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UK opposition leader reiterates Labour Party commitment to justice and self-determination for Tamil people

Photograph: Tamil Guardian

The leader of the British opposition Jeremy Corbyn reiterated the Labour party’s commitment to achieving justice and self-determination for the Tamil people.

(See live tweeting from the event here. Video extract of statement produced below)

After being received with a standing ovation at a meeting of the Labour party with the Tamil community in the Houses of Parliament, Mr Jeremy Corbyn, in his concluding, remarks said,

“We as a party are very committed to the issues of human rights and justice. We are very committed to the rights of peoples, Tamil people, in this case, to achieve their justice, their self-expression and their self-determination.”

Addressing the meeting, organised by Tamils For Labour, Mr Corbyn questioned whether the conflict in Sri Lanka is actually over, adding,

“This is the seventh anniversary of the end of the conflict or is it the end of the conflict? You have to go into the question of the human rights abuses, the camps that were set up, the missing people, the lack of journalists and independent observers, and about the issue being properly being taken up at the UN. Those issues have to be dealt with. Unless you solve the issue of the rights of people for their cultural identity, their rights, their language, their freedom, their ability to organise themselves as a community, then the war is not over, the conflict is not over. The situation will only rear its head again. Thousands have died during that war, thousands have lost their lives and families have suffered. Do we say it’s all over? No we don’t.”

Stressing the importance of upholding human rights irrespective of trade relations, he added,

 “When it comes to trade treaties.. they must include a very clear definition of what human rights abuses are. If the trade partner is abusing human rights…then quite simply, we should not be treating them as a normal equal trading partner, we should put all the demands and pressure wed put for anybody else where there is abuse of rights going on. We as a party are very committed to the issues of human rights and justice. We are very committed to the rights of peoples, Tamil people, in this case, to achieve their justice, their self-expression and their self-determination.”

Mr Corbyn went on to reflect on his longstanding involvement in the Tamil struggle and disappointment at the international community to act on Tamil demands.

Speaking of his experiences in dealing with Asylum cases during the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, and the May 2009 protests, he said,

“When I was first elected to parliament, before recorded history began, in 1983, there was a useful rule that any MP could take up any immigration case in the country wherever it was. So every MP had the power to intervene on behalf of an asylum applicant to make representations to the home office. Because of the work of volunteers that did hundreds of cases As a result of this hard work, a very large number of people were not deported to Sri Lanka in 1983, 84 and 85. And were able to remain in this country, build their lives, run their businesses and be active in Tamils for Labour.”

“When we had the camp in parliament square, people were taking hunger strikes to draw attention to the situation in Sri Lanka. 200,000 people marched through the streets of London and I was one of very few people who were not part of the Tamil community to join that march. I remember to this day, and am still angry about it, the utter silence of the majority of British and world’s media to the demonstration as well as the cause on the issue. The meeting tonight draws attention to the abuse of human rights and attention to the demands you are making. I hope Tamils for Labour continue ensuring that we as a party remain committed to the needs and justice for the Tamil people.”

The Labour Party leader’s statement was preceded by remarks from the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT) Siobhain Mcdonagh, former Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, Keith Vaz MP and followed  by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. The event was attended by over one hundred people with some 26 Labour Members of Parliament showing their presence at the event.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, reiterated his commitment to using his foreign affairs team to work towards an accountability process that won the confidence of the Tamil community.

Stressing the importance of genuine accountability and a political solution he said,

“In order to move on from conflict there must be accountability. And in order for that to happen the process must have the confidence of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and around the world. We are still quite a long way to go before people feel that those conditions have been met. There has to be a continuing political process that addressees the lack of autonomy and voice that the Tamil community has felt, to be heard and reconciled in a political solution in that country. I want to pledge support of the Labour foreign affairs team to justice, accountability and truth.”

Calling for an end to all ongoing violations in Sri Lanka, he added,

“Torture in any form, in any country is completely unacceptable. If it is taking place and the reports are credible and sound it must stop.”

Making the opening statement of the event,  Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT) Siobhain Mcdonagh, said,

“We are all aware of the tenacity of the Tamil community that continuous to fight against ongoing rights abuses in Sri Lanka. We all know that despite some of the positive steps that Sri Lanka’s government is taking there is still so much more to do. Sirisena’s government has made some progress but we are a lot away from the commitments made to full accountability, prosperity and security in Sri Lanka. Even within our borders progress can also feel elusive. The UK government has been far too accepting of Sirisena’s assurances. We need to do much more towards the urgent need for the country to make proper progress towards an agreed political settlement. A settlement that gives the Tamil people the self-determination they absolutely deserve. We must resolutely call for the full implementation of the UNHRC resolution. Myself and colleagues have previously spoken extensively on the need for proper international justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka. It is only through such a mechanism that credible truth and accountability can be achieved.”

Following the opening statement a panel, chaired by Joan Ryan MP, presented updates and commentary on Sri Lanka.

Panelists included former BBC Correspondent and author of Still Counting the Dead Frances Harrison, Advocacy Director at Freedom From Torture Sonya Sceats, No Fire Zone documentary producer Callum Macrae and International Relations Lecturer, who’s theses studied Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, Dr Sutha Nadarajah.

More to follow.

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