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Sri Lanka

Volume 502: debated on Thursday 10 December 2009

The Petition of constituents of Hon. Dr. Vincent Cable MP for Twickenham,

Declares that following the end of hostilities in Sri Lanka as announced by President Mahinda Rajapakse, more than 280,000 Tamil civilians, including at least 50,000 children, remain detained indefinitely in cramped, squalid military run camps in the north of the island in breach of international law; further declares that there is a severe lack of medical and humanitarian aid for the needs of these wounded malnourished and severely traumatised war victims; further declares that with the current flooding, spread of diseases and the onset of the Monsoon rains the conditions in these already dilapidated camps will worsen drastically resulting in further deaths; further declares that the detained Tamil people are being held against their will, without any freedom of movement, with the intention of making these camps permanent; further declares that the traditional lands of these people are being colonised and illegally occupied by the armed forces; further declares that it is suspected that thousands of Tamils who are not accounted for are being detained incommunicado by the Sri Lankan armed forces; further declares that the perpetrators of war crimes and breaches of international law in Sri Lanka remain free from prosecution.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Government to press for the implementation of the following: the United Nations, International Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full access to care for and protect the civilians in the camps, and then help them to return to their traditional homeland in the north and east; a list of all those still alive and in custody should be published, so that families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead; any who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants must be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and urgently given access to legal representation; accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted to purposes other than those for which it was given; UN monitors must be given free access to all parts of the island; there must be a full UN investigation into war crimes committed during the war.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dr. Vincent Cable, Official Report, 12 November 2009; Vol. 499, c. 3P .]

[P000422]

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

Since the end of conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009, the UK Government has remained actively engaged in working for an improvement in the humanitarian situation and for long-term reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s communities.

Our priority has been the return of the more than 250,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their homes as soon as it has become safe to do so. We have taken every opportunity both bilaterally and with international partners to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to resettle the IDPs without further delay. In recent weeks there has been significant progress in this regard, with over 150,000 IDPs having left the camps and resettling in their home areas. The announcement that IDPs would be granted freedom of movement as of 1 December is a positive step. Some IDPs have already left, and we believe the opening of the camps and granting real freedom of movement will enable the thousands still living in the camps to start to rebuild their lives. It is now imperative that humanitarian agencies are given full access to the IDPs so that they can provide them with the help they need both in the camps and in their places of return.

Since September 2008, the UK Government have allocated £12.5 million to support the work of international humanitarian agencies and NGOs so that they have been able to provide much needed assistance to IDPs. None of this money has been provided directly to the Sri Lankan Government. In order to assist the return of IDPs the UK Government has been funding de-mining agencies, transport and will provide help to returnees in rebuilding their livelihoods. UK Government funds have also been used to help the International Organisation for Migration with a registration scheme that has issued ID cards to IDPs. This is already helping them to access services and entitlements.

We continue to work with the Government of Sri Lanka and other partners in the international community to ensure that the end of the conflict leads to sustainable peace. We have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to make progress on securing an inclusive political solution to address the underlying causes of conflict. Genuine reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s communities will depend in a large part on the Government promoting and protecting the rights of all Sri Lankans—Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese.

Reconciliation will also require a process to address possible violations of international humanitarian law committed by both sides during the conflict. President Rajapakse made a commitment to take such measures following the visit to Sri Lanka of the UN Secretary-General in May. We continue to take every opportunity to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to live up to this commitment. The report issued by the US State Department in October into incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka underlines the importance of establishing a credible process. We welcome President Rajapakse’s decision to appoint an independent committee to look into the incidents cited in the US State Department’s report. The credibility of the committee will rest on its independence.