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Corbyn elected as UK's opposition leader

Corbyn addresses Mullivaikkal memorial event on May 18, 2011

Jeremy Corbyn, the veteran anti-Apartheid campaigner won the UK opposition party's leadership contest on Saturday with a sweeping victory.

Winning 59.5% of the vote, Mr Corbyn's victory exceeded the poll predictions and came despite a number of key Labour figures expressing concern about the party's chances at the next election if he was elected as leader.

Mr Corbyn has been vocal on human rights abuses against Tamils in Sri Lanka since the 1980s and joined British Tamils as they protested in London against the massacre of Tamils at the end of the armed conflict in May 2009.

 

 

Alongside other Labour Party MPs and trade union officials, Mr Corbyn in 2006 called for an end to Sri Lanka's aerial bombardment of Tamil areas, which had ominously began to ramp up, as the ceasefire on the island eroded.

“The Sri Lanka government is carrying out an undeclared war against the Tamil people who have been struggling for more than two decades for the legitimate right to self-rule,” said a petition signed by Mr Corbyn in December 2006. It went on to state:

“The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, elected on a Sinhala chauvinist basis in November 2005, has consistently breached the 2002 cease-fire agreement with the LTTE. They have been conducting aerial bombardments, specifically outlawed under the agreement. In August, the Sri Lankan air force destroyed an orphanage in Sencholai, killing 50 children.”

“External support for the Mahinda regime is essential in allowing it to carry out this war mongering. The Sri Lankan army leadership is trained at the British army training school at Sandhurst while the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) are banned as a supposedly “terrorist” organisation across Europe.”

The petition went on to call for a lifting of the ban on the LTTE and to re-open negotiations “for a just solution acceptable to the Tamil people”, alongside an end to aerial bombardments and disappearances.

Over 100,000 protestors marched in London in 2009

As the Sri Lankan military campaign continued, during the height of the conflict in February 2009, Jeremy Corbyn joined international calls for a ceasefire.

“If the Government of Sri Lanka are simply not prepared to listen to the international community’s calls for a ceasefire, is it not time for some degree of sanctions, such as suspension from the Commonwealth or the suspension of military or trade agreements, to show that the rest of the world means business in trying to bring about peace in Sri Lanka?” asked Mr Corbyn in the Houses of Parliament.

The new Labour leader also supported an economic boycott of Sri Lanka, telling a rally of over 100,000 Tamils in London during the height of the massacres that there must be a complete economic boycott of Sri Lanka. “The tourism must stop, the arms must stop, the trade must stop”, said Mr Corbyn.

After the armed conflict ended, the veteran politician supported a campaign by Tamil rights activists, which called on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to boycott the Sri Lankan cricket team, as it had done with Zimbabwe several years earlier.

“I, the undersigned, call on the ECB to take a similar principled position on Sri Lanka and deny Sri Lanka the right to behave as if violence and abuse against people is playing by the rules,” read a petition signed by Mr Corbyn.

Weeks after the armed conflict had ended, Mr Corbyn asked the British Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a debate on the 30 June:

"Does he agree that the continued incarceration of large numbers of Tamil people in refugee camps is a form of imprisonment, and that denying the right to return home is illegal under international law? Will he make it clear to the Sri Lankan Government that they must not try to resettle the Tamil people outside their traditional homelands, villages and towns, in order to bring about some degree of stability in the future?"

“My hon. Friend is right,” replied Minister Ivan Lewis. “The first test of the good intentions and political will of the Government of Sri Lanka is how they treat the displaced civilians.”

Later that year in July 2009 Mr Corbyn was the primary sponsor of a motion in the British Houses of Parliament, which was signed by 31 other British MPs, that stated the House:

"notes the continual suffering of the Tamil people in camps and reports of depopulation of the east of the country;

further welcomes the proposals of the meeting calling for the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth in view of the human rights violations;

calls on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to refuse development aid and loans;

further calls on British-based and owned banks not to engage in activity with the government of Sri Lanka;

and further calls upon the Government to take all possible diplomatic action to isolate the government of Sri Lanka in view of its abuse of human rights."

