UK refuses to boycott CHOGM

 
sinhala– සිංහල
english

chogm 2     

A Westminster Hall Debate in the UK Parliament took place yesterday (11)on ‘Human Rights in the Commonwealth’, with Sri Lanka and CHOGM being a focus of discussions.

The British government has rejected calls during the debate to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in November. Several parliamentarians called for the boycott during a debate on human rights in the Commonwealth at the House of Commons.

However the British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire however said that attending the summit is the right thing to do. He said that in 2009, Sri Lanka offered to host CHOGM in 2011. At CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, the Heads of Government decided not to accept the offer and decided that Australia should host CHOGM in Perth in 2011.“They decided that Sri Lanka should host in 2013, and that decision was reaffirmed in Perth, at which the Commonwealth representative was a Minister from the previous Government. There was no widespread support among the Heads of Government for a change of location,” he recalled.

Swire said that the British government will take with them to Colombo a clear message that the British Government have given consistently in Parliament, in the UN human rights council and in British government contacts with the Sri Lankan Government.

“Sri Lanka must make progress on human rights, reconciliation and a political settlement. A key test of will be the northern provincial council elections on 21 September, which we are pleased the Commonwealth and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation have been invited to observe—a positive step forward. On such issues, the Commonwealth is complementing the work of other bodies such as the UN. The human rights council passed a resolution in March, co-sponsored by the UK, calling for reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Sri Lanka last month and expressed strong concerns, many of which we and others in the Commonwealth share—and those concerns certainly seem to be shared by hon. Members this afternoon. CHOGM will focus attention sharply on the work yet to be done to achieve the aims that the Sri Lankan Government themselves have agreed in follow-up to the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It will allow Commonwealth Governments to understand better the problems still affecting Sri Lanka and consider what support they, and the Commonwealth collectively, can offer,” he said. (Colombo Gazette)

FULL DEBATE:

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab):

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Today is an opportunity to address candidly some of the human rights abuses happening in the Commonwealth. Today is also an occasion to review the progress that has come to pass due to the combined efforts of the Commonwealth countries working collaboratively. Commonwealth nations have been successful in obtaining change. All 54 countries have created a document detailing our shared values, and it is the first such document in our 64-year history. The Commonwealth charter sets out strong, clear values, promotes human rights and commits all nations to protecting their citizens from discrimination. I had the pleasure last week to be part of the UK delegation to the 59th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, at which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) led an informative debate on human rights. Although the debate enabled us to celebrate our achievements in that field, it also sharply highlighted areas of grave concern, which I will discuss today. I will focus on the treatment, education and representation of women, the death penalty and the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed people. I will call for David Cameron and other senior Ministers to join the Canadian Prime Minister in refraining from attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, owing to the horrific and continual human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD):

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She is absolutely right to call on Ministers to refrain from attending CHOGM. Will she confirm that one of the reasons why Ministers should do so is that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice on the Sri Lankan Government’s human rights record is that Sri Lanka is one of 27 countries about which the FCO has concerns? How can the Government condone those concerns by attending a conference, when they could use the opportunity to make it clear that they do not countenance the Sri Lankan Government’s behaviour?

Sarah Champion:

I am extremely grateful for that intervention, which echoes my thoughts. I will address those questions in more detail later, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for sharing them. […]Finally, I want to talk about Sri Lanka. The horrific civil war that waged for 26 years in Sri Lanka ended in 2009. There were concerns about human rights abuses and war crimes, committed by both the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. International attention was captured by allegations of the systematic targeting of civilian hospitals within a designated no-missile zone. Video evidence exists of extreme cruelty, including beheadings and rape. Such images shocked the international community and left a permanent scar on Sri Lanka’s human rights record. It was absolutely correct that the allegations were investigated and that due redress followed those investigations. To examine events during the period from 2002 to May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksha established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was welcomed by many civilians. Implementing the commission’s recommendations, however, has been both slow and selective. Post-2009, grave concerns still exist about military engagement in civilian activities in the north, including sexual abuse, the situation of detainees from the war, the impact of forcible disappearances, impunity, hatred and violence against religious minorities, the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, the weakening of democracy, growing authoritarianism, the erosion of the rule of law and the abduction and murder of journalists.

Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, completed a seven-day visit to Sri Lanka. She raised strong concerns over the continual and increasingly authoritarian direction in the country. The international community—in particular, the Commonwealth community—should put pressure on President Mahinda Rajapaksha to force him to show that there is a strategic plan to implement all the LLRC report before Sri Lanka’s Ministers consider attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Owing to the lack of clear implementation of the LLRC report and continuous concerns about human rights abuses, I am calling on David Cameron and senior ministers—

I apologise. Thank you for the correction, Mr Gray. I am calling on the Prime Minister and senior Ministers not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November, unless there is a serious and committed response from President Rajapaksha. I want our Prime Minister to show his commitment as an international citizen and as a serious defender of human rights by joining the Canadian Prime Minister in his boycott of the meeting.

