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British MPs turn up the heat on Sri Lanka

In a debate held Thursday in the British House of Commons, several British MPs once again called for a full international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka, stating that Britain must take the lead in pushing for accountability.

MPs from across the political spectrum united in expressing concern at the Sri Lankan government’s conduct since the end of the war.

Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, stated,

“We must be clear about the fact that Sri Lanka is a rogue nation. It has carried out genocide against the Tamil people, and we must do all that we can to stop the persecution of the Tamils once and for all.”

He further elaborated that,

“We must make a distinction between murder and genocide—genocide is scientific, organised killing”.

Watch the full debate on the BBC below.

Siobhain Mcdonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden also said,

Britain must take a brave and principled lead—just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place.

Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor.

We cannot allow the international community to slip back to the cosy days of 2009, when the UN disgracefully ignored calls for a war crimes investigation, or when the Secretary-General spoke of Sri Lanka’s ‘tremendous efforts’.”

Read the Hansard transcripts here.

Requested by MPs Lee Scott and Steve Baker, the debate tackled the issue of “Human Rights in the Indian Subcontinent”, looking in particular at human rights abuses in Kashmir and Sri Lanka.

Concluding the debate, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alistair Burt said,

“The allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations committed by both sides in the military conflict are of great concern to us.

The UK has consistently made its position clear: Sri Lanka needs to address accountability through an independent, thorough and credible process that meets international standards and allows the people of Sri Lanka to move towards reconciliation and lasting peace and security.”

Excerpts from the debate have been reproduced below.

Britain’s duty

Several Members reinforced the statement that Britain has a responsibility to ensure that justice is served.
MP Lee Scott commented,

“What I want to say, to everyone in the House, is that we have a duty.

We have a duty to represent not only our constituents, but those who have no voice, wherever they are in the world. We have a duty to stand up for innocent people, whether they be Tamil or Sinhalese, and to get justice.”

Siobhain Mcdonagh also stated that the international community must join together in sending a clear message to Sri Lanka, that war crimes would not be tolerated.

“The world must say to other Governments that there is nothing to be gained from taking the Sri Lankan option of brutal repression and war crimes.”

MP for Liverpool West Derby, Stephen Twigg went on to say,

“Beyond the sphere of domestic Sri Lankan politics, the international community has a responsibility to secure justice.

Justice must be sought because that is the right thing to do, but it is also right that we should pursue justice as a means of deterrent. Writing recently in The Times, Lord Ashdown made a poignant observation:

‘The point about law is that it exists not just to deliver justice after the event but also to govern behaviour beforehand.’”

Expelling war criminals

Recognising Sri lanka’s recent recall of Major General Jagath Dias from his post as Ambassador to Germany and Switzerland due to war crimes allegations (see here), Siobhain Mcdonagh called on Britain to follow suit.

She mentioned this in regard to Major General Prasanna Silva of the Sri Lankan Army’s appointment as Military Attaché to the UK.

“I call on the Minister to reassure the House that he will not permit Major-General Silva to serve here. I want Britain to prove its place at the head of the international community, and I hope that the Minister can enable it to do so by removing this man’s diplomatic privileges.”

CHOGM

Speaking on the issue of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, MP Robert Halfon welcomed the Canadian Prime Minister’s call for a boycott of the 2013 meeting due to be held in Sri Lanka and urged Britain to do the same.

He also called for Sri Lanka to be expelled from the Commonwealth, a sentiment that was echoed by MP Virendra Sharma.

MP Siobhain Mcdonagh remarked that,

 “Sri Lanka still wants to host the Commonwealth summit in 2013. We should be clearly saying “No, not until there is a fully independent, UN-led international inquiry.” I hope that if one thing comes out of today’s debate, it will be that commitment.

Sri Lanka’s friends

MP Robert Halfon also urged the House to examine Sri Lanka's behaviour and relationships on the international level, most notably their conduct in relation to Libya.

He said,

"There is a saying that one judges a man by the friends he keeps. In the same way, one can judge a Government by the allies they keep.

In the past decade, Sri Lanka’s key allies have been Iran, North Korea and Colonel Gaddafi. Colonel Gaddafi gave Sri Lanka £500 million in financial assistance for so-called development projects. In return, Sri Lanka strongly opposed the no-fly zone in Libya and offered him sanctuary. Even after Gaddafi was threatening Benghazi, Sri Lanka organised mass rallies in his support, protesting against NATO intervention.

We all know the story of North Korea, yet Sri Lanka was happy to sign a major weapons contract with it in 2009.

We also know the story about Iran, yet Sri Lanka signed business and oil contracts with that country in defiance of international sanctions.

Despite that, Sri Lanka continues to be a member of the Commonwealth and the United Nations."