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PV 22/11/2012 - 17.2
CRE 22/11/2012 - 17.2

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PV 22/11/2012 - 18.2

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Thursday, 22 November 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17.2. Situation in Burma, particularly the continuing violence in Rakhine State
Video of the speeches

  President. − The next item is the situation in Burma, particularly the continuing violence in Rakhine State(1).


  Marc Tarabella, author. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I must begin by stressing the progress Burma has made recently. Indeed, even if the human rights situation is yet to reach the stage where Burma is no longer on the agenda for Parliament’s Thursday afternoon debates, I am gratified to see that this country is taking steps to improve the situation.

For example, the release of tens of political prisoners marks a step in the right direction. I am aware that this release coincided with Barack Obama’s historic visit to Burma, but the important thing is that it took place at all and, above all, that the other prisoners should be released as quickly as possible.

At the same time, in the west of the country, violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority continues to wreak devastation. It is crucial that measures are taken to stop the violence towards the Rohingya minority, to enable the country to continue its transition to democracy. The Burmese Government must end discriminatory practices against the Rohingya, who must finally be granted Burmese citizenship.


  Cristian Dan Preda, author. (RO) Mr President, it may seem strange that we are having a second urgent debate on Burma in two months, during which the Burmese Government’s efforts to restore civil liberties have been recognised by the international community. The purpose of today’s resolution is not to deny these efforts, but to highlight the need for further action.

Action is needed to redress the dramatic situation in the Rakhine region. Declaring a state of emergency is an important step, but the government needs to stop the attacks on the Rohingya community. That would require a change in the 1982 Law on Citizenship and an analysis of the causes that led to this violence. Appropriate measures, such as access to education, work permits and freedom of movement, are also required.

The European Union must help to stabilise the situation by providing aid and helping Burma, now considered a former dictatorship, to move towards democracy, which is being threatened by the Rakhine situation.

We hope that the Burmese authorities will accept these recommendations as a way to support the country’s transition towards democracy.


  Marie-Christine Vergiat, author. (FR) Mr President, this is the third motion for a resolution on Burma since the beginning of the year. The previous resolution was adopted in September and also concerned the violence in Rakhine State and the plight of the Rohingya, who are persecuted by all Burma’s political forces, including the friends of Aung San Suu Kyi.

It is true that the situation of the Rohingya community has not improved; in fact, it has deteriorated further. Our motion for a resolution takes an even firmer stance with regard to the Burmese authorities than that adopted in September, and I welcome that. The Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left has therefore been involved in drafting this motion for a resolution and will support it, but I cannot help wondering about the relevance of the subjects of our urgent motions for a resolution and, above all, about their usefulness. It is our duty and responsibility to be more balanced in our choice of urgent subjects of debate and not to worry about whether it will annoy this or that state. Our resolutions must condemn human rights violations, irrespective of the strategic, political and economic interests of the European Union and its Member States.

It would have been more relevant, in my opinion, to talk about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kivu provinces or the rule of law in Turkey as regards the Kurdish question, at a time when hundreds of Kurds are on a hunger strike that almost cost several lives and when Mr Erdogan is calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty.


  Adam Bielan, author. (PL) As we debate the situation in Burma, we must not overlook the problems of the Chin minority. It is estimated that this group consists of 1.5 million people who live along the border with India, and are almost all of them are Christian. For decades now, the Chin people have been the victims of systematic persecution on the grounds of religion. These citizens are being arrested, and sentenced to death without any charges having been brought against them. Women are being raped by soldiers, places of worship are being damaged, and the clergy harassed. These criminal acts merit condemnation. They are fuelled by a desire to force the population to renounce Christianity in favour of Buddhism. What is most dramatic about the situation is that this population group is suffering ongoing famine, which is the main result of the Burmese authorities’ treatment of this minority. Seventy per cent of the Chin population is living beneath the poverty threshold, with no chance of receiving any aid. That is why I wish to appeal from this Chamber to the Burmese authorities, calling on them to cease their persecution of this group and implement a humanitarian policy. First and foremost, aid organisations must be granted freedom to act. In addition, no limitations should be placed on the activities of UN agencies or on free access to information.

Of course this all applies equally to the Rohingya, who live in the neighbouring state of Arakan, and to other persecuted minorities. Our financial support must take account of the fact that a more lenient policy towards minorities is called for. Thank you.


  Carl Schlyter, author. (SV) Mr President, there has definitely been a certain amount of positive development in Burma, but it has been overshadowed by the fact that, since June, more than 100 000 refugees have been forced to flee owing to what should be called a policy of ethnic cleansing, since these refugees really live in terrible conditions.

Those of you who are sitting in the visitors’ gallery now, imagine if all of your children were undernourished. Imagine if this entire Chamber and all of Strasbourg were filled with undernourished people who were fleeing. It is a completely preposterous development that is taking place in Burma right now.

The fact that governments such as the Swedish Government are going to Burma under these conditions in order to discuss arms deals and other trade links does not tally with our view on human rights and weapons exports.

I want the EU to take overall responsibility, ensure that the existing embargo is maintained, and impose requirements on having access to these regions so that we can offer assistance.

If the Burmese Government itself will not, cannot or instead absolutely refuses to help these people, it is our duty to ensure that we help them. If so, we must also, with the help of the trade agreements and other agreements that we have with Burma, provide the conditions required for people on the ground to be able to obtain help.

This development is catastrophic, and I am rather astonished that these very people call themselves Buddhists. Their religion speaks of non-violence at the same time as they spread violence at home.

This is an absurdity. They should look in the mirror, read their religious texts once more and realise that this is a total crime against their own values, not only European values.


  Kristiina Ojuland, author. Mr President, I have the warmest sentiments towards the Buddhist philosophy and that is precisely why I find it difficult to understand how people who believe in compassion, peace and harmony continue persecuting the Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine State in Burma.

Referring to the debate and resolution of 13 September 2012, I would like to reiterate and insist that the Burmese authorities secure stability in the region, end unequal treatment of the Rohingyas and make efforts for reconciliation. Of course it is not only up to the government, but first and foremost up to the Buddhist community in Rakhine State. I would like to reiterate the words of a great Hindu statesman Mahatma Gandhi, who said: ‘An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind’. I call on the Burmese authorities to end discriminatory practices against Rohingya and to carry out a full and independent investigation into the distressing events that have taken place in Rakhine State.

I also welcome the offer of EUR 78 million by President Barroso of the European Commission during his visit to the Burmese capital Nay Pyi Taw. The amount is foreseen for development aid, which cannot be unconditional. Straightforward reforms must be carried out and visible progress must be made in Burma.


  Seán Kelly, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Mr President, I am pleased that we are discussing Burma today, because on the one hand it gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the progress which as been made there in going from basically a military, authoritarian state towards democracy. While everything is not perfect, I think the visit there by President Obama was in itself an indication that in the broader sense Burma’s progress has been recognised worldwide. That is important.

On the other hand, there are difficulties, of course, particularly in Rakhine State. The Rohingyas need to be given citizenship, because you cannot have a stateless group within a state. You will never get solutions if that situation continues. They also need outside help. I come from Ireland, where we had a similar situation in Northern Ireland: it was seen as Catholic versus Protestant. The role played by the European Union and the United States was vital. We can play the same role in Burma.


  Corina Creţu, on behalf of the S&D Group. (RO) Mr President, this is the second time in two months that we have discussed the situation of Muslims in the Burmese region of Rohingya. Burma’s democratic efforts and economic and geostrategic potential have been confirmed by the recent visit of President Obama.

Nevertheless, the continuing inter-religious atrocities in Rakhine State force us once again to call on the Burmese authorities to seek a peaceful solution to the ongoing problems in the region, which is beset by bloody violence generated by poverty and intolerance. Since June, over 100 000 people have been forced to leave their homes and the situation in the refugee camps is getting worse. There is an increasing number of deaths and disappearances in the Bay of Bengal because refugees trying to reach Malaysia in unsuitable boats have been refused entry to Bangladesh.

The Burmese authorities must act urgently to stop the humanitarian crisis resulting in confrontations between Muslims and Buddhists, and help to start a reconciliation process based on mutual tolerance. We also demand the release of all prisoners of conscience, as a first step in the partial amnesty.


  Marek Henryk Migalski, on behalf of the ECR Group. (PL) Mr President, the Burmese regime is certainly a very brutal one and those who referred to the situation of Christians in Burma are right in what they said about the Buddhists’ actions. Nonetheless, I feel that what the Burmese authorities are doing is applying the principle of ‘divide and rule’. This is typical of certain regimes and autocracies. Religious differences are exploited largely for political gain. Mr Kelly drew a comparison with Northern Ireland, and I think that he would agree that religious circumstances are very often exploited for political ends. This means that we should not focus on the ideological differences between Buddhism and Christianity because the two faiths actually have much in common. Instead, we should try to understand the nature of that regime, which involves fostering divisions, and setting groups against each other on the pretext of religious differences. The European Union has a positive role to play in that respect.


  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. (SK) Mr President, the long-term persistent discrimination against the Rohingya minority in an ethnic state in Burma has escalated into violence between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Rohingyas have become victims of ethnic unrest, being expelled from the country for establishing local government bodies. It is therefore essential rapidly to communicate with the government of Burma, telling it to take effective steps to prevent a humanitarian crisis in this region. First of all, it is necessary to provide immediate humanitarian aid to the refugee camps, in order to alleviate the suffering of the refugees. At the same time, we must strongly request the Burmese government to recognise the Rohingya population as full citizens of their country with all rights of citizenship, freedom of movement and the right to education and work. In return for the financial and material assistance provided by the European Union to Burma, we must demand that the Burmese executive take rapid and effective steps for an immediate improvement in the living conditions and situation of the Rohingya community.


