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What’s going on in Burma?

Published 24/10/2017

I’ve been guilty of over optimism, partly influenced by respect for a remarkable woman, and have taken time to believe the full ghastliness – which is still emerging – about what is going on the Muslim areas of the Burmese state of Rakhine, close to their border with Bangladesh.

But after last week none of us can be in any doubt about what has happened. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) journalists published their rapid response mission report, and fellow MPs reported back from their visit on the plight of the Rohingya muslims.

The story is horrific, almost in the same league as the genocide in Rwanda at the turn of the millennium, or even in Cambodia during their civil war.

Fellow Trade Envoy Rushanara Ali highlighted there are now up to a million Rohingya muslim refugees from Burma in Bangladesh. She quoted from the UNHCR report of atrocious sexual violence, torture and executions of the Rohingya Muslims – mostly by the Burmese military, alongside the destruction of religious and cultural buildings. The UNHCR claimed this amounts to a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Three of my Conservative colleagues who have been out there, and others in last week’s debate, highlighted that the responsibility for these atrocities is with the Burmese military, and that the new democratic government cannot avoid some responsibility for not visibly doing much to prevent this.

And therein lies the intellectual difficulty. For the government is now run by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Oxford educated heroine whose voice and integrity, while under solitary arrest, held the military dictatorship to account – eventually obliging them to allow elections which led to her forming a civilian government under a military President.

Many of us supported and cheered Aung San Suu Kyi all the way. William Hague led the way on getting EU sanctions lifted. She addressed the joint Houses of Parliament: opened New Labour’s new offices; and of course was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But right now Aung San Suu Kyi stands guilty of not speaking up at all for the Rohingya Muslims of Burma, a community which FCO documents confirm have been there for centuries, and of acting at least as an apologist for the military regime.

This is not the way the story was supposed to go. All of us are shocked and all of our eyes are being opened.

Foreign Ministers’ responses are now robust. They’ve suspended our defence education programme and banned military visits, called for a civilian body to oversee the return of the Rohingya: given an extra £30 million of aid and helped secure a six month extension to the UNHCR mission. We’ve led on galvanising the international community around a five point plan. As Minister Mark Field said, genocide ‘looks like an increasingly accurate description of what has happened.’

But the government is also realistic that Aung San Suu Kyi ‘treads a very fine line between international condemnation and Burmese public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports what the security forces are doing’.

It is hard to avoid concluding that the relations between different communities in Burma – Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus – are riddled with mutual fear, mistrust and, sadly, hatred. It may take years before this improves significantly, with even greater bitterness passing down generations: and the risk is – as Rushanara put it – that there will be more atrocities because the military want them.

It is no good pretending that the UK has much control over what happens in Burma, but we can show leadership on encouraging her democratic leaders and hold a candle to what the military has done, and we’re now doing so.

For those of us who sort of hoped that everything would be resolved by the elections and Aung San Suu Kyi’s role this is a sharp wake up call. It is also a reminder, in the year of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, that violence and major domestic atrocities are not yet a thing of the past within all of South East Asia.

It calls into question too the role of China, the major foreign player in Burma, very close to the military and with a record of brutality towards Muslims in Xinjiang.

But this is not the moment to walk away from engagement with Burma, leaving China and Russia to be the only foreign influences. It is even more important that the UK works with ASEAN members to help Burma forward.

What Richard has been up to so far this summer

NCS Team 29

This year I’ve seen even more young people than ever join the (free) National Citizen Service (NCS) scheme. It’s become a rite of passage for many 16 and 17 year olds in their summer hols. What’s it all about?

The scheme was set up by David Cameron 7 years ago to provide young people of all backgrounds the chance to spend a month together, doing a great range of activities. They have a week’s adventure training – kayacking, jumping from rocks, often getting over phobias and fears in countryside they never knew existed. They have a week of meeting different organisations – community and faith groups: organisations dealing with social problems, helping the elderly or disabled, charities and social enterprises – a week of preparing a social action project of their own; and a week of doing it. Some organise Fun Fairs, dances, drama, cleaning up public spaces: you name it – mostly raising funds for a good cause.

They learn a huge amount, they see life for what it is – often difficult and messy: and become more likely to care for their area and community. And when they ‘graduate’ many have made friendships that can last for years and experiences they never forget. One parent said to me ‘this is the best thing that xx has ever done: and she said that not me. She is like a new person.’

So if you have children coming up to 16 find out more on Meanwhile there are many outdoor activities at Robinswood Hill organised by the Glos Wildlife Trust, like the night time safari. Find out more on the Robinswood Hill Facebook page.

In Quedgeley many of you, especially if near Severnvale Drive, will know all about the proposed new Clearwater Academy. I’ve asked Councillors to look carefully at what was initially proposed and what’s now proposed. Are the interests of children’s education and green space for residents adequately balanced? We need more school places, and there aren’t many sites available, but hitting that balance is important and I know your Councillors are looking at this closely.

Nationally there’s a lot more good news than either the media or the weather would suggest. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1975, retail sales up nearly 3% since last year and manufacturing orders are at their highest since 1988. That includes some booming Gloucester businesses.

Meanwhile locally I’ve never been more positive about the pace of regeneration – from Blackfriars to Black Dog Way, St Aldates to Paul St, the new surgery in Kingsway to the new Business School at Oxstalls, another new cyber centre in the Business Park and new nursing degrees starting at the Uni of Glos. The opportunities for our children are growing fast – including in culture which has been given awards by several bodies.

This parliamentary recess I’ve been around building sites, including our new bus station and the Elmbridge Court roundabout (both on time and within budget), given several young residents work experience, played walking rugby and planted wildflower seeds. Despite the rain there’s always much to enjoy in our city, and the free fireworks were the best yet. I’m only sorry our old dog Twiglet won’t be accompanying me to deliver newspapers to your homes any more. She was though well treated by a Gloucester vet at the end.

I hope you all have a good summer.


Press Release: Gloucester MP celebrates superfast broadband with newly connected residents

Gloucester MP Richard Graham visited Tolsey Gardens in Gloucester to celebrate their upgraded superfast broadband cabinet.

Residents wrote to Richard several years ago when they moved into the newly built Tolsey Garden properties and discovered there were copper broadband speeds of around 1mbps or less. After several meetings with Broadband Ministers and BT Openreach as well as a debate in Parliament the cabinet has now been upgraded.

Richard said, “people move in to a house thinking it’ll have water, electricity, a landline phone and reliable broadband. People need broadband now to pay bills or work from home, which more and more people are doing. It’s an important aspect of a modern home and I’m glad that Tolsey Gardens has now been connected.”

Richard has since written to the Broadband Minister to urge measures to ensure all new builds are equipped with superfast broadband. He believes this is vital to meet the Government’s aim to connect all homes by 2020.

“If you have poor broadband speeds then you can check if you’re being upgraded via If your home isn’t recognised by the system then you can register it. It’s likely one of the new builds that I want something done about,” said Richard.


Richard was joined by Councillors Steve Morgan and Nigel Hanman on Saturday to raise a cup and celebrate with residents.

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