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Labour Party reiterates pledges to Tamils and calls to refer Sri Lanka to ICC

Senior figures within the Labour Party addressed an event to mark Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day at the Houses of Parliament this month, where they reiterated pledges to British Tamils and called for Sri Lanka to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Wes Streeting, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, said events such as the one to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Tamil genocide are “a reminder to the government today, and to potentially a different government after the general election, that there is enormous support for your cause here in Parliament and a strong determination on the part of us to make sure that this doesn't slip off the agenda.”

“I know I can say very confidently on behalf of my colleagues Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, David Lammy our Shadow Foreign Secretary that ensuring that you get the accountability that you deserve will form part of the key foreign policy priorities should there be a Labour government,” he added.

“It is so important if international law and human rights to mean anything it is really important that individuals are held to account through the International Criminal Court and that those referrals are made.”

Chair of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Anneliese Dodds, delivered a message on behalf of Starmer, stating that “our thoughts as the Labour Party are with the Tamil victim-survivors and their loved ones”.

She also spoke on the importance of referring the “perpetrators of these dreadful crimes to the International Criminal Court”.

Gareth Thomas, Shadow Minister for International Trade, said “It is almost incomprehensible as to why Magnitsky Sanctions haven't been used against General Shavendra Silva, for example”.

“If the US and Canada can do it, why can't we do it here in the UK? We should be doing that.”

John McDonnell, the former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, recalled the events in Mullivaikkal in 2009, stating it was “a massacre of people on the beach, no defence, nowhere to go”.

“And it was systematic. It was planned.”

Speaking on sanctions that have been placed on Sri Lankan war criminals by the United States and Canada, McDonnell said “We've got a golden opportunity in these next few months to make sure that happens here”.

“The sanctions regime is absolutely critical,” he continued. “There's two levels of sanction one is the individual sanctions - the Magnitsky Clause is absolutely critical.

“Trade sanctions is another route through,” McDonnell added. “We should not be trading with war criminals. We should not be trading or financially supporting a regime like this.”

“The Tamil community has valiantly brought the damning evidence of the Sri Lankan government's war crimes to the attention of the world,” said Dame Siobhain McDonagh.

Catherine West, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, said “From the Shadow Foreign Office point of view, we just want to reiterate our commitment to working with you to get a solution”.

“We know that over many years so many Tamils have suffered injustice and want to have answers… So together with you and working closely with you, we want to have solutions to this problem; working with international organizations, the United Nations and the International Criminal Court”.

“We have international laws for a reason,” said Dawn Butler MP. “So we are with you in this battle and this fight. We are with you every step of the way. We are behind you. We are beside you and we are with you.”

“We will never ever forget.”

James Murray, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, reiterated calls on the British government to “consider the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to refer perpetrators of these crimes to the International Criminal Court”.

He said it was a “very important commitment that I know means so much to so many in the Tamil community". “We believe it is vital that ministers here in the UK government activate Magnitsky Sanctions against those complicit in past killings,” he added.

Virendra Sharma MP emphasised how what happened in Sri Lanka was “wrong… but we are still fighting”.

Addressing the event, Sen Kandiah, Chair of Tamils for Labour, said that he had “got from the Labour Party… three important things within the election of a Labour government within 100 days”.

“They will bring in the Magnitsky sanctions to those people who are already sanctioned (in the United States and Canada),” he said. “They, including Keir (Starmer) on video committed that they would work with the other countries to refer Sri Lanka to ICC. So, I don't think they are going to go back on that.”

“Then we talked about self-determination and they said yes it is a process we have to work with countries like India, America and Europe, we will work with you.”

The messages from the senior leadership of the Labour Party echo that of Starmer, who released a statement to mark the “15th year Mullivaikkal Genocide Remembrance Day”. 

“Mullivaikkal must also be a reminder that as well as commemorating those who are lost, we must bring the perpetrators of atrocities to justice,” said Starmer. “As Tamil communities across our country pause and reflect upon this solemn day, the Labour Party reaffirms our commitment to work towards lasting peace, reconciliation and a long-lasting political solution for the Tamil people.”

In 2022, Starmer called on the UK government to “stand with the Tamils and heed the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner to refer the perpetrators of the atrocities to the International Criminal Court".

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