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‘Sri Lanka’s president can’t flee accountability’ – British parliamentarians call for Rajapaksa’s arrest and justice for genocide

As Colombo descends into crisis, British parliament held an urgent debate on the state of Sri Lanka with growing calls for a new pluralist constitution, the recognition of self-determination for Tamils, the ratification of the Rome Statute, the arrest of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and justice for the Tamil genocide.

In her speech, Siobhain McDonagh reflected on the dire situation in Sri Lanka, noting record levels of inflation, the imposition of a state of emergency and a health system on the brink. She further asked:

"That any financial assistance must go hand in hand with democratic and human right reforms particular for the Tamil community who continue to fight for truth, justice and accountability as a result of the human rights abuses perpetrated at the end of the civil war by the outgoing Rajapaksa regime".

She further added:

'The world turned away when the Rajapaksa government cluster bombed its own people, committing genocide, murdered its journalists, and enriched a small group led by one family'

Responding to the outbreak of violence which has accompanied the state of emergency in Sri Lanka Valarie Vaz asked if the Minister could ask “the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and ask him to stop firing at innocent people”.

When questioned on whether the British Foreign Office assisted Rajapaksa’s escape or if they would help bring him back to Sri Lanka to face justice, Minister of State for Asia, Amanda Milling, refused to answer.

“Can [the minister] reassure the house that if the people of Sri Lanka want him back to face trial for corruption and poor governance that Britain will play its role in getting him back from the Maldives?” asked Gareth Thomas MP for Harrow West.

“We’ve been calling for restraint and refrain from violence, so I’m just not going to accept that question” Milling’s retorted.

Milling’s who filled in for the absent Foreign Secretary, similarly dodged the question when Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, demanded “an international arrest warrant for President Rajapaksa and his cronies”.


Opposition MPs from across the aisle continued to grill the Minister on this question of accountability with SNP MP Alyn Smith asking:

“On accountability, the fact that the President’s fled, he can’t flee accountability. Will the minister agree with me that he and all his officials accused of being complicit in acts of humanitarian abuses will be held accountable and must be held accountable, and the UK will contribute to those efforts?”

The Minister maintained that the UK would maintain its advocacy but refused to go beyond support for the UNHRC resolution which has been roundly criticised by the opposition for “failing to rise to the challenge”. The UN resolution mandated the collection and preservation of evidence that could be used at a future war crimes tribunal but fell short of actual prosecution. Whilst the UN High Commissioner has recommended sanctions on Sri Lankan officials credibly accused of war crimes, the UK has failed to sanction a single official.

Catherine West MP also raised questions on the issue of accountability, asking:

"Will the government redouble efforts to bring to justice those implicated in human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. We have this opportunity to not only to support an ally, a friend, and a member of the commonwealth during their time of need help to bring peace, justice and a more sustainable and brighter future to the Sri Lankan people".

Furthering the debate on accountability, Stella Creasy MP asked the minister;

“The United Nations told us that over 100,000 Tamils were potentially killed during the 26-year genocide. The minister will know that the UNHCR is investigating this matter […and] there is due to be a report, there is due to be further criticism of the resolution at the United Nations, can she tell us if she’s had any talks with the United Nations and if that timetable will vary. When might our constituents finally see justice for the Tamil communities?”

Milling’s response emphasised the government’s continued concern over the harassment of civil society groups; the range of civilian functions brought under military control; rising anti-muslim sentiment; and the reversal of progress on accountability and reconciliation.

Gareth Thomas questioned the government’s commitment to justice given its unwillingness to act stating:

“Tory MP, after Tory MP, has taken trips funded by the Rajapaksa government. It has always been striking the lack of criticism of the Rajapaksa government. I do hope the minister will tell the house that the FCDO had no involvement in the escape of Mr Rajapaksa”.

Minister Milling refused to provide a response to this question.

Speaking on the need for a peaceful transition to a democratically elected government, Sam Tarry stressed the need for a new pluralist constitution which respected the right of all communities to self-determination and the need for Sri Lanka to ratify the Rome Statute.


Sarah Onley MP raised widely held concerns over the U.K.’s involvement with Sri Lanka’s police force, highlighting the Sri Lankan Police Force’s contributions to the current state of instability and unrest on the island.

"The human rights abuses of the Sri Lankan Police Force are well documented. It has been cleared in their response to the widespread protests that their unacceptable treatment of the people in Sri Lanka, particularly Tamils, that their draconian powers have been a key contributor to the current unrest. The UK government has been providing funding despite clear evidence of these abuses. Can the minister confirm whether the police forces involved in the response to these protests have received funding from the UK government?"

To this, the Minister had the following to say:

"The UK’s police training in Sri Lanka has focussed on the role of women in the police service and improving responses to sexual and gender-based violence. Police Scotland has confirmed they will not seek to participate in any future programs in Sri Lanka".


Barry Gardiner MP raised the concerns of his Tamil constituents, noting various decisions made by consecutive governments to engage with and support the Sri Lankan government despite repeated protests from his party.

“all of which this side of the house advised against. Saying that this government in Sri Lanka was no more than a Kleptocracy and that is what has been proven.

Gardiner went on to call upon the minister to confirm her intention to support a “new, strong, inclusive and democratic government in that state.”

Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, placed blame for the “horrible appalling situation for the people of Sri Lanka” on the “corruption of the Rajapakse government". Noting that "their populist unfunded tax cuts their, skyrocketing defence expenditure, the draconian police powers and the cronyism corruption the like we've rarely ever seen".

He called for an economic package with the IMF with the caveat that such support should include “ a political package which includes an international arrest warrant for President Rajapaksa and his cronies. Can it also include a demand for political freedom, the respect of rights and human rights of everyone on the island of Sri Lanka; including the Tamil and Muslim minorities.”

Stephen Timms MP raised the issue of Sri Lanka’s non-compliance with the UNHRC resolution noted that the resolution was intended as “a mechanism for resolving the legacy of the issues we've heard about today”.

He further asked if aid for Sri Lanka should be conditional on compliance with the UNHRC resolution.

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