Westminster Hall debate on Tamil rights in Sri Lanka

Yesterday I attended a Westminster Hall debate on Tamil Rights in Sri Lanka where the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the following:

…there is now a Tamil leader of the opposition for the first time in more than 30 years. We have a real window of opportunity for all Sri Lankans to work together to secure a stable, secure and prosperous future.

Tomorrow, the report of the international investigation by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will be published. I am proud, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton is, of the leading role that the British Government played in calling for that investigation. The report and its recommendations will make a significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s efforts to establish truth and deliver justice, as the country seeks to address the legacy of the civil war, which continues to have a profound impact on many Sri Lankans.

The debate is also particularly timely because I attended the opening session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday. I thanked the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the work of his office in producing the report. I agreed with him that the process had been not only invaluable, but I am sure difficult for the many brave witnesses who came forward to give evidence.

The report has a vital role to play in understanding the events that took place during and after the conflict, but it is not an end in itself. I agree with hon. Members who said that this is the start of the process and in no way the end. I am sure that all in this House who have followed developments in Sri Lanka closely now want, as I do, to see Sri Lanka move towards meaningful reconciliation, long-term stability and prosperity for all parties.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): The Minister makes an encouraging case. Will he say something about the consequences for the Administration were there not meaningful progress?

Mr Swire: I tend to look at things more positively. If I may continue, my hon. Friend will hear some of my points in support of what the Government in Sri Lanka are seeking to do. They have our full confidence.

A vital part of the reconciliation process must be credible proposals that meet international standards to address the four key principles of transitional justice, namely, truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence. I was therefore pleased that Foreign Minister Mangala’s address to the Human Rights Council included such plans. We now need to work with the Sri

Lankan Government and our partners in the Human Rights Council to understand Sri Lanka’s plans in more detail and to agree a consensual resolution that sets out a clear framework for delivery. That will of course include plans for delivering justice and accountability.

His full comments and the entire debate can be found here.

There are around 500 Tamil families in Wycombe, many of whom have explained their situation to me with patience: I am happy to support them. It is clear that the United Kingdom must rise to the historical injustices committed in its name and do what it can to support a just settlement for the people of Sri Lanka. I will continue to follow the reconciliation process closely and keenly anticipate the report’s conclusions.

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