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Sri Lanka

Volume 561: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2013

The UK is not a member of the CMAG, but we have regular bilateral conversations with its members. We do not expect Sri Lanka to be on the formal CMAG agenda at its next meeting on 26 April, but we expect, and support, it being discussed at some stage in the meeting.

The CMAG is the custodian of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and principles. Given the allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka and the impeachment of the Chief Justice, will the Government be calling on CMAG members to take action on Sri Lanka at its Friday meeting?

We have been very clear in a variety of statements, and in direct contact with the Government of Sri Lanka, that they should be upholding the very best of Commonwealth values, particularly in view of their intention to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo later this year. We know from comments by members of the CMAG that they share the concerns and that they will also be expecting Sri Lanka to uphold those values.

Do the Government accept that it is becoming increasingly apparent that great damage will be done to the Commonwealth if the next CHOGM is held in Colombo later this year, given the appalling human rights record in Sri Lanka and its Government’s disregard for the rule of law? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are taking action, along with many other Commonwealth states, to have this matter ventilated not just at the CMAG, but if necessary between Heads of Government, to ensure that action can be taken over the next few months to find an alternative venue?

The decision to site the next CHOGM in Colombo was taken by consensus in the Commonwealth back in 2009, and we have no indication that the Commonwealth intends to change its view on that, but my right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to point out the contrast between Commonwealth values and concerns about what is happening in Sri Lanka. We and other Governments have made that clear, and the recent passing of the Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva, which the UK strongly supported, is evidence of that.

The Minister just referenced the most recent United Nations resolution on Sri Lanka, in which it noted

“the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.

Given that Sri Lanka has been judged in those terms by the UN, to what extent does the Minister think the country complies with the principles of the Commonwealth and the recently adopted Commonwealth charter, and should we use CHOGM as a means of leverage to put pressure on Sri Lanka to put its house in order?

The hon. Lady is correct when she says that CHOGM provides the opportunity for us and others to express concerns to Sri Lanka, and to urge it to make good its own promises to fulfil the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations. We have urged it to do so and we will continue to do that.

I was able to speak to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister yesterday. I made reference to our further concerns, whether they are about the impeachment of the Chief Justice or further attacks on the press in Jaffna, and made it clear that if Colombo is to host CHOGM later this year, the spotlight will be on Sri Lanka and it will need to demonstrate to the world how it has responded to these concerns and made good its own beliefs in reconciliation for the future.

May I again urge on Ministers the idea that the Commonwealth should have a group of people independent of the relevant Government, who can go in and look at human rights issues, so that we can have not just a charter, but a method of reporting back to see whether the charter is upheld in Sri Lanka and other places?

The determination of the Commonwealth to uphold the highest principles, the Lancaster principles, and how that can be ensured in all Commonwealth countries, is a matter of active discussion in the Commonwealth. The situation in Sri Lanka has pointed out very sharply the discrepancy between the concerns and those values in principle. I have no doubt that leaders of the Commonwealth and Heads of State are acutely aware of the concerns that my right hon. Friend raises, and will be addressing them.