Responding to the crisis in Sri Lanka, Lord Ahmad, UK Minister for South Asia, North Africa, the United Nations, and the Commonwealth, stressed the need for accountability and justice in Sri Lanka whilst maintaining that the current focus is “the immediate needs of Sri Lanka, its people and its welfare”.
Speaking in parliament he emphasised that Britain continues to work directly with the UN High Commissioner’s office “so that evidence can be collected, and justice rightly served for those who for too long have not seen justice served”.
He added that the UK Government is working constructively with Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister and cabinet to ensure human rights “are sustained and maintained while, at the same time, working towards the vital reconciliation that is required, with Sri Lanka’s historical legacy, to allow all communities to move forward together as one”.
“We have led the way on human rights in the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that the focus remains on issues of justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. The historic legacy of the conflict is not forgotten. I assure the noble Lord that through the Commonwealth, bilaterally and through UN agencies we will continue to ensure that human rights are not just sustained but are protected during this turbulent time” he told parliament.
He further stressed the need for Sri Lanka to protect the right of protest, maintaining that it is “an inherent right for any Sri Lankan”.
Commenting on his engagement with the island, he noted that he had met with numerous representatives of “different parties and the Tamil community”. At the start of the year, the Minister toured Sri Lanka and visited the Tamil homeland where he met with numerous representatives of the Tamil community including members of the People Uprising Movement (P2P) and civil society members from the Eastern province.
Lord Ahmad slammed “certain parties within Sri Lanka”, attempting to “exploit the current situation to target particular communities”.
Sri Lanka’s financial crisis
Commenting on the financial crisis Sri Lanka is in, Lord Ahmad stated:
“My Lords, the current crisis that Sri Lanka faces did not happen all of a sudden. It is important to look at steps such as the IMF’s intervention. With hindsight, I am sure many voices in Sri Lanka are asking whether it should have been sooner or earlier—but we are where we are, and it is important now that, through the IMF and the World Bank, we look at ensuring, first things first, that this debt can be restructured in a way that allows Sri Lanka to move forward”.
He added that the government was closely monitoring the situation and issues such as “food security and livelihoods”.
He further stated:
“The International Monetary Fund has assessed Sri Lanka’s debt as unsustainable. We welcome the start of in-depth discussions with the IMF on a financial assistance package and reforms needed to put debt on a sustainable path. The World Bank, to which the United Kingdom is a major donor, is providing support to health services and low-income families”.
Lord Ahmad emphasised that the UK is working with the World Bank to provide immediate support which includes $600 million assistance to provide economic and health support, including vital medicines and medical equipment.
Concerns over China
Throughout the day, numerous speakers raised concerns over the influence of China. Lord Moylan questioned whether neglect of Sri Lanka would lead the country to “drift off into the malign sphere of China”.
Ahmad addressed these concerns stating:
On the wider issue of China’s reach in the Indo-Pacific, we need to work constructively with our key partners. That is why, when it comes to infrastructure development, as I said when I visited Sri Lanka, through our own initiatives with key partners we need to offer an alternative method that allows a country not to be indebted but to service its debt and, at the same time, to move forward constructively.
Read the full remarks here.