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Sri Lanka: Armed Conflict

Volume 493: debated on Tuesday 2 June 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the alleged use of heavy artillery by the Government of Sri Lanka on civilians in Northern Sri Lanka between 8 and 11 May 2009. (275966)

We are aware of disturbing reports of the use of heavy weapons by both sides during the conflict and are seeking to verify the accuracy of these reports. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said at the UN on 11 May 2009, we are appalled at the recent reports of civilian casualties. Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions with US Secretary Clinton on 12 May 2009, they released a joint statement calling for the Government of Sri Lanka to abide by its commitment of 27 April 2009 to end major combat operations and the use of heavy weapons. We welcome the end to hostilities and urge the Sri Lankan Government to now focus on the immediate welfare of internally displaced persons and for the long term peace and stability of Sri Lanka.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his EU and US counterparts on whether the recent actions of the Sri Lankan Government constitute genocide. (276114)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary regularly discusses the situation in Sri Lanka with his US and EU counterparts. As he has made clear, most recently in his joint statement with US Secretary Clinton of 12 May 2009, we are profoundly concerned at the humanitarian crisis and are alarmed by the continued reports of high civilian causalities. We condemn the killing of civilians in the strongest possible terms. As I repeated in the House during the topical debate on Sri Lanka on 14 May 2009, Official Report, column 1034, we would support an early investigation into all incidents that may have resulted in civilian casualties, to determine whether war crimes have been committed.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the Statement of 30 April 2009, Official Report, columns 1048-50, on Sri Lanka, what steps he is taking to ensure that the UN Security Council addresses the conflict in Sri Lanka. (276833)

On 19 May 2009, the Sri Lankan President announced that military forces had retaken all the territory once held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and that they had captured or killed the senior leadership of that organisation. Our primary concern remains the immediate humanitarian crisis affecting the civilians displaced by the fighting and the long-term political and economic peace and stability of Sri Lanka. We continue to work with the UN, EU, the Sri Lankan Government and key international partners to try to alleviate the humanitarian situation and to press for progress on a political solution that is based on equality, consent and rule of law.

Within the UN, we have been working to ensure the Security Council remained fully briefed on the situation in Sri Lanka. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Sri Lanka with UN Security Council representatives on 11 May 2009, and the UK raised Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council on 13 May 2009. We fully supported the visits by senior UN staff to Sri Lanka, including John Holmes (UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs) and Vijay Nambiar, (UN Secretary-General’s Chief of Staff) and, in the face of some opposition from others, we supported their subsequent briefings to the Security Council. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed Sri Lanka with the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 19 May 2009. These actions at the UN have been important, not least in keeping the spotlight of international concern on Sri Lanka.

We have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to use the opportunity of the visits by Mr. Nambiar and the UN Secretary-General himself, to recognise that the UN has a central role to play, both in the delivery of humanitarian aid and in encouraging the process of political reconciliation that must be an integral part of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s civil society.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his policy is on holding independent war crimes investigations of the actions of the Sri Lankan military. (277250)

[holding answer 1 June 2009]: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his written ministerial statement on 19 May 2009, Official Report, column 73 WS, we endorse the European Council's call for alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law to be investigated through an independent inquiry, and for those accountable to be brought to justice. We believe this could play an important role in the post-conflict reconciliation process.