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Britain’s newly elected Foreign Secretary, William Hague has given a stinging assessment of the upcoming elections in Burma as he responded to the dissolving of the National League for Democracy (NLD), by saying;
“These actions expose the elections in Burma for what they are – a sham process designed to keep the regime in power and deny the Burmese people their right to freely choose their leaders.”
William Hague has however been having his own election difficulties. The former leader of the Conservative Party was recently embroiled in a scandal after he hired a 25-year old ‘special advisor’ called Christopher Myers, above and beyond his usual retinue of advisors on his election campaign. Mr Myers reportedly shared a room with Hague when on the campaign trail.
Whilst it was also reported that despite committing to stand with; “renewed determination to support the people of Burma” his department, the Foreign and Common Wealth Office, could end the BBC’s Burmese radio service; one of a small number of relatively ‘free’ news services widely available in the country.
The party leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron also made a strongly worded statement in the House of Commons; Britain’s parliament. Responding to a question from an opposition MP he declared that he had raised the issue of the Burmese elections with the Indian government on a recent trip; “because I think it is important that we talk to the neighbouring states of those countries and make sure that they are campaigning in the same way [as he is].”
He continued that; “Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued detention is an outrage”, adding that; “her example is deeply inspiring. All of us like to think that we give up something for democracy and politics; we do not. Compared with those people, we do nothing. They are an inspiration right across the world, and we should stand with them”.
Such statements are nothing new from British Prime Ministers. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown made similar statements and his wife showed the Oscar nominated DVB documentary Burma VJ in their official residence, Downing Street, the first ever official film screening on the property.
However the Conservative Party’s commitment to the Burmese people will be tested further by the fact that Britain remains one of the top investors in Burma despite EU sanctions. This because of Britain’s off-shore tax havens, most notably the British Virgin Islands.
A sore point because the Conservative Party’s largest ever donor, billionaire Lord Ashcroft was himself a tax exile, with non-domicile status enabling him to pay nothing towards the public purse, until those facts were revealed and threatened his position in the house of Lords; Britain’s unelected ‘upper house’.
Ashcroft has held senior positions within the ‘Tory’ party, and even reportedly payed for him and Hague to travel to sanctioned Cuba on an official trip.
With former EU minister Chris Bryant commenting in the Guardian newspaper that; “It seems William Hague held talks with the Cuban government but completely ignored the opposition in Cuba. It has been an accepted principle across Europe, enshrined in the EU common position, that we would only make high-level visits to Cuba if we were free to visit whomever we want. Hague’s actions have been a real slap in the face for those who are campaigning for a more open Cuba.”
However Hague, a biographer of British slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, described his human rights position, in a talk given to lawyers in London recently, as; “idealism tempered with realism”.
In any case he has a long way to go to match the previous Labour government on their struggles with human rights, their record regarding the torture of terrorism suspects remaining a blight on the UK’s image as a place of justice and human-rights.