During their annual conference, senior British government ministers and MPs, within the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT), raised “deep concerns” over Sri Lanka’s human rights record and withdrawal from the UN co-sponsored resolution.
During the conference, government officials maintained their commitment to the resolution and stressed that if Sri Lanka failed to meet said commitments, alternatives avenues will need to be pursued.
Deep disappointment over Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the UN Resolution
Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia, stressed the importance of meeting these commitments and states that these issues were raised as part of the “Core Group” in February, June and September of this year.
Ahmad further stated that during his meeting with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, he emphasised Britain’s continued “focus on accountability and reconciliation”.
He further stated:
“We are clear-eyed about our responsibilities, it’s not about just trade, it’s about strengthening democracy, it's not about just strengthening democracy, it’s about inclusive communities”
Ahmad further warned against COVID being used as an excuse to “repress minorities around the world”.
Paul Scully, Minister for London, Small Business, Consumers and Labour Market further expressed his “massive disappointment” with Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the UN resolution.
He notes that despite more than ten years passing since the end of the conflict there has not been “much progression in the resolutions”. Scully called upon the government to “redouble our efforts to make sure that human rights are raised to the highest level”.
Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, echoed these remarks as maintained the importance of the Tamil community and fulfilling promises made to them. “People have strong expectations”, he remarked and raised the prospects of imposing sanctions.
Robert Halfon MP, MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee, spoke on the importance of genocide recognition highlighting how his Jewish background led him to care deeply about the issue.
Commenting on the Tamil genocide conference, he noted how it was harrowing to hear harrowing accounts of the suffering that Tamil people went through.
“I said it before, and I’ll say it again at every Tamil meeting I address:
The Tamils were subjected to genocide.
146,000 Tamils were killed or disappeared.
280,000 put behind barbed wire and treated inhumanely, in scenes which we thought would end after the Second World War.
There must be recognition of the genocide that took place against the Tamil people […]
It’s the duty of all free-thinking politicians, people who love democracy, who love ideals, to stand up for the Tamils and recognise the genocide that took place.
We must call it for what it is”.
Halfon, further stressed that human rights abuses were ongoing in Sri Lanka and that “there must be accountability through an international mechanism to ensure that justice is delivered”.
“Equality, self-determination, proper justice for those who committed war crimes, they should be brought before the international court without a shadow of a doubt as those people seem to have gotten away with it, they should be held accountable”, he added.
Jackie Doyle Price, MP Thurrock, shared these sentiments maintaining that what took place was a genocide that “there needs to be some reparation”. Doyle emphasised the importance of
“Re-establish Great Britain’s place in the world as a focus for freedom democracy the rule of law but most importantly but for humanity [….]”.
“We will hold this government’s feet to the fire”, she further stated.
Militarisation and international avenues
Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, Former Sec State for Environment and N. Ireland stressed the importance of committing to justice and accountability but highlighted that Sri Lanka “seems to be going in the wrong direction”.
“Depressingly things seem to be going in the wrong direction with an increasing presence of military and former military figures in civilian life, govt appointment, and pardon of one of the few soldiers convicted of war crimes” Villiers noted.
She further warned that if Sri Lanka failed to comply with the UN resolution that it had previously endorsed, “then the international community [would] need to think seriously about an alternative mechanism for international justice”.
Human rights abuses are on-going, Villers maintained, not “least the continual denial of the truth from those whose relatives were disappeared and remain missing, and about which we do not know their fate”.
Bob Blackman, MP Harrow East, stressed the importance of families of the disappeared receiving closure.
“Until that happens the SL gov will continue to have blood on their hands and will have to account to the international community for what they have done”, he stated.
Blackman also raised concerns over accountability noting that situations was worsening with Sri Lanka’s military attaché “demonstrating complete contempt for the British Tamils”.
Keith Prince, London Assembly Member, further noted that Sri Lanka was heading in a “dangerous direction” and maintained that the British should impress upon the Sri Lankan government that, this is “not acceptable”.
Prince highlighted a key concern of the conservative party that war criminals be “brought to justice”.
British Tamils operating on the front-line
Throughout each speakers’ remarks was an acknowledgement of all the Tamils serving on the front lines in every aspect of society, not only the massive contribution to the NHS but all the way down to local shop owners.
Lord Ahmad noted that this sacrifice was “sadly and tragically [and risk] to their own health and lives”.
Watch Part 1 of the conference here.
Watch Part 2 of the conference here.
Watch Part 3 of the conference here.