In conclusion, the Commonwealth charter clearly intends to defend all people in the Commonwealth. I hope that by the time the Commonwealth games come to Glasgow in summer 2014 dramatic improvements can be seen across the Commonwealth for the good of its people. To that end, I call on my fellow parliamentarians across the Commonwealth to ensure the full implementation of the Commonwealth charter. I call on them to invest in and encourage the development of women’s rights and to ensure women’s representation and education. I call on them to end the practice of child marriage. I call on them to decriminalise homosexuality to ensure the health and safety of our LGBTI communities. I call for the abolition of the death penalty in all Commonwealth countries. Finally, I call on our Prime Minister not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this November, so enabling him to draw attention to the current concerns in Sri Lanka.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con):

I want to comment briefly on Sri Lanka. I heard the hon. Lady’s call for a boycott. I have engaged in issues arising from the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I have always been against boycotts as a way of trying to solve such issues. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s conference next year will be in Cameroon. Given some of its views on the rights of LGBT people and women, it could be said that we should not attend it, but boycotts are not necessarily the solution. What Prime Minister Harper has done in Ottawa was bold, but I am not sure that a boycott would be in our interest. I sometimes think it is better to attend such meetings and to make the case on the ground in the country concerned. We must be careful about boycotts, although I entirely concur with the hon. Lady’s comments on human rights in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bristol East referred to that issue at the conference, and she challenged the Sri Lankan delegation to demonstrate a commitment to human rights at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab):

It is a delight, Mr Gray, to serve under your chairmanship. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for such an important debate. I want to concentrate on three issues: the murder of my constituent, Khuram Shaikh; Sri Lanka’s inability to follow the Commonwealth commitments on the rule of law; and the Prime Minister’s decision to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Sri Lanka in November.

Some hon. Members may be unaware of Khuram Shaikh’s case. At Christmas 2011, he went on holiday with his partner, Victoria, to Tangalle in Sri Lanka. At a Christmas day party at their hotel, a number of what the Sri Lankans would call political goons entered the hotel and started to cause trouble. My constituent was stabbed and shot dead. Victoria was taken to a basement room and gang-raped. I know that because I visited the crime scene in Sri Lanka and have spoken to witnesses. People in my office have met Victoria, I have read witness statements, and the Sri Lankan police have shown me medical reports that prove those points. Obviously, Khuram’s family are extremely distressed. We are approaching two years since the murder but no one has been charged. Khuram’s father, who is also my constituent, visits his grave every day and his brother, Naser, campaigns hard for justice. The pain and anguish can still be seen in their eyes when one meets them.

I turn to the human rights aspect of the case. We are all well aware of the Commonwealth charter, which refers, among other things, to the rule of law, a key principle that Commonwealth countries are expected to abide by. We all know of glaring examples of Sri Lanka not following that principle: the recent impeachment of its chief justice; journalists being murdered or kidnapped, as my hon. Friend pointed out; the disappearance of people who do not agree with the Government; and systematic political interference with cases in the justice system.

The lack of justice for the murder of Khuram Shaikh is an example that encapsulates Sri Lanka’s refusal to follow the rule of law. It is a matter of public record that one of Khuram’s alleged murderers is a local politician who is close to President Rajapaksa and his son. Indeed, such political goons operate and deliver on behalf of the President’s political party in Sri Lanka.

The allegation in Sri Lanka is that the case will not come to trial. We are approaching the second anniversary of the murder, but the suspects have not been charged. The rule of law is not being applied, because those people are being protected by the Sri Lankan President. Khuram’s case has taken on significance in Sri Lanka because it encapsulates the problems that many Sri Lankans face at the hands of their own Government. There is no doubt in my mind that the Sri Lankan Government do not respect human rights, and there is no doubt that the rule of law is not being applied. Khuram’s case exemplifies that.

I turn to what the British Government can or should do about these issues. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been very helpful in pursuing the case, and I am pleased that our Queen has decided not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in November. There is a political dimension to the matter. All the indications are that the Prime Minister will attend the summit in Sri Lanka, and I believe that to be a grave mistake. The Government put strong emphasis on exports and believe that developing trade is important. I welcome Rolls-Royce’s major deal with SriLankan Airlines, but that should not wipe out our concerns about how the Sri Lankan Government treat their own people and foreign nationals. The Prime Minister’s attendance will be seen as endorsing the Sri Lankan Government’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law.

