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Detention Camps (Sri Lanka)

Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2010

16. What recent discussions he has had with the UN High Representative for Human Rights on the situation of Tamils in detention camps in Sri Lanka. (14861)

There are still some 25,000 Tamils as internally displaced persons in camps. We maintain a regular dialogue with a variety of NGOs, including UNHCR, about their condition. As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, we also maintain a dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka in relation to the issue.

My question was specific. It asked what recent discussions there had been, and it asked about the situation of Tamils in those detention camps. I do not believe I got an answer to either of those elements of the question, and I therefore ask the Minister to respond specifically—when, where, what, and what is going to be done?

The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in his pursuance of Tamil constituents’ concerns and he has raised these issues before. I indicated that there is a regular and constant dialogue between the Government’s representatives in Colombo and UNHCR, and I meant exactly that—it is regular and ongoing. The United Kingdom Government have spent about £13.5 million to support internally displaced persons. We are concerned and our most recent discussions revealed the concerns about the clampdowns on NGO activity with those in the camps. So in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s probing about the conditions, we remain concerned. I raised the matter with the Foreign Minister this morning and he is aware of people’s concerns. We will continue to do so because if the Government of Sri Lanka are serious about their attempts at reconciliation, these matters must be cleared up and dealt with. The hon. Gentleman is right.

The Minister’s word “reconciliation” is right after 25 years of appalling civil strife. In addition to the Tamils who are kept in such dreadful conditions in the camps, is he aware that quite a number of Sri Lankans in Colombo and elsewhere who were thought to be vaguely sympathetic towards the Tamils are also in detention without trial? There is huge human rights abuse there as well. Is my hon. Friend addressing that with the new Government?

Yes, my hon. Friend is correct. Human rights issues, particularly freedom of expression and concerns about the media, have been raised. There is no doubt that conditions have changed in Sri Lanka and have improved to a degree after the conflict, but the issue, as he says, is just how far that goes. That is why we are pressing the Government of Sri Lanka. If they meant what they said about reconciliation at the end of the conflict, we all have to see that in practice on the ground, rather than just words.

Given the widespread allegations of war crimes during the civil war in Sri Lanka, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Sri Lankan Government are being unreasonably provocative in appointing as their new high commissioner and deputy high commissioner two of their most senior military leaders, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Major General Paranna Silva, who were responsible for some of the most brutal fighting during the conflict? If he agrees with me, what do the Government intend to do?

I am not aware that any representations have been made to the United Kingdom Government in relation to a position of high commissioner. I am aware of the position in relation to the defence attaché. It would be difficult to conceive of a defence attaché without a military background, and that appointment is understood. I have not heard anything about the other position, but the hon. Lady certainly raises an issue. If reconciliation is to be the watchword of the Sri Lankan Government, every appointment that they make will be looked at in those terms. Accordingly, appointments that are conciliatory and go some way towards remedying the tragedy of the conflict are surely rather better, for them and for the rest of the world, than anything else, but these appointments are a matter for the Sri Lankan Government in the first place.