Skip to main content

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Sri Lanka

Volume 572: debated on Monday 9 December 2013

The Humble Petition of residents of the Ealing North Constituency,

Sheweth,

That the island of Sri Lanka is still experiencing the after effects of the recent war.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House formally state their opinion that this country should not be represented at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting while so many issues are unresolved and so many people are still displaced as a result of this conflict.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Stephen Pound, Official Report, 12 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 925.]

[P001284]

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

I thank the petitioners for raising this important issue in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister and I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) due to the importance we attach to the Commonwealth. In attending CHOGM, we also took advantage of a key opportunity to turn a global spotlight on Sri Lanka, and to deliver a clear message to the Sri Lankan Government: that we expect them to make progress on human rights, accountability, reconciliation and political settlement. By remaining in London, we would have missed the opportunity to ensure intense international focus on these vital issues over the week of CHOGM, and to raise our concerns at the highest levels.

The petitioners are right that Sri Lanka is still experiencing the after effects of the military conflict. Since the end of the conflict in 2009, the Sri Lankan Government have taken some positive steps re-building infrastructure. As part of our support for the reconstruction effort, from 2010-13, the UK funded £3 million of de-mining work in Sri Lanka. On 16 November 2013, the Prime Minister announced a new £2.1 million UK Government funded programme to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war from areas of Northern Sri Lanka devastated by conflict. This programme will allow heavily contaminated land to be returned to local communities and used for building livelihoods, schools and roads.

But in addition to physical reconstruction, it is also important that there is meaningful reconciliation through the full implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations and a political settlement, and a credible, transparent and independent inquiry into alleged war crimes. We share concerns of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that there have been no credible efforts to independently investigate these allegations. If credible investigations have not begun properly by March 2014, we will use our position on the United Nations Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commissioner and call for an international investigation.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister raised our concerns directly with President Rajapaksa. The Prime Minister called for a credible and transparent independent investigation into allegations of violations of humanitarian and human rights law during the military conflict, a meaningful political settlement with the North, including demilitarisation, and full implementation of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations.

The Prime Minister was also able to undertake an historic visit to the North of Sri Lanka—the first visit of any Head of Government to the Northern Province since Sri Lanka’s Independence in 1948. During the visit, the Prime Minister visited a welfare camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and talked to residents about the problems they face. We welcome the progress made so far by the Government of Sri Lanka on the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). However, we remain concerned by the lack of livelihood opportunities for those who have been returned and land ownership disputes persist, especially in relation to land currently used for military purposes. We hope that the remaining Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) will be resettled soon, and that land disputes will be resolved for all communities through a fair and accountable process.

To highlight, and to press for progress on our continued concerns, the UK co-sponsored the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka in March 2013. We look to the Sri Lankan Government to implement the recommendations contained in the resolution and comply with their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. At the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014, an assessment will be made of Sri Lankan progress to date.

Together with international partners, we will continue to work to support the Sri Lankan people in their pursuit of enduring peace and reconciliation.