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Sri Lanka

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2023

12. Whether his Department is taking diplomatic steps to help ensure that perpetrators of alleged human rights violations against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka are held to account. (900600)

The UK is working closely with international partners on this long-standing priority, including at the UN Human Rights Council, where the UK led resolution 51/1 on Sri Lanka.

Many prominent Sri Lankans were credibly accused of war crimes against the Tamil minority, particularly towards the end of the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka. But all these years on, they are still at large, unlike the nearly 18,000 Tamils who went missing and are still unaccounted for. In response to the SNP spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), we were told earlier that evidence of war crimes would be taken seriously. How can the people of Palestine have any faith in that if the Tamil people of Sri Lanka have had the evidence sitting there for all these years and the Government are doing nothing, other than wringing their hands?

We all take these issues very seriously. I was in Sri Lanka just a few weeks ago, and I was able to raise the need for progress on human rights, on reconciliation and, indeed, on accountability with the President of Sri Lanka during my visit.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to assure the House that the FCDO is actively considering the evidence for sanctioning those credibly accused of war crimes who are active participants in Sri Lankan high society, and that she will pass that evidence on to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in line with resolution 30/1?

I commend my hon. Friend for his active and championing work as chair of the APPG. He is right, and we absolutely recognise the concerns of the Sri Lankan public, and indeed victim groups, about the creation of a credible domestic accountability process. We continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to address those concerns. As I said, I raised them when I was there. I was also able to discuss human rights and justice issues with members of civil society, Tamil representatives and the governor of the Northern Province when I visited Jaffna.

Sri Lanka is a key member of the Commonwealth family and occupies a strategically vital position geographically. Warm relations are vital, but for far too long, those accused of brutal crimes in the past, including against the Tamil minority, have escaped justice. Will the Minister outline what steps she is taking to support the Tamils’ calls for justice, including, if necessary, by taking action against existing and former Sri Lankan Ministers? Will she outline the support for Sri Lankan democracy and human rights?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We welcomed the recent written update on Sri Lanka by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and, in September, the UK Government issued statements that emphasised the importance of inclusive transitional justice and effective governance reforms in order to highlight the arbitrary use of laws to suppress dissent. As I said, we led UNHRC resolution 51/1 on Sri Lanka, providing the mandate for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on Sri Lanka, and we continue to work with it.