Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
A year ago today, the Myanmar military took its historic persecution of the Rohingya people to new depths of depravity and horror, launching a wave of coordinated massacres, village-burning and sexual violence that left thousands of men, women and children dead, and forced hundreds of thousands to flee from their homes. The UN called it a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.
A year on and we are not one step closer to securing the return of the Rohingya refugees from their camps in Bangladesh on a safe and voluntary basis. Not one step closer to ensuring the Rohingya can rebuild their communities in Myanmar and enjoy full human and civil rights, and a future that is peaceful, secure, and sustainable. And not one step closer to bringing them justice for the terrible crimes they have suffered, and holding those responsible to account.
It is vital that those of us who were horrified as the events of August 2017 unfolded remain equally horrified as this anniversary passes with no progress made on any of these issues, and with the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps growing steadily worse, and hundreds of thousands of children beginning another year lacking sufficient food, clean water and healthcare, let alone the chance to attend school.
It is a situation that shames the entire world, but we in Britain hold a particular responsibility as the official pen-holders on Myanmar at the UN Security Council. That means if resolutions are to be brought forward demanding action on the refugee crisis, demanding the safe, voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya and full rights for them on their return, or demanding that Myanmar be referred to the International Criminal Court within the international legal framework, it is the UK’s role to draw them up.
But so far, the UK government has done precious little, beyond tamely requesting Myanmar to take responsibility for fixing the crisis it has caused, and investigating the crimes its military has committed, requests which Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has flatly ignored.
As we continue to mourn the loss of the late Kofi Annan, we must remember that his last great contribution to building a more peaceful, just and secure world was to draft a blueprint for the future protection of the Rohingya people, one he delivered less than a month before the military launched its offensive in Rakhine province this day last year.
We owe it to him to ensure the implementation of that plan, we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of refugees with no permanent home and no sustainable future, and we owe it to the thousands who were killed last year. And it is not just an anniversary like this which should reproach the world for our lack of progress and our continued failure of the Rohingya people, it is every single day that passes by.
So please friends, maintain your horror, maintain your demands for action and justice, and maintain your pressure on the UK government to do its job at the UN Security Council.