The spectre of Khuram’s death and the failure to get justice will haunt the British Prime Minister as long as he is on Sri Lankan soil. It will be literally horrifying to see a British Prime Minister shaking hands with a Sri Lankan President who is so intimately involved in protecting the murderers of a British national. For that reason alone, I urge the Government and the Minister to think twice about who attends the summit.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab):

 

With the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting scheduled to go ahead as planned later this year, I intend to talk about the insult and hurt caused by its taking place in Sri Lanka. This country has had a bad few weeks of doing nothing about human rights abusers, but my disappointment at Britain’s decision to give succour to the human rights abusers in Sri Lanka knows no bounds.

Our Government have happily bestowed respectability on a regime that cluster-bombed its own hospitals, killed tens of thousands of its own citizens and turned its country into the most dangerous place in the world in which to be a journalist. Amnesty International has said: “We continue to witness a deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka”. It has also stated: “Despite the armed conflict ending over four years ago, human rights violations continue, with the Sri Lankan Government cracking down on critics through threats, harassment, imprisonment and violent attacks. Journalists, the judiciary, human rights activists and opposition politicians are among those who have been targeted in this disturbing pattern of government-sanctioned abuse.”

I share Amnesty’s disappointment that the UK Government “failed to assert that the Commonwealth Heads of Government should not be hosted by Sri Lanka unless there were significant improvements in human rights”.

I remember the terrible stories constituents used to tell me about their friends and family. For example, my local newsagent had lost contact with his sister who was trapped with her family in a bunker in the so-called no-fire zone, being shelled by the Sri Lankan Government every day. So incessant was the bombing that, in desperation, she made a run for it across open land that was heavily bombarded. No one has heard from her since. A young man who lives near the tube station told me about his aunt, whose body had been so badly mutilated that her family had to take a box to pick up all the pieces.

Channel 4’s groundbreaking “Killing Fields” documentaries have drawn the world’s attention to a major human rights catastrophe—what the UN panel of experts called a “grave assault on the entire regime of international law”.

The latest figures show that more than 146,000 Tamils remain unaccounted for, with the World Bank estimating that 100,000 people are still missing, probably dead. Justice must prevail, yet there has been no independent international commission of inquiry to investigate these crimes.

There is still no civil administration in the north. Instead, the area has a military governor. The people have no democratic representation of the kind we would recognise in the west. Tamils continue to suffer due to the Sri Lankan armed forces’ military control of the north and east, and resettled war victims have no say. The situation on the ground is not good.

Speaking at the end of her visit to the country in August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “although the fighting is over, the suffering is not.” She argued that Sri Lanka “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.” She raised concerns about the “curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights…persistent impunity and the failure of the rule of law.”

She also warned: “There are a number of specific factors impeding normalisation, which—if not quickly rectified—may sow the seeds of future discord.”

Meanwhile, even a recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights report has named Sri Lanka as one of its 27 countries of concern. It is no wonder the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded last November that holding the Commonwealth meeting in Colombo was “wrong” and urged the Prime Minister to avoid going unless he received “convincing and independently-verified evidence of substantial and sustainable improvements in human and political rights”.

No such improvements have taken place. According to Freedom From Torture, “for the first time in years, Sri Lanka has replaced Iran at the top of the shameful table that tallies the country of origin for the thousands referred to us each year for clinical services here in the UK.” As time goes by, it becomes increasingly clear that the war and all that has followed have been a criminal venture. The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the conflict as an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”. Tens of thousands of people were massacred, and oppression on a scale beyond our imaginations really did take place.

Thanks to the amazing work of brave journalists such as Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, we know that the Sri Lankan Government were firing cluster bombs, white phosphorus and rockets at civilian areas, including hospitals and so-called safe zones. In previous debates, I have reflected on the dreadful loss of Ms Colvin. It is a cruel irony that she was killed covering human rights abuses in Syria, where the world has so far done little to stand up to a brutal regime that has no qualms about mass killings of civilians and abuses of the rules of war, when she spent so many years campaigning against similar abuses in Sri Lanka.

As the UN has stressed, “not to hold accountable those who committed serious crimes…is a clear violation.” When we hold no one to account, we get what we now witness in Sri Lanka: extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence and torture. Despite that, a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is still scheduled to take place in Colombo, and our Government are doing nothing to stop it. What sort of message does that send?

The Commonwealth was right when it took from Sri Lanka the honour of hosting the previous Commonwealth summit, and Britain was right to be in the group of nations leading the way in calling for that honour to be taken away. If that was right then, how can it be right now to bestow honour on a regime that has not changed?

The truth remains that Sri Lanka has still not undertaken a truly independent international investigation into war crimes. Were such an investigation enforced, there might be reconciliation and lasting peace. The British Government clearly disagree. They have sent the wrong message by not boycotting the summit, and that is made worse by policies such as deporting Tamil asylum seekers and selling weapons to Sri Lanka’s military.

