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UK minister maintains that trade with Sri Lanka is subject to human rights commitments

Responding to a letter by Member of Parliament for Ilford South and Shadow Transport Minister, Sam Tarry, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmed, highlighted the British government’s concern over the deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka and maintained that “Sri Lanka’s receipt of Enhanced Framework preferences is subject to conditions”.

“These conditions include ratifying and effectively implementing 27 international conventions on human and labour rights, sustainability and good governance, and complying with those conventions’ reporting and monitoring requirements” Ahmed explains.

In his letter, Tarry noted that the European Union had recently passed a resolution calling for a suspension of GSP+ trading preferences with Sri Lanka and asked the Foreign Secretary,

“What conversations have you been having with your colleagues in the Department for International Trade to ensure that any future bilateral trade deals with Sri Lanka are subject to stringent human rights tests and a recommitment by the Sri Lankan Government to UNHRC Resolution 30/1, 34/1, and 40/1?”

Ahmed’s letter however further noted that “more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights” and claimed that the country’s economic relationship enabled them “to have regular and open ministerial discussions on a range of issues, including human rights”.

Last month the UK announced its Developing Countries Trading Scheme, and the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka reaffirmed the UK’s “commitments to Sri Lanka” despite the country’s dire human rights record. It further follows a leaked recording of British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, encouraging colleagues to encourage trade with countries that failed to meet ECHR-level of human rights.  

The British government has come under consistent criticism for its deepening economic ties with Sri Lanka. Last October, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey spoke to Tamil Guardian and raised his concerns that the government would sideline human rights concerns and prioritise trade amidst Brexit negotiations.

“I worry that we could be in that situation where trade comes first” warned Davey.

Read more here: 'Sanctions on Sri Lankan war criminals are a no brainer' - Interview with Sir Ed Davey

Sanctions on Shavendra Silva

In his letter, Tarry further raised the demand for the UK to sanction the alleged war criminal and commander of the Sri Lankan army, Shavendra Silva. Tarry notes that Silva had already been placed under sanctions by the United States for his involvement in war crimes which include the shelling of hospitals, enforced disappearances, and massacre of Tamil civilians.

“Indeed, not a single Sri Lankan Government Minister, official or military officer has been designated by the UK Government for human rights sanctions, despite widely available evidence of human rights abuses” Tarry further highlighted.

Ahmed’s response emphasised that he shared Tarry’s constituents concerns and thanked the International Truth and Justice Project for their submission but refused to comment on potential sanctions.

The British government has repeatedly refused to comment on sanctions leading the Shadow Minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, to accuse the government of “fail to rise to the challenge” on what he considered a “test of moral authority”.

Read more here: ‘Time for the UK to Sanction Sri Lanka’s Army Commander’ – International Truth and Justice Project

UN Resolution

In responding to Tarry’s concerns, over Sri Lanka’s withdrawal of its previous commitment to UN Resolutions 30/1, 34/1, and 40/1, Ahmed highlighted that the British government had raised its concerns with Sri Lanka both publicly and privately.

Ahmed stated this was done most recently in calls with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena during calls on 10 May and 17 June.

He further highlights that the British government led the UNHRC resolution, 46/1, which mandated the collection of evidence for a potential future war crimes tribunal and “keeps Sri Lanka firmly on the UNHRC agenda”.

The resolution followed a damning report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, which called for “strong action” and encouraged states to impose sanctions and pursue the prosecution of Sri Lankan officials accused of war crimes in their own national courts.

Read Ahmed's letter here.

Read Tarry's letter here.


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