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British politicians call on Sri Lanka to cooperate with UN and de-militarise North-East

British MPs from the 3 main parties gathered at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T) annual dinner, organised by British Tamils Forum on Thursday, to celebrate the contribution of the Tamil community to the UK and reaffirm their commitment to seeking justice and normalcy for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Speakers at the event, which was attended by members of the British Tamil community, representatives from overseas Tamil diaspora organisations, British ministers, MPs, international journalists, human rights activists and local councillors, reaffirmed their resolve towards pressuring the new Sri Lankan government to co-operate with the United Nations inquiry into Sri Lankan atrocities and de-militarising the North-East.

Representatives of Tamil community organisations from the UK and abroad were present, including the British Tamils Forum, Tamils for Labour, British Tamil Conservatives, Tamil Information Centre and the United States Political Action Group (USTPAC).

The British Prime Minister David Cameron, offering his best wishes to the APPG-T, said,

“The OISL investigation itself is not reconciliation or accountability. It is important that the report is considered by the new Sri Lankan government as they seek to reconcile and hold perpetrators to account for their actions.”

The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, in a video message, applauding the Tamil community’s contribution to British society, echoed calls for the new Sri Lankan government to fully co-operate with the UN investigation, and noted that it would only be the first step.

Addressing the event, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey, thanking the Tamil community for their contributions to British society, called for continued work towards justice and accountability for atrocities committed against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Mr Davey, said he "shared the frustration and impatience of so many Tamils," adding that, "from the investigation into war crimes to the need for an independent land commission, to prevent the continual expropriation of land from the Tamils, there is so much to do."

In a message sent to the APPG-T dinner, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, said that he "would wish to see the UN inquiry continue under President Sirisena, and report as planned at the next session of the Human Rights Council."

The chairman of the APPG-T, MP Lee Scott, called on British parliament to apologise for letting Tamils down at the end of the 2009 armed conflict.  He further pledged to fight for justice and for those responsible for the loss of Tamil lives to be held to account for genocide.

Addressing the room of politicians, the chairman of the British Tamil Forum (BTF) urged the international community to work towards justice for war crimes and genocide whilst stopping the ongoing militarisation and change in demographics of the traditional Tamil homeland in the North-East of the island.

Proposing a  toast to the Tamil community for its contribution to the UK , Labour MP, Siobhain Mcdonagh, called for accountability and justice in Sri Lanka, and highlighted the need for further pressure to get Sri Lanka to cooperate with the UN investigation.

Deputy Chair of the APPG-T and Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh speaks to BTF chairman Mr Ravi Kumar and Mr Varadakumar of the Tamil Information Centre

The Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, added to calls for justice and accountability in Sri Lanka, noting the “huge contribution” that British Tamils make to all sectors of the UK.

Mr Grayling further highlighted that earlier this year, "the UK held back sanctions at the request of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who wanted to get on with his job.. in order not to risk the independence of investigation."

Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis, applauding the Tamil community's contribution to British society through "business, culture and civil society", said the Labour party was "under no illusions that the new Sri Lankan government would bring changes people in this room will want, it is right that we are clear about our expectations."

Mr Evans, further added that the Labour party supported a UN investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed with the intent of genocide, adding that "only a political solution recognising the Tamil people's right to self-determination can solve the root cause of the ethnic conflict."

Commending the Tamil community in London for having strength and organisation "that is not matched by any other community," the deputy leader of the House of Commons, MP Tom Brake, noting that Sri Lanka previously denied that there were any Tamil casualties during the war, said that he hoped Tamils would "finally get justice" and be able to see that " those resonsible are brought to justice."

A doctor, who trained in the de-facto state of Tamil Eelam, and worked in Mullivaikaal during the last stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), recalled his harrowing experiences of the Sri Lankan government’s intentional targeting of Tamil civilians in the No Fire Zone, in which he worked in until the 15th of May 2009.

Dr V Tharmaratnam, concluded by urging the British government and international community to “apply concrete pressure on Sri lanka to co-operate with the UN investigation, restore normalcy to the Tamil North-East by de-militarising the region and releasing detained Tamil political prisoners.”

MP Robert Halfon, demanding an end to the genocide of Tamils, using the "Je Suis Charlie" campaign, expressed solidarity with Tamil journalists that had been killed by the Sri Lankan state. Mr Halfon ended by stating, "The Tamils deserve the recognition of the genocide of their people and they deserve the right of self-determination."