The coalition’s actions stand in marked contrast to those of the previous Labour Government. We helped to bring an end to Sri Lanka’s preferential trading status in the EU, we voted against an International Monetary Fund loan deal worth $2.5 billion and we blocked Sri Lanka’s bid to host a Commonwealth summit.

If we just roll over and let the Sri Lankan Government take the mickey out of us, whatever will people think in Syria? For the sake of other civilians around the world who are under threat from their Governments, we have a responsibility to be strong when it comes to Sri Lanka. Justice will not be served by giving the Sri Lankan regime a platform or by giving President Rajapaksa dozens of photo opportunities alongside leaders such as our Prime Minister who were too weak to say they would not go to the summit. Every brutal dictator around the world will look at those pictures and think, “Yes, Sri Lanka is respectable now. They ignored the rules of decency. They committed atrocities against their own people. The world did nothing. And now tribute is being paid to them. Crime does pay.” Is that the message we want to send? Not in my name.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op):

Given that the UN Commission on Human Rights is in session this month, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has done the House a service by ensuring that we have the opportunity to debate human rights across the Commonwealth.

Like previous speakers, I want to focus on Sri Lanka. I therefore warmly welcome the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), as well as the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden alluded to the fact that Navi Pillay, the UN’s human rights commissioner, visited Sri Lanka at the end of August and held extensive meetings with people in the north and the east, as well as with Government officials, politicians and a series of organisations. She is the most senior UN official to have visited the north since the UN Secretary-General visited back in 2009. Although it is welcome that Ms Pillay was allowed to go wherever she wanted, it is striking that she has reported that the Sri Lankans who came to meet her were harassed and intimidated by security forces before and after their meetings.

Ms Pillay’s statement following her visit was particularly striking. She noted, among other things, that the surveillance and harassment that she described appear to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, where critical voices are often attacked or even permanently silenced. She outlined concerns about recent attacks on religious minorities and reported a series of complaints about missing relatives, military land grabs and life without basic facilities. Given that Ms Pillay is such a senior figure in the UN, the bluntness and directness of her comments are striking.

Ms Pillay’s concerns are far from isolated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden alluded to, Amnesty International continues to highlight the lack of genuine, substantial measures on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka to meet their human rights obligations. There remains a significant body of evidence pointing to serious human rights violations, some of which amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity, including extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances and the intentional shelling of citizens. Critics of the Government, whether they are Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Christian, continue to face harassment. Torture in police custody is routine, and attacks on minorities appear to be increasingly widespread and tolerated.

According to Amnesty International, there have been more than 20 attacks on Muslim places of worship and businesses in the past 12 months. There was apparently no known investigation into an attack in July on the Arafa Jumma mosque in Mahiyangana. Apparently, a Government Minister simply ordered that the mosque be closed. Journalists, opposition candidates, human rights activists and particularly Tamils in the north and the east are routinely harassed, intimidated and assaulted.

As other hon. Members have said, the question remains, why on earth are Commonwealth Heads of State still planning to meet in Sri Lanka for their annual summit, thereby validating the regime? As the House is aware and as other Members have restated, the Canadian Government have made clear their profound concern. Indeed, Prime Minister Harper has said he will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting if Sri Lanka remains the host.

A series of other eminent Commonwealth advocates have highlighted Sri Lanka’s unsuitability to host CHOGM. Their concerns are thrown into sharp relief by the new Commonwealth charter, which was agreed in March by Her Majesty the Queen, following the agreement of the rest of the Commonwealth states. The charter was one of the key recommendations made by the eminent persons group to reform the Commonwealth that was accepted at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October 2011, and the Prime Minister committed to it. Perhaps the most crucial passage in the charter is:

“We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies.”

The Sri Lankan Government can by no means be painted as achieving, or even be perceived as taking serious steps to achieve, that commitment. I therefore continue to be surprised at how little effort Ministers have put into using the CHOGM as leverage to achieve reform in Sri Lanka. Why, for example, have the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office not sought to build a coalition to have Sri Lanka formally put on the agenda of the Commonwealth ministerial action group? There may be meetings of Commonwealth Ministers where the subject of Sri Lanka comes up; but that is not the same as a decision to put it on the agenda of the ministerial action group.

In the past, countries such as Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Nigeria and Fiji have all been—indeed, Fiji still is—formal items on the ministerial action group agenda. An implicit rebuke is thereby sent from the whole Commonwealth, and it is forced to set up a series of actions to be taken to bring a country back in line with Commonwealth values. If the Minister and his colleagues are serious about wanting to apply pressure to the Rajapaksa Government, perhaps he will commit today to building a coalition of Commonwealth countