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UK MPs debate Sri Lanka: 'pace of progress disappointingly slow'

The UK's Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field said Sri Lanka's "pace of progress has been disappointingly slow and that much remains to be done" in a dedicated Commons debate on the issue yesterday. 

Responding to questions raised by cross-party MPs of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT), Mr Field said, "the UK’s message to Sri Lanka remains resolute: we absolutely expect the Government to implement in full their commitments made in good faith in the aftermath of a time of terrible conflict. As a close partner but also as a candid friend, we shall continue to support and encourage the Sri Lankan Government to make further and faster progress, particularly on transitional justice."

"Last October I met Foreign Minister Marapana in Colombo and encouraged the Government to focus on four steps that the UK Government believe, if implemented together, would enable conditions for stability, growth and long-term prosperity for all Sri Lankans. They are: to deliver meaningful devolution through constitutional reform; to establish credible mechanisms for transitional justice; to return to the rightful owners all remaining private land that is still held by the military—right hon. ​and hon. Members will know that that is a major stumbling block; and to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with human rights compliant legislation, which we have not had in Sri Lanka to date. We will continue to press the Government of Sri Lanka to make real progress in those areas."

Highlighting the pledged judicial mechanism, Mr Field said there had been "regrettably little progress" on it. 

"This week marks the first anniversary of resolution 34/01. The UK will lead a statement at the Human Rights Council in Geneva tomorrow on behalf of the core co-sponsors: Macedonia, Montenegro, the United States and the UK. The statement will review Sri Lanka’s progress against its commitments following the update report to be presented tomorrow by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It would probably not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the final wording of the co-sponsors’ statement here, but I expect that it will reflect our assessment that: first, Sri Lanka is safer and freer now than it was in 2015; secondly, it continues to engage constructively at times with the international community; and thirdly, it has the opportunity to advance towards long-term, sustainable reconciliation. However, the statement will also make it clear that the pace of progress has been disappointingly slow and that much remains to be done, including on the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms, of which the truth and reconciliation commission is an important part.

I will touch on the point on the GSP plus, which the right hon. Member for Enfield North made. I recognise the concerns that she raised and would like to make it absolutely clear that, although there has been progress and we have allowed some recognition of the efforts that Sri Lanka has made so far, I would not want the Sri Lankan Government to be under any illusion that being allowed to go for the GSP plus somehow gets them off the hook. We feel that is an entirely acceptable position."

Read debate in full here

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