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers

Speaking to Tamil Guardian during the event, Conservative MP and  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, commenting on Sri Lanka’s new presidency, said,

“It doesn’t change the fundamentals, the same questions need answering and the goals are the same as before the new government was elected.”

“We need to see justice and accountability for what happened at the end of the war, and we need to see political progress to reach a settlement in Sri Lanka which sees equality for all parts of the community, including the Tamil community.”

Expressing “grave concern” about the ongoing appropriation of Tamil land and militarisation, Ms Villiers added,

“A just settlement in Sri Lanka must also reflect the property ownership of these individuals. I think it is important for the scaling down of the military presence.”

“Real progress does mean that we have to see increasing normalisation of the situation,” Ms Villiers concluded.

The Chief Government Whip, MP Gavin Barwell, told the Tamil Guardian, that “the evidence is clear that there were crimes against the Tamil civilians in the North of the island in particular” and stressed that if the new government continues to refuse to co-operate with the UN investigation the UK should “ talk to other governments to see how we can increase pressure to get them to change their mind.”

Highlighting that de-militarisation was a precondition to reconciling the Tamils,  Mr Barwell added,

“Clearly what we want to see is de-militarisation in the North East. There will have to be an agreed programme of gradual withdrawal. Clearly this is one of the essential pre-conditions of reconciliation.”

Calling for further investment in the North-East of the island, and calling for Sri Lanka to de-list Tamil diaspora organisations, Mr Barwell, stressed,

“There is quite a lot of potential to get that investment from Tamil diaspora communities from around the world. This is an obvious example where if they take the first simple steps in terms of demilitarisation and de-listing some o these organisations, they could find resources coming in to help with the work that needs to be done to rebuild the North and East of the island.”

International journalists including Channel 4's Jonathan Miller and the No Fire Zone documentary producer Callum Macrae, were present alongside the director of Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) Jan Jananayagam and the author of 'Still Counting The Dead' Frances Harrison.

Commenting on the new Sri Lankan presidency, Conservative Member of European Parliament, Charles Tannock,  told Tamil Guardian that “nobody is confident” as a culture of impunity in Sri Lanka “has been going on for so long.”

Mr Tannock, called on the new president to demonstrate to the “Tamil, Sinhala and international communities” that he “means business in ending impunity” through cooperating with the “UN led investigation to see who exactly gave orders and who can be held responsible.”

“I don’t think you will have closure in this chapter of history unless there are at least elements of those at the highest level responsible for the atrocities being held to account.”

Noting the new presidency’s refusal to co-operate with the UN, Mr Tannock added that “Sri Lanka has had its GSP+ suspended by the EU as a result of deficiencies in justice. For that to be restored it will require the sorts of things that I have mentioned.”

Calling on president Sirisena  to reduce the “intimidating” presence of the Sri Lankan military in the North-East of the island, Mr Tannock said  “it is one of the most over militarised zones in the world. It would be a fairly cost free exercise for the new president to demilitarise the Northern regions. I can’t see any legitimate justification of why you need such a heavy military footprint in the North and East of the island.”

Questioning the Sri Lankan government’s proscription of Tamil diaspora organisations, Mr Tannock  added,

“Any Tamil organisation which affirms the rule of law in our countries should be allowed to pursue their business in Sri Lanka. There are many Tamil organisations which seek to achieve their objectives through peaceful and democratic means.”

Noting that the APPG-T itself was banned from visiting Sri Lanka, Mr Tannock added,

“One of the easiest things the president could do is welcome a visit by the APPG-T to Sri Lanka.”

The chairman of the APPG-T, Conservative MP, Lee Scott, later told Tamil Guardian that targeted sanctions and withdrawal of loans should be considered if the government continues reject calls for co-operation with the UN.

Commenting on calls from the Northern Provincial Council in Sri Lanka, for devolved powers and de-militarisation of the North-East, Mr Scott added,

"It should be completely run by the Tamil community in the North-East with no interference from the Sri Lankan government."

Videos of some of the night's speeches are produced below.

 Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, MP Chris Grayling  Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, MP Ivan Lewis
 Deputy leader of the House of Commons, MP Tom Brake
 Secretary and Treasurer of APPG for Tamils, MP Robert Halfon
  Dr.V.Tharmaratnam - A Witness and survivor of the final stage of the Sri Lankan military onslaught in Mullivaikkal in 2009

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