The Minister for South Asia, Lord Ahmad, set out our serious concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka in a statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 February. On 22 February, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the UK would lead a new resolution on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights. We continue to engage with Sri Lanka on these issues and on climate change, trade and the covid-19 response. UK-funded programmes in Sri Lanka support peacebuilding, resettlement, police reform and demining.
For decades, the UK has provided extensive military and police support to the Sri Lankan police and military, and this support has continued despite deeply troubling reports of the widespread use of torture by the Sri Lankan police, including the use of the death penalty for drugs charges. Will the Minister please explain why the UK has spent more than £7 million through its conflict, stability and security fund to assist the Sri Lankan police and military? More importantly, will he commit to publishing the full overseas security and justice assistance assessments for activities under this programme to reassure the House that the UK is not contributing to serious human rights violations?
I know the hon. Member takes a very keen interest in Sri Lanka. Our engagement with the military in Sri Lanka is designed to support the development of a modern, effective and human rights-compliant military. Engagement with the police is focused on community policing, increasing women’s representation, and improving responses to sexual and gender-based violence. Our engagement is subject to ongoing overseas security and justice assessments, as he says, to ensure that it supports UK values and is consistent with human rights obligations.
Many of my Slough constituents, especially those worshipping at Masjid Al-Jannah, were extremely distressed by the alarming reports of forced cremations of Sri Lankan coronavirus victims, including Muslims and Christians, for whom burial rights and traditions are sacred. As the country hopefully progresses with truth, justice and reconciliation after its devastating civil war, what representations has the Minister made to his Sri Lankan counterpart on respect for and the protection of everyone’s religious beliefs and freedoms?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter, which I know is of great concern to his constituents and to many other hon. Members’ constituents. My colleague, Lord Ahmad, who is the Minister responsible for Sri Lanka, has raised the important issue of human rights, accountability and reconciliation with his counterpart, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and the UN high commissioner, but he also has deep concerns about the decision to mandate cremations for those deceased due to covid. The United Kingdom has shared guidance on how burials can happen within World Health Organisation guidelines to the Sri Lankan authorities.
With reference to the expiry of UN Human Rights Council resolution 40/1 this month, what success have the Government had in their role as leader of the core group on Sri Lanka at the UNHCR in drafting a new UN Human Rights Council resolution that secures international support and reflects the eight areas of focus set out by the UNHCR’s recent report?
We are very concerned by the recent UN report on human rights and accountability in Sri Lanka. As I have said previously, we have made our concerns about the human rights situation clear. The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the United Kingdom would lead a new resolution on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights.