung San Suu Kyi has been removed from Insein prison, but the regime has refused to state where exactly she is. The noble Lord is right about her welfare. We have extreme concerns about that. Therefore, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State as well as my honourable friend Mike O'Brien have made repeated requests to speak to her directly and have been refused by the Burmese authorities.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, did the noble Baroness notice last week a senior American official saying that the United States was losing patience with the Burma regime and that it was considering much tougher economic sanctions? Has she noticed that the Japanese Government are also taking a much firmer line, both individually and within ASEAN? Is that also the Government's policy?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we very much welcome the strong reaction from the United States. It proposes to impose an import ban. We have also acknowledged the Japanese reaction, which we very much welcome because we believe that one of the strongest motivations for the Burmese to change their policy will be pressure from the neighbours in their region. As for our position, we continue to work with our European Union partners within the limits of the EU's common position.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, the representations made by the United States and Japan are very good news indeed. Can the noble Baroness tell us a little more about what response has been received from India and China?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Baroness about the detail, but we welcome responses from those countries.

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