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Sri Lanka

Volume 493: debated on Monday 1 June 2009

The Petition of residents of Ilford North and others,

Declares great concern at the present appalling humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the north of Sri Lanka; notes that this conflict has killed at least 70,000 people and condemns the loss of every innocent life; and strongly believes that both sides must abide by their obligations under international law and protect the lives of civilians.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take action to help bring about an immediate ceasefire that is recognised by both sides; to help ensure that the UN aid agencies and NGOs are granted free access to the region; to take action to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth if the Sri Lankan Government does not agree to a ceasefire; and to work towards a long-term solution that takes into account the reasonable concerns of all communities in a political process that leads to lasting peace.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Lee Scott, Official Report, 29 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1000 .]

[P000353]

Observations from the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

I remain extremely concerned about the current situation in northern Sri Lanka, as demonstrated in my statements to the House of 2, 22 and 30 April. The most pressing concern remains for the safety of the tens of thousands of civilians that the UN and humanitarian agencies estimate remain caught up in the fighting. It was our concern for their safety that first led the Prime Minister to call for a ceasefire on 14 January.

I have repeated the call for a ceasefire on numerous occasions, most recently during my visit to Washington, where I discussed the latest humanitarian situation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 12 May. Following meetings, we released a joint statement calling on all sides to end hostilities immediately and to allow for the safe evacuation of the civilians trapped within the safe zone. We agreed the need for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to lay down their arms and allow civilians free passage out of the conflict zone, and called on the Government of Sri Lanka to abide by its commitment of April 27 to end major combat operations and the use of heavy weapons.

It is essential that both sides do everything possible to avoid harming civilians and ensure vital aid reaches those civilians who need it. Secretary Clinton and I called on the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to allow a UN humanitarian team to visit the conflict zone to facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians. We urged both sides to allow food and medical assistance to reach those trapped by fighting, co-operate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to facilitate the evacuation of urgent medical cases, ensure the safety of aid and medical workers, and permit humanitarian access to all sites where displaced persons are being registered or being provided shelter. We will continue to press the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil the commitments it has made to improve conditions in the camps set up for displaced people and we are working with a number of independent agencies to ensure these standards are met.

The UK Government has also taken practical steps to alleviate the suffering of civilians. On 26 April, the Prime Minister pledged a further £2.5 million for humanitarian aid for displaced persons, taking the total UK humanitarian assistance to £7.5 million. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the International Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (M. Foster) visited Sri Lanka on 27 April to conduct an humanitarian assessment. Following my visit to Sri Lanka with French Foreign Minister Kouchner, a cross party group of MPs, including Des Browne, held talks with the Sri Lankan Government, humanitarian agencies and visited the IDP camps in Vavuniya on 4 and 5 May.

The UK Government want to contribute to a renewed drive for a political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. We believe that for peace to be sustainable, an inclusive political process that takes into account fully the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan communities, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, is essential. Both Secretary Clinton and I also highlighted the urgent need for a political solution that reconciles all Sri Lankans, and establishes a meaningful role for Tamil and other minorities in national political life.

The UK remains active in the UN, EU, Commonwealth and with other key international partners, including the US and India, to ensure that the spotlight of international concern remains firmly on the situation in Sri Lanka. The Government of Sri Lanka can be in no doubt about the depth of feeling in the international community regarding the need for a ceasefire and for a co-ordinated humanitarian relief effort to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians.

The Petition of members of the British Tamil community, and others,

Declares that the loss of life, denial of human rights, and restricted access of the United Nations and other relief agencies in Sri Lanka are unacceptable; and further declares that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have been displaced by military action and face an uncertain future.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take all necessary steps to secure a ceasefire, allow unfettered access for UN and NGO relief, human rights agencies and the media, and make clear to the Sri Lankan Government that a lasting peace can only come through political dialogue and respect for human rights.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Paul Burstow, Official Report, 29 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1000.]

[P000352]

The Petition of members of the British Tamil community, and others,

Declares that the loss of life, denial of human rights, and restricted access of the United Nations and other relief agencies in Sri Lanka are unacceptable; and further declares that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have been displaced by military action and face an uncertain future.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take all necessary steps to secure a ceasefire, allow unfettered access for UN and NGO relief, human rights agencies and the media, and make clear to the Sri Lankan Government that a lasting peace can only come through political dialogue and respect for human rights.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Simon Hughes, Official Report, 29 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1004.]

[P000355]

The Petition of members of the British Tamil community, and others,

Declares that the loss of life, denial of human rights, and restricted access of the United Nations and other relief agencies in Sri Lanka are unacceptable; and further declares that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have been displaced by military action and face an uncertain future.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take all necessary steps to secure a ceasefire, allow unfettered access for UN and NGO relief, human rights agencies and the media, and make clear to the Sri Lankan Government that a lasting peace can only come through political dialogue and respect for human rights.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Susan Kramer, Official Report, 29 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1003.]

[P000357]

The Petition of members of the British Tamil community, and others,

Declares that the loss of life, denial of human rights, and restricted access of the United Nations and other relief agencies in Sri Lanka are unacceptable; and further declares that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have been displaced by military action and face an uncertain future.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take all necessary steps to secure a ceasefire, allow unfettered access for UN and NGO relief, human rights agencies and the media, and make clear to the Sri Lankan Government that a lasting peace can only come through political dialogue and respect for human rights.

And the Petitioners remain, etc—[Presented by Mr. Edward Davey, Official Report, 29 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1002 .]

[P000358]

The Petition of members of the British Tamil community, and others,

Declares that the loss of life, denial of human rights, and restricted access of the United Nations and other relief agencies in Sri Lanka are unacceptable; and further declares that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have been displaced by military action and face an uncertain future.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take all necessary steps to secure a ceasefire, allow unfettered access for UN and NGO relief, human rights agencies and the media, and make clear to the Sri Lankan Government that a lasting peace can only come through political dialogue and respect for human rights.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tom Brake, Official Report, 30 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1143 .]

[P000356]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

On 19 May, President Rajapakse formally announced that the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE was over. Although this means that the thousands of civilians who were trapped in the conflict area are no longer under immediate threat from the fighting, for many, the misery continues. Over 270,000 civilians are now being housed in camps. Our most urgent priority is to get food, shelter and medicine to civilians who have been caught up in the conflict. On 17 May, DFID allocated an additional £5 million, taking the UK’s total aid contribution to £12.5million. We are working closely with the UN and other donors to ensure that support reaches those who so urgently need it.

The Prime Minister spoke to President Rajapakse on 18 May and urged him to grant immediate and full access for humanitarian agencies to the thousands of civilians affected by the fighting. The President assured him that this would happen. I spoke to Foreign Minister Bogollagama the same day to reiterate this message. We welcome recent visits to Sri Lanka by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General’s Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, and Sir John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. We will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to meet its humanitarian obligations.

Lasting peace will only be possible when all communities in Sri Lanka believe that they are accepted and valued members of society. We recognise that the process of political reconciliation will not be easy. There are many entrenched attitudes and resentment. Sri Lankan people from all communities, working on the basis of mutual respect and equality, need to agree the way forward. The Prime Minister urged President Rajapakse to be magnanimous in victory. I emphasised the importance of an inclusive political process based on equality when I spoke to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister. We welcome the President’s statement to the Sri Lankan Parliament on 19 May that he will embark on an inclusive political process involving all communities on the basis of equality and absence of fear.

The continuing focus of this Government’s activity over the coming days and weeks will be to work with international partners in encouraging the Sri Lankan Government to devote as much energy to winning the peace as it did to winning the war.