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British MPs probe UK govt's commitment to accountability in Sri Lanka

British parliamentarians today fielded questions to Foreign and Commonwealth Office ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, on the current political crisis in Sri Lanka, following the sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP asked:

“In the light of recent worrying developments in Sri Lanka, will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government there to make good on their promises to deliver justice for the Tamil people and accountability for war crimes committed against them?

Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, responded:

“I was in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the month, and like the Foreign Secretary, I am deeply concerned by the fast-developing political situation in Sri Lanka. As I say, not only do we want to stand up for the constitution, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement fully the commitments it has willingly made to the UN Human Rights Council.”

Siobhain McDonagh MP asked:

“Does the Foreign Secretary understand the complete terror and horror of my Tamil constituents at the idea that Mahinda Rajapaksa may be coming back? There can be no justice in Sri Lanka; these people will not find out where their disappeared relatives went nine years ago. What is the Foreign Secretary really going to do to support them?”

Minister Mark Field responded:

“I hope the hon. Lady will recognise that we do a lot already to support them. As I mentioned, I visited Colombo at the beginning of October and made these points to Foreign Minister Marapana. I also met the Tamil National Alliance leader and a number of human rights and other civil society activists. We will continue to do that work. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, and I am as alarmed as she is. It is absolutely essential that we get Sri Lanka back to the table to ensure that it adheres to its UN Human Rights Council obligations.

Wes Streeting MP asked:

The use of sexual violence was an ugly characteristic of the Sri Lankan civil war under the stewardship of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and now the very same man is back in office, illegitimately, as the Prime Minister of that country. Will the Minister now, and the Foreign Secretary shortly during topical questions, condemn unreservedly the turn of events in Sri Lanka and make sure we never see a return to those dark days of appalling human rights abuses under the Rajapaksas?”

Gareth Thomas MP asked:

“If President Sirisena will not back down on the apparent return of Mahinda Rajapaksa—a man with a terrible human rights record in Sri Lanka—what further steps will the Foreign Secretary take with our European allies to demonstrate the seriousness of Britain’s concern about this matter?”

Minister Mark Field responded:

“We very much hope that President Sirisena will back down and will adhere to the constitution, which of course means bringing back Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, when he alludes at least to this, that we are actively co-ordinating our response within the international community. We believe that a concerted international response will have the most effect.”

Ranil Jayawardena MP asked if “the Foreign Secretary [would] confirm that Britain’s position will be to back the rule of law as a guiding principle in Sri Lanka and elsewhere?” to which the Foreign Secretary responded “I am absolutely happy to confirm that—and, indeed, upholding the constitution in Sri Lanka.”

See also: UK acknowledges concerns about safety of ‘Prime Minister’ Wickremesinghe