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Sri Lanka: Alleged War Crimes

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

4. If he will take steps with his Sri Lankan counterpart to ensure accountability for alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. [R] (906035)

The Foreign Secretary met Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on 14 July, when they discussed Sri Lanka’s human rights initiatives. We will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to make meaningful progress on human rights, justice and accountability. That includes at the UN Human Rights Council, where the UK and our partners made resolution 51/1 on Sri Lanka in October last year.

Will the Minister appeal to the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the possible establishment of a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission does not mean that those responsible for war crimes in Sri Lanka will not be brought to justice?

We recognise the concerns from some members of the Sri Lankan public and victims groups about the creation of a credible domestic accountability process, given the history of impunity and unfulfilled commitments. We encourage the Sri Lankan Government to create an environment for meaningful reconciliation by addressing those long-standing and emerging concerns. That includes ensuring proper consultation, sufficient consensus of key communities and a commitment to accountability.

Human Rights Watch has reported that Tamil families looking to memorialise those who died in Sri Lanka’s civil war remain subject to intimidation and banning orders. Alongside the Minister’s Sri Lankan counterparts, what steps is she taking to promote free expression in Sri Lanka?

As I said, we all understand and see that long history of impunity and broken commitments. We will continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to create that climate of recognition for all parties and communities, making sure that no one is left out of that process.

Nearly 15 years after the end of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, the Sri Lankan Government continue to evade accountability and delay any scrutiny. As the Minister said, instead of justice there is impunity. Last week’s FCDO human rights and democracy report recognises Sri Lanka as a priority so, in simple terms, will the Minister say when the UK will sanction those individuals responsible for the worst human rights abuses in that conflict?

We will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to uphold their constitutional and democratic processes. Those concerns were made clear in statements to the UN Human Rights Council, most recently on 20 June. Imposing sanctions is one response among other diplomatic tools to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses, but the shadow Foreign Secretary knows well that it would not be appropriate for me to speculate about future designations because that could reduce the impact.