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Sri Lanka

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2009

9. What his most recent assessment is of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. (282695)

We remain concerned at continuing reports of abductions, disappearances, violence and intimidation against the media, all of which appear to affect Tamil communities disproportionately. We raise these issues regularly in international forums and with the Government of Sri Lanka and call upon them to take decisive action to tackle human rights abuses.

Does the Minister agree that after 25 years of bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, any reasonable Government would reach out to the defeated community, not incarcerate about 300,000 Tamils, many of them children and the elderly, in squalid and inhumane detention camps? What are the Government doing to improve humanitarian conditions in those camps? More important in the longer term, what are the Government doing to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to close down the camps entirely and allow those innocent people to return to their homes and families?

Since last year we have made sure that a total of £12.5 million of humanitarian assistance has gone specifically to deal with the displaced civilians. We have made it clear that we want the UN and humanitarian agencies to have full access to those civilians. But as the hon. Gentleman said, the long-term solution is political. On the political direction that the president of Sri Lanka has indicated towards a new inclusive Sri Lanka, we have to see step-by-step evidence of action. There have been encouraging words since the conflict was brought to a close, but confidence-building measures on the ground are now needed to demonstrate that the Government of Sri Lanka are serious about a new inclusive country where Tamils and other minorities feel that they have an authentic voice and equal status.

I thank the Minister for what he just said. Does he agree that the continued incarceration of large numbers of Tamil people in refugee camps is a form of imprisonment, and that denying the right to return home is illegal under international law? Will he make it clear to the Sri Lankan Government that they must not try to resettle the Tamil people outside their traditional homelands, villages and towns, in order to bring about some degree of stability in the future?

My hon. Friend is right. The first test of the good intentions and political will of the Government of Sri Lanka is how they treat the displaced civilians. It is imperative that those people return home as soon as possible and that they are given the opportunity to begin to rebuild their lives. That will be the greatest evidence that things are changing for people on the ground in that country.