  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE). – Mr President, I strongly condemn the renewed outbreaks of violence that took place recently in western Burma. The conflict between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims is inflicting a lot of pain on innocent people. Even worse is the escalation of the conflict that took place in October.

Recent violent attacks have left 89 Burmese dead and 35 000 displaced, and destroyed over 5 000 houses and other buildings. The conflict has so far left 110 000 Burmese without a home. They need food and shelter. I call on the Commission to help these people, to deliver the EUR 8 billion of financial assistance and to help Rakhine State.

I welcome the Burmese Government’s decision to launch an investigation into the source of this violence, but the result is what matters. The perpetrators must be brought to justice and all parties should explore solutions to end the tension between the Buddhist and Muslim populations and to put an end to this crisis.


  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D). (PL) Mr President, on 21 October a further wave of violence swept through the Burmese state of Arakan and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Almost 90 victims were recorded in less than a week. The precise causes of the current conflict are unknown, but it is known, however, that the disturbances have resulted in 28 000 persons being displaced, bringing the total number of persons displaced as a result of this conflict and the one in June to over 100 000. It should be added that these people are living in refugee camps in dreadful conditions. The humanitarian aid currently available is insufficient, and food, water and medical care are in short supply.

The scale of violence reflects the tensions present over a number of years between the Buddhist community to which the majority of the country’s population belong, and the minority Muslim population. In the light of the current conflict and the earlier bloody one in June of this year, the Burmese authorities must immediately halt the spread of violence across the country. In addition, the Burmese Government should implement a more effective policy of integration of all minorities at grass-roots level, leading to the cessation of conflicts of an ethnic and religious nature. Enabling members of the Muslim minority to gain Burmese citizenship could be a first important step in that direction.


Catch-the-eye procedure


  Mitro Repo (S&D). (FI) Mr President, the violence between Burma’s Buddhist majority and Rohingya minority has continued. The tacit approval by the Burmese Government of this discrimination is unforgivable. The situation in Rakhine State in Burma is already becoming alarming. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, and this has led to tens of thousands of people being forced from their homes.

It is right for the European External Action Service to pay attention to the violence between Burma’s ethnic groups, even though the roots of the conflict are hundreds of years old. Everyone living in Burma should have rights and freedoms, regardless of their faith or background. Burma should comply with all of the obligations of international law in respect of all those who live in the country.


  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, in September we expressed our deep concern about the situation of Rohingya Muslims, which has become more and more difficult in Myanmar. According to the harsher assessments, it may soon be classed as genocide. In the background, of course, is the problem that although the Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar for centuries, the military junta stripped them of their nationality in 1982 and they do not even belong to the approximately 135 ethnic minorities in the country that are recognised by law.

Even though we have recently had encouraging and even good news about Myanmar, it is quite clear that the international community must not be blinded. The situation in Rakhine is a great cause for concern in terms of this entire process of reform, and the country might even end up being subjugated by an authoritarian government again. We must remember that these processes of change are, above all, slow and still at a very early stage. The international community must therefore continue to pay attention to this issue.


(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)


  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to update you on the security situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Since violence first erupted in May this year, the government has drastically increased the presence of the security forces. The army’s presence has calmed the situation, preventing further killings and arson attacks. In contrast, local police and border guards are widely regarded as biased. Overall the government’s handling of the situation has been, by and large, adequate. The official death toll amounts to 89 people. Several thousand homes have been torched and 110 000 people have been displaced, the vast majority of them being Muslims. Most internally displaced population camps are crowded, ill-equipped and lacking shelter and basic sanitation. To alleviate the suffering of the displaced communities, our Humanitarian Office, ECHO, allocated an additional EUR 1 million this week to provide food, in addition to the EUR 4 million of humanitarian aid announced by President Barroso during his visit to the country on 3 November 2012.

The situation remains highly volatile. The latest reports we have indicate that the government is making serious efforts to provide security and to identify and prosecute the instigators. Arrests in recent days signal a more assertive stance by the government towards parts of the Rakhine population who orchestrated the violent outbreaks. This needs to be acknowledged, in particular as it runs against the majority populist Buddhist mainstream.

In high-level contacts – including President Barroso – the EU has continuously reminded the government of its responsibility to provide humanitarian access and to ensure the safety of all residents. Furthermore, we have dispatched expert missions to the affected areas in order to assess the situation at first hand and to look for opportunities for the EU to help develop both short- and long-term interventions. These are designed to stabilise the situation and pave the way for a peaceful co-existence of the two communities.

The government-appointed Rakhine Investigation Commission will submit an interim report with 40 recommendations to the President this week. The Commission was formed in August with a broad mandate. It will cover the causes of the violence, frame a response strategy, and suggest ways to promote the reconciliation of both communities. The Commission was put together with a view to representing the ethnic diversity of the country. We regret that so far no Rohingya representatives have been included, although the country’s Muslim Community is represented. Nevertheless, we note that the Commission has consulted a wide range of stakeholders.

The long-term solution to the situation of the Rohingya, including the question of citizenship, lies within Myanmar.


  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debate.


(1)See Minutes.

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