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Sri Lanka

Volume 534: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2011

4. What recent reports he has received on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Sri Lanka. (76296)

We expect the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to report in November. We are interested in its recommendations and conclusions, and we trust that it will deal with some of the credibility issues raised by the international community. We will also expect it to deal with some of the issues raised by the Channel 4 documentary during the summer.

The UN panel of experts concluded that the commission was “deeply flawed” and did

“not meet international standards for an effective accountability mechanism.”

Do the Government agree with that assessment? If not, why not? If they do, what are they doing about it?

In the first place, the responsibility lies with Sri Lanka to carry out its own investigation, which is why we want to wait for the results of the commission in November. We are aware that it will deal with some of the criticisms offered by the UN panel of experts, but we will make a judgment, not on what comes before but on what the commission actually says. We have made it clear that we expect to see progress by the end of the year on a series of matters that has already been raised with Sri Lanka, and if that is not the case we have other options to pursue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Sri Lankan Government’s report does not answer the questions about the atrocities committed against the Tamil people, this issue will have to be taken forward as a matter of urgency?

It is all about the base of reconstruction and reconciliation for the future. The British Government and a number of others have sought to make it clear, in accordance with the wishes of the Government of Sri Lanka, that if reconstruction and reconciliation are to be properly based, that will involve looking back on the past as well as forward to the future. Progress has been made in Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict, but serious issues still need to be addressed and we expect the Sri Lankan Government to be in a position to do that.

Given the obvious sensitivities of the Sri Lankan situation, can the Minister confirm that the Foreign Office has in its possession a full minute of all meetings, both in Sri Lanka and on the topic of Sri Lanka, that the former Defence Secretary had during his time in office?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her position, and I wish her well in performing her duties.

The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that he is well aware of the visits to Sri Lanka by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the former Secretary of State for Defence, who had a particular link with Sri Lanka during his time as a junior Minister at the Foreign Office. I have no knowledge of whether any minutes were prepared of those meetings, but I will inquire. I am absolutely certain, however, that the Foreign Secretary was well aware of the meetings, and that he was absolutely confident that Foreign Office policy would be properly reflected by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset.

There is continuing concern around the world about human rights protection and press freedom in Sri Lanka. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what action Her Majesty’s Government are taking, particularly in the context of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia, to ensure that Sri Lanka does not take a high-profile position in the Commonwealth in the future?

There are two issues involved there. The concerns about press freedom have been raised with the Government of Sri Lanka. The disappearance of a number of journalists has not been fully investigated, for example, and the Sri Lankan Government have been tasked with dealing with that matter. We welcome the lifting of the emergency regulations, although we have yet to see how clear the replacement legislation will be. As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, Sri Lanka will not be the sole focus of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. We expect any Commonwealth country hosting the meeting to meet the Commonwealth standards of good governance and respect for human rights, and that will be the same in 2013 as it is in 2011.