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Liberal Democrats are committed to supporting British Tamils - Jo Swinson

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Writing in the Tamil Guardian on November 27th, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaks on genocide recognition, justice for mass atrocities and her party’s commitment towards supporting British Tamils.

Read her full piece below.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to supporting British Tamils and those in Sri Lanka. We must finally hold the Sri Lankan government to account and get justice for the atrocities committed against Tamils in 2009. Tamils in the UK have enriched our society, and are an important part of local communities across the country.

In the UK and around the world Tamils are rightly concerned by Gotabaya Rajapaksa assuming the Presidency, and his appointment of his brother as Prime Minister. I am concerned too. It is a stain on the international system that neither of these men have been held to account for the war crimes carried out during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term as President. More than a decade on, it’s now clear that his government’s actions should be recognized as genocidal. The division the new Sri Lankan government continues to sow among Sri Lanka’s peoples can only weaken the country’s chance of real, lasting peace and security. 

After a decade without real accountability, the UK must do more to help Tamils get the truth and justice they deserve. The Liberal Democrats will pressure the new Sri Lankan government to implement a comprehensive transitional justice agenda. This will include the establishment of an accountability mechanism, truth-seeking, reparation programmes and institutional reform, in line with the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Liberal Democrats believe that Britain’s place in the world is one based on co-operation and defending the rules-based international order. I’d use our influence in organisations like the EU, UN, NATO and the Commonwealth to push for the protection of Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka, and to promote human rights – including establishing a truly civil society with full freedom of the press. 

It is shameful that Britain sold millions in arms to Sri Lanka’s government during the Civil War. These sales were in blatant violation of the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. We can never again sell weapons to any government that violates international law and abuses human rights. The Tories have pushed ahead with arms deals in spite of serious concerns about human rights abuse. 

That is why in government the Liberal Democrats will put in place controls on arms exports to any country on the FCO Priority Human Rights list. This will ensure that no British weapons are sold to Sri Lanka until there is certainty that never again could they be turned on Tamil civilians. In government, we will use every tool at our disposal to strengthen the UK’s promotion of human rights, and to prevent atrocities like those faced by Tamils in 2009 from ever happening again.

Here at home, too many Tamil families have been left unfairly separated by needlessly complex asylum processes and denials of asylum that have not been adequately explained. The Tories’ cruel ‘hostile environment’ approach has left many in the UK, including many Tamils, feeling unwelcomed. 

This must change. Let me be clear: Tamils are an integral part of our communities and our nation. The Liberal Democrats are the only party with a plan to implement a fair immigration system. We will scrap the ‘hostile environment’ policy, instead welcoming migrants for the skills they bring to our economy and the contributions they make to our society. We will also scrap arbitrary and complex minimum income requirement for spouse and partner visas, ending the cruel practice of separating couples based on their salaries.

A Liberal Democrat government will protect people fleeing war and persecution. Our plan is to resettle 10,000 vulnerable refugees each year. We will move asylum policymaking from the Home Office to the Department for International Development, and create a dedicated unit to improve the speed and quality of decision-making. Crucially, we’ll give asylum seekers the right to work three months after their application, helping them adjust and flourish in their new home. 

Liberal Democrats have a bold ambition for our country - seeking justice for victims of war crimes, stopping selling weapons to human rights abusers, and making our asylum and immigration systems fairer and more effective. As members of the EU and standing tall for our principles in the world, I truly believe that we can build a brighter future for all.