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CHOGM (Colombo)

Volume 561: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2013

11. What discussions he has had with his Commonwealth counterparts about the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in 2013 and the progress being made on tackling human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. (152354)

We have discussions with our counterparts in the Commonwealth on a variety of subjects on a regular basis, including on CHOGM. We make every effort to reiterate our concerns about human rights directly to Sri Lanka, whenever we get the opportunity. I was able to do that most recently in a meeting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister just yesterday.

It is obviously not enough, because the Sri Lankans are not listening. They do not listen to the UN or the Commonwealth. It beggars belief that we think that they will listen more if CHOGM goes ahead there and we attend. I ask the UK Government to think carefully about the signal that it will send about their commitment to human rights if they go ahead with that visit.

I understand the concerns of the right hon. Lady, as do all hon. Members. This is a decision for the Commonwealth. It decided by consensus that the Heads of Government meeting should be in Colombo. The Commonwealth recognises the issues of concern in Sri Lanka. There is no doubt that whoever ends up going to CHOGM, from whatever country, Sri Lanka will be in the spotlight. The progress that can be made on a number of the positive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is a key topic that many will want to address. We want Sri Lanka to get to where it professes it wants to go. However, I agree with the right hon. Lady entirely that the evidence of that at present is pretty scant.

21. On human rights abuses, the British and US assessments of the level of torture in Sri Lanka seem to be at variance. The FCO says merely that reports of torture continue, while the US State Department says that there is“widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture”.Why the difference of views? (152367)

We judge the evidence of torture that is brought to us and make our calculations upon it. We have expressed concern about incidents of torture. Our asylum processes take account of the possibility that some people, but not all, could be subject to torture. Cases are dealt with on an individual basis. Part of the overall picture of human rights concerns in Sri Lanka is that the Government appear to be determined to address the issue, but the evidence remains difficult to see in certain cases. We will continue to press the case and we know that this is a matter of great interest to all right hon. and hon. Members.