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British Tamil woman concludes hunger strike after 17 days

Ambihai Selvakumar, a British Tamil woman and one of the directors of the International Centre for the Prevention of Genocide (ICPPG), has concluded her hunger strike after 17 days of demanding that the British government pursue international accountability for genocide committed by the Sri Lankan state.

Her hunger strike drew support from around the world including in Batticaloa, Amparai and Jaffna. Rallies were also held in Europe, such as France and Switzerland, demanding that the international community refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court. A peaceful protest in London on Sunday was disrupted by the Metropolitan Police.

Read more here: British police draw batons on Tamil protestors in London

Selvakumar’s hunger strike also gained international support from parliamentarians across the globe as well as notable Tamil actors Kamal Haasan and Sathyaraj.

The conclusion of the protest came after a resolution was tabled at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday.

The resolution calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to "collect" as well as "consolidate, analyse and preserve” evidence that could be used in future war crimes trials. However, it fails to implement UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet's recommendations which call on member states to consider asset freezes and travel bans on Sri Lankan officials credibly accused of human rights abuses and to consider “steps towards the referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC)".

Britain’s response

Responding to a letter from Christy Nilani Kandeeban, a spokesperson from the International Centre for the Prevention of Genocide (ICPPG), British Minister of State for South Asia Lord Ahmad maintained that the UNHRC resolution would ensure that accountability in Sri Lanka would be kept “firmly on the UNHRC agenda”. In his statement, he highlighted the need to “strengthen the capacity of OHCHR to consolidate, preserve and analyse information and evidence to support future accountability processes”.

Speaking before the UNHRC earlier this month, Ahmad further raised concerns over the recurrence of violations and criticised Sri Lanka’s failure to pursue accountability, remarking that “previous domestic commissions have all failed”.


Whilst conceding the failures of previous commissions, Ahmad however rejected calls to refer Sri Lanka to the ICC claiming that it would fail as it did not have “sufficient support among [UN] Security Council members”. He further claimed that the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur for Sri Lanka would not be needed, as “the High Commissioner for Human Rights is herself at the forefront of the UN’s efforts”.

Read more here: UN resolution will keep Sri Lanka ‘firmly on agenda’ says UK


Opposition leaders call for stronger resolution

Lord Ahmed’s response has received sharp criticism from the Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Stephen Kinnock, who has called on the government to ‘comprehensively rewrite’ the current proposed UN resolution and questioned why the government’s review of its Global Human Rights sanctions regime does not include “a single senior Sri Lankan government minister, official or military officer”.

Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, also slammed the proposed resolution to maintain that it  “completely fails to rise to the challenge” and called for Sri Lanka to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

MP for Ilford South, Sam Tarry, has released a statement in support of Ambihai Selvakumar and maintaining that human rights must be upheld in Sri Lanka

MP for Ealing South, Virendra Sharma, has similarly called on the government to present a stronger resolution and to consider imposing sanctions on senior Sri Lankan officials implicated in human rights abuses.

In his statement, he called on the UK government to ensure that "future trade agreements between the UK and Sri Lanka do not undermine the UK’s stated commitment to pursuing accountability and justice for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka." In 2020, Britain eclipsed China as the biggest direct investor in the Sri Lankan economy. 

Britain’s parliament is to hold a debate on the “UK’s Commitment to Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka,” as a resolution on the issue is due to be voted on at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this month.  The debate organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tamils will be held on March 18th.

Read more here: British parliament to hold debate on Sri Lanka ahead of crucial UN vote

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