Writing two days after the end of the armed conflict on May 20th 2009, Mr Corbyn noted:

"The end of fighting in Sri Lanka will mean a unitary state for the good of all Sri Lankans, or so the president claimed in his “victory” address on Monday night.

With no media presence, no observers and not even UN satellite pictures being taken, we can only speculate what the conditions are like in the enforced camps that the Tamil people have been herded into. The continued refusal of the Sri Lankan government to allow aid agencies in has made the situation more ominous.

There is a danger that in the wake of this perceived “victory,” the Sri Lanka government will engage in wholesale population moves. Having ignored calls for a ceasefire and negotiations based on recognising Tamil wishes and rights, the world must now insist on war-crimes investigations. The desperate Tamil people who blockaded Parliament Square on Monday need to be listened to."

Speaking in parliament in January 2013, Mr Corbyn said:

 

"The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and I have been involved in issues regarding the Tamil people and Sri Lanka ever since 1983, when we were both first elected to the House, and I have never forgotten the huge demonstration that took place in July of that year in London because of the problems that there then were in Sri Lanka. There has been a litany of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka for the past 30 years and beyond.

It is not an accident that there is a large Tamil diaspora in London. Many Tamil people came to this country to seek a place of safety because of the civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and the years before. I pay tribute to the diaspora community for pulling together. It supported the hunger strikes that took place out here in Parliament square and mobilised 200,000 people to march through London in support of the rights and survival of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Mobilising 200,000—almost the entire diaspora community—was a remarkable achievement; but, disgracefully, the British media routinely and almost totally ignored it. They were more concerned about traffic disruption in Parliament square than about human rights in Sri Lanka.

I recognise that things have changed and that things have to move on. There has to be a peace process, reconciliation and a reckoning with the past, which we are looking at to move forward.

My two essential points are that the UN report of last November specifically refers to the shelling of hospitals and civilian areas by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the way in which UN staff were driven away from the areas of conflict in 2008. I hope those issues will be seriously examined at the UN Human Rights Council meeting next month, which I hope to attend, as I have attended many Human Rights Council events

If we do not consider those issues, if we do not ensure the closure of what I do not refer to as welfare camps—at the end of the conflict, they were more like concentration camps—and if we do not address rights and opportunities for Tamil people in Sri Lanka, the war will return in a different form at a later stage. It is not a question of the Sri Lankan Government claiming victory over the Tamil people and the Tigers, as they have done; it has to be a question of their perception of the future of that country, otherwise in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, if any of us are still here, we will be debating the same thing again: yet another massacre of Tamil people and yet another wave of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka trying to flee to a place of safety.

I hope that the Minister is able to tell us that the Government will be robust on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and will play a robust role at the UN Human Rights Council next month to show that the UN, the Human Rights Council and the human rights of the Tamil people matter in bringing about long-term peace in Sri Lanka."

 

Speaking on Britain's arms sales last year, he also expressed “deep concern on Sri Lanka” and called for clarification on whether sales had proceeded. Over £60 million worth of weapons had been sold by the United Kingdom to “countries of concern” last year, including Sri Lanka, according to figures revealed by the Commons committees on arms export controls.

More recently, he condemned the use of sexual violence in conflict, including that against Tamil women in the North-East.

 

Jeremy Corbyn addresses conference in 2014.

 

 “This is a crime, it is a war crime. The Sri Lankan government knew exactly what it was doing when it treated these women this way,” stressed Mr Corbyn at a conference held in the House of Commons in Westminster last year.

Detailing the use of sexual violence in other conflict areas, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said it had become “a part of modern warfare” and a “weapon of war”, and urged that action be taken to bring those responsible to account.