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Resolution for independent probe

2014 Mar 01

The British Government says the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, which will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month, will call for an “independent investigation” into alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

Senior Minister of State and the Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Warsi told the House of Lords yesterday that the resolution, which will be co-sponsored by Britain, will go further than the past two resolutions on Sri Lanka adopted by the Human Rights Council.

“We co-sponsored the resolutions in 2012 and 2013. On this resolution, which goes further than those resolutions and calls for an independent investigation, we are working with like-minded members. We have yet to see a meaningful, time-bound, independent, domestic-led political process with clear milestones in this matter. Of course, should a genuine and credible truth and reconciliation commission get under way, the UK would be prepared to support it,” she said. (Colombo Gazette)

Full debate:

Lord Naseby

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by the Prime Minister on 16 November 2013 that the United Kingdom would allow Sri Lanka until March to begin credible investigations into allegations of war crimes before taking steps through the United Nations, why they are already working to influence the United Nations Human Rights Council to call for an international investigation.

Lord Naseby (Con):

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party British-Sri Lanka Group.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con):

My Lords, the Prime Minister said that we will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to call for an international investigation if credible domestic accountability processes have not begun properly by March. As with any resolution ahead of the March UNHRC, we are discussing the Sri Lanka resolution with members. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said this week that there were limited and piecemeal domestic steps towards accountability and recommended an international investigation.

Lord Naseby:

I thank my noble friend but, as we are still in February, will she recognise that three things have happened recently? First, on war crimes, will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office study the evidence of the new Tamil film, “The Last Phase”? Secondly, will the Minister read Professor Moorcroft’s new book? Thirdly, on the book, Corrupted Journalism, there is now conclusive evidence that that film from Channel 4 features two key independent female witnesses, so alleged, who were in fact fully paid up members of the Tamil Tigers? Will my noble friend now publish the dispatches from our military attaché from Colombo, who witnessed the final stages of the war? Finally, will she encourage the work that South Africa and Sri Lanka are doing to construct a truth and reconciliation commission?

Baroness Warsi:

My Lords, I note the further books and videos that have come to light in relation to these matters. Although my noble friend refers to progress that may have been made in the past two weeks, he will note that these matters have been ongoing for some five years. We have yet to see a meaningful, time-bound, independent, domestic-led political process with clear milestones in this matter. Of course, should a genuine and credible truth and reconciliation commission get under way, the UK would be prepared to support it.

Lord Bach (Lab):

My Lords, the Opposition support the Government’s response to this question. We ask only this: as close as we are to March now, can the Minister confirm to the House that the Prime Minister will be true to his word on this—as I am sure he will be—and that the Government will continue to work closely with the United States Administration and others at the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, to which she has already referred, in order that an independent international inquiry can be set up at the earliest possible time?

Baroness Warsi:

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. He will be aware that we co-sponsored the resolutions in 2012 and 2013. On this resolution, which goes further than those resolutions and calls for an independent investigation, we are working with like-minded members.

Lord Avebury (LD):

My Lords, as the Minister has reminded us, five years have elapsed since the end of hostilities and no progress has been made towards setting up a credible independent investigation into the killing of an estimated 40,000 civilians during the final weeks of the civil war. The Prime Minister is to be warmly congratulated on taking a leading role in setting the scene for the resolution at the Human Rights Council next month. Do we have confidence that we have the votes to get the resolution through, and how will the inquiry be constituted?

Baroness Warsi:

I thank my noble friend for his support. It would be wrong for me to predict at this stage how the voting will turn out. My right honourable friend the Minister, Hugo Swire, plans to be at the Human Rights Council high-level session on Monday. We have been working with a number of countries that have indicated strong support for the resolution, but it would be wrong for me to predict at this stage what the outcome of the vote will be. We continue to work incredibly hard to make sure that we get the resolution.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on its single-minded pursuit of an international inquiry into the allegations of human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. In view of the recent disclosures about Mrs Thatcher’s Government giving support in 1984 to the Indian Government in its ruthless suppression of Sikhs, will the present Government make amends by backing growing calls, in India, here and other parts of the world, for a similar UN-backed international inquiry into the Indian Government-backed massacre of Sikhs in 1984? It is not generally known in this House or outside that in only three days more Sikhs were killed in India than the total number of those who were killed or disappeared in the 17 years of General Pinochet’s rule.

Baroness Warsi:

The noble Lord’s question goes slightly beyond the remit of this Question. I spent an hour and a half with the noble Lord and members of the community yesterday discussing exactly this issue and what follow-up work could be done post that report. I will, of course, write to him in due course as a follow-up to that discussion.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab):

I welcome what the Minister has said about the appalling human rights record in Sri Lanka. Is it not therefore rather strange that the President of Sri Lanka has been invited to participate in the ceremony in Glasgow Cathedral at the end of the Commonwealth Games to commemorate the start of the First World War? Would it not be wise to reconsider this invitation, as many organisations in Scotland are already asking?

Baroness Warsi:

I am of the view that it is important for us maintain constructive engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka. I acknowledge that there has been some progress in relation to demining and resettlement, and that there has been some economic progress. I do not feel that completely disengaging from the Government is the right way in which to move them forward. I was not aware of that particular invitation but, at this stage, constructive engagement is the right way forward.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con):

What consultations have we had with other Commonwealth Governments about the atrocities in Sri Lanka.

Baroness Warsi:

I am not sure what specific consultations we have had with individual Commonwealth countries. It would be wrong for me to detail individually what discussions there have been. However, I can write to my noble friend and give him the details.

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