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UK says trade with Sri Lanka goes 'hand in hand' with human rights

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The British government continued to call on Sri Lanka to co-operate with a United Nations investigation into mass atrocities on the island and stated that the UK's trade with Sri Lanka goes “hand in hand” with its commitment to human rights.

Speaking during a debate in the House of Lords on Thursday, Lord Livingston, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said,

“Trade is important not only to the prosperity of the UK but to Sri Lanka and its people. However, the UK’s commitment to free trade goes hand in hand with our commitment to human rights. That point has been made volubly.”

“We continue to urge Sri Lanka to co-operate and ensure the protection of those providing evidence to the investigation, and to implement the recommendation of its own internal commission on resettlement and rehabilitation.”

The question of whether the British government would deploy sanctions against Sri Lanka was raised during the debate, with Lord Livingston saying,

“The UK Government’s position on this is that it is premature to do anything more prior to the UN reporting on the matter, and we are expecting the UN’s report in March 2015. When we receive it, it will be appropriate for the Government to take a view of which, if any, of those recommendations should be taken up.”

The minister also responded to a question from Lord Bach, who asked why more than £8 million of arms export licenses, including shotguns, assault rifles and ammunition, were granted to Sri Lanka. Lord Livingston said,

“The British Government have a rigorous policy of assessing all export licences to each country, including Sri Lanka, very much on a case-by-case basis. We seek not to export equipment where we assess that there is a clear risk that it might be used for internal repression, would provoke or prolong conflict within a country, or would be used aggressively against another country. The equipment concerned included antennae for military transport, carbon fibre tows, some software to do with internet access, and things such as sporting cartridges. On these cases, which we reviewed carefully, we decided that export licences could be granted.”

“It is also something that we will keep under review, as we do with all countries.”

Earlier Lord Bach said that Sri Lanka has “done all within their powers to block any effort to discover what went on and what may still be going on.” He went on to add “the Sri Lankan Government have just gone on blocking: there is no access for the investigative team and a reported threat by the Minister for Mass Media in Sri Lanka that legal action may well be taken against those who testify before the Commission, if they breach the terms of the Sri Lankan constitution”.

Also speaking during the debate was the vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Sri Lanka and supporter of Conservative Friends of Sri Lanka, Lord Sheikh, who said he had visited the island twice, met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and “enjoyed a highly successful relationship with the Sri Lankan high commission” in London. He was joined by Lord Naseby, who was labelled “an apologist for the Sri Lankan government” by the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, in calling for an expansion in bilateral trade with Sri Lanka.

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