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Hague ‘encouraged’ Sri Lanka to take part in summit on sexual violence

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament on Tuesday that he had “encouraged” Sri Lanka to take part in a summit on sexual violence in June, as it would be “highly appropriate” for the country attend, given events in recent decades.

Responding to a question by MP Stella Creasy, Hague said that Sri Lanka has been invited to the event, but that he cannot force any country to attend.

Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire also spoke on Sri Lanka, saying it was important for the country to listen to what was said at the UN Human Rights Council and allow an investigation through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy asked the foreign secretary whether he thought it is appropriate for President Rajapaksa to remain as chair of the Commonwealth, as the Sri Lankan government had rejected the resolution mandating an international probe, but Hague pointed out that the UK was not part of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and they could not determine the Commonwealth chair themselves.

See transcript below.

House of Commons

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Oral Answers to Questions

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council on global efforts to uphold universal human rights.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): The 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council took strong action to combat impunity by voting through resolutions on Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka in response to UN reporting on allegations of serious human rights violations.

Mr Love: I will focus on the international inquiry into the conflict in Sri Lanka. Given the Rajapaksa Government’s hostility, what mechanisms are available to the inquiry to enable it to carry out its investigation on the island and what protections can it give to the witnesses that come before it, both of which are absolutely critical if we are to get to the bottom of the events in 2009?

Mr Swire: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We got through the resolution that we wanted. The Prime Minister showed tremendous leadership on this. We were completely vindicated in our decision to go to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary included—because had we not gone there, we would not be in the position that we are today. Now that the international community has spoken through the United Nations Human Rights Council, it is important that the Government in Colombo listen to what has been said and what is asked of them, and that we can conduct an investigation through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make that country a better place for all.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I welcome the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, but given that President Rajapaksa has failed to comply with previous resolutions and with the very generous last-chance offer that the Prime Minister gave him at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and has now rejected the current resolution outright, does the Foreign Secretary still think it is appropriate for President Rajapaksa to continue as chair-in-office of the Commonwealth? If this is referred to the Commonwealth ministerial action group, what position will the UK take?

Mr Hague: The UK is not on the Commonwealth ministerial action group, as the hon. Lady knows, nor is it in our gift to determine the chair of the Commonwealth ourselves, but it was within our gift to decide to go to Sri Lanka and to raise these issues. As the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire) has just made clear, there would have been no chance of succeeding in the Human Rights Council, as we recently did, had it not been for the Prime Minister’s leadership, our presence in Sri Lanka and our willingness to show how passionate we are about what happened in the north of Sri Lanka. The Opposition’s attitude of not going to Sri Lanka would have been a terrible misjudgement.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): The Foreign Secretary has talked proudly of his preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative and the summit in June. Given the concerns that many hon. Members have about what is happening in Sri Lanka, does he believe that the Sri Lankan Government will attend, and what action will he take if they do not?

Mr Hague: Of course, I am not able to compel any Government to attend. I have invited the 143 nations that so far have endorsed the declaration that I launched on ending sexual violence to attend the summit in June, but I cannot force any of them to do so. However, given events in Sri Lanka in recent decades, it would be highly appropriate for the Sri Lankan Government to be there and to present their plans. I have encouraged them to do so.