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Sri Lanka questions in House of Parliament in UK

Friday, Mr Jim Cunningham


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07

June

2013

Coventry South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Commonwealth ministerial action group on Sri Lanka. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): The UK is not a member of the CMAG, but we have regular bilateral conversations with its members. We do not expect Sri Lanka to be on the formal CMAG agenda at 23 Apr 2013 : Column 744 its next meeting on 26 April, but we expect, and support, it being discussed at some stage in the meeting. Mr Cunningham: The CMAG is the custodian of the Commonwealths fundamental values and principles. Given the allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka and the impeachment of the Chief Justice, will the Government be calling on CMAG members to take action on Sri Lanka at its Friday meeting? Alistair Burt: We have been very clear in a variety of statements, and in direct contact with the Government of Sri Lanka, that they should be upholding the very best of Commonwealth values, particularly in view of their intention to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo later this year. We know from comments by members of the CMAG that they share the concerns and that they will also be expecting Sri Lanka to uphold those values. Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): Do the Government accept that it is becoming increasingly apparent that great damage will be done to the Commonwealth if the next CHOGM is held in Colombo later this year, given the appalling human rights record in Sri Lanka and its Governments disregard for the rule of law? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are taking action, along with many other Commonwealth states, to have this matter ventilated not just at the CMAG, but if necessary between Heads of Government, to ensure that action can be taken over the next few months to find an alternative venue? Alistair Burt: The decision to site the next CHOGM in Colombo was taken by consensus in the Commonwealth back in 2009, and we have no indication that the Commonwealth intends to change its view on that, but my right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to point out the contrast between Commonwealth values and concerns about what is happening in Sri Lanka. We and other Governments have made that clear, and the recent passing of the Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva, which the UK strongly supported, is evidence of that. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Minister just referenced the most recent United Nations resolution on Sri Lanka, in which it noted the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of the rights to freedom of

expression, association and peaceful assembly. Given that Sri Lanka has been judged in those terms by the UN, to what extent does the Minister think the country complies with the principles of the Commonwealth and the recently adopted Commonwealth charter, and should we use CHOGM as a means of leverage to put pressure on Sri Lanka to put its house in order? Alistair Burt: The hon. Lady is correct when she says that CHOGM provides the opportunity for us and others to express concerns to Sri Lanka, and to urge it to make good its own promises to fulfil the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commissions recommendations. We have urged it to do so and we will continue to do that. 23 Apr 2013 : Column 745 I was able to speak to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister yesterday. I made reference to our further concerns, whether they are about the impeachment of the Chief Justice or further attacks on the press in Jaffna, and made it clear that if Colombo is to host CHOGM later this year, the spotlight will be on Sri Lanka and it will need to demonstrate to the world how it has responded to these concerns and made good its own beliefs in reconciliation for the future. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): May I again urge on Ministers the idea that the Commonwealth should have a group of people independent of the relevant Government, who can go in and look at human rights issues, so that we can have not just a charter, but a method of reporting back to see whether the charter is upheld in Sri Lanka and other places? Alistair Burt: The determination of the Commonwealth to uphold the highest principles, the Lancaster principles, and how that can be ensured in all Commonwealth countries, is a matter of active discussion in the Commonwealth. The situation in Sri Lanka has pointed out very sharply the discrepancy between the concerns and those values in principle. I have no doubt that leaders of the Commonwealth and Heads of State are acutely aware of the concerns that my right hon. Friend raises, and will be addressing them. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>> 23 Apr 2013 : Column 752 CHOGM (Colombo) 11. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): What discussions he has had with his Commonwealth counterparts about the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in 2013 and the progress being made on tackling human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. [152354] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): We have discussions with our counterparts in the Commonwealth on a variety of subjects on a regular basis, including on CHOGM. We make every effort to reiterate our concerns about human rights directly to Sri Lanka, whenever we get the opportunity. I was able to do that most recently in a meeting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister just yesterday. Ann Clwyd: It is obviously not enough, because the Sri Lankans are not listening. They do not listen to the UN or the Commonwealth. It beggars belief that we think that they will listen more if CHOGM goes ahead there and we attend. I ask the UK Government to think carefully about the signal that it will send about their commitment to human rights if they go ahead with that visit. Alistair Burt: I understand the concerns of the right hon. Lady, as do all hon. Members. This is a decision for the Commonwealth. It decided by consensus that the Heads of Government meeting should be in Colombo. The Commonwealth recognises the issues of concern in Sri Lanka. There is no doubt that whoever ends up going to CHOGM, from whatever country, Sri

Lanka will be in the spotlight. The progress that can be made on a number of the positive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is a key topic that many will want to address. We want Sri Lanka to get to where it professes it wants to go. However, I agree with the right hon. Lady entirely that the evidence of that at present is pretty scant. 21. [152367] Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): On human rights abuses, the British and US assessments of the level of torture in Sri Lanka seem to be at variance. The FCO says merely that reports of torture continue, while the US State Department says that there is widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture. Why the difference of views? Alistair Burt: We judge the evidence of torture that is brought to us and make our calculations upon it. We have expressed concern about incidents of torture. Our asylum processes take account of the possibility that some people, but not all, could be subject to torture. Cases are dealt with on an individual basis. Part of the overall picture of human rights concerns in Sri Lanka is that the Government appear to be determined to address the issue, but the evidence remains difficult to see in certain cases. We will continue to press the case and we know that this is a matter of great interest to all right hon. and hon. Members. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Sexual Violence in Conflict 16. Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to implement the G8 declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict; and if he will make a statement. [152361] The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): Following the adoption of the historic G8 declaration, we will take the campaign to the UN and begin implementation immediately. G8 peacekeeping experts meet next week to discuss commitments on military training, and work begins next month in The Hague, London and Geneva on the development of the protocol. 23 Apr 2013 : Column 757 Amber Rudd: I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the outcome of the G8 summit, and I particularly welcome the declaration on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. Will he tell the House what action he will take to move the initiative beyond the G8? Mr Hague: Now that we have the strong support of the G8 nations in what amounted to an historic declaration, I want to take the campaign to the United Nations and convene during our presidency of the Security Council in June a special session of the Security Council, which I will chair, in order to rally wider global support. I will then take the campaign to the United Nations General Assembly in September. I believe that in this calendar year we can make an enormous difference to global attitudes, action on the ground, and global agreement on combating sexual violence in conflict. Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will be aware of ongoing concerns, which have been expressed not least in the Human Rights Watch report published yesterday, on Burma, sexual violence, and what Human Rights Watch says amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people. Given the lifting of sanctions, what representations has he made on the profoundly concerning human rights breaches against the people of Burma?

Mr Hague: It is important for us to keep up the work and the pressure on those subjects, which I discussed last week with one of the President of Burmas most senior Ministers and advisersa Minister of the Presidents Office. In particular, we discussed addressing the stateless position of the Rohingya people. The UK and other EU countries have a role to play in offering police training in dealing with ethnic violence. Keeping up the pressure on human rights issues will be part of the EUs continuing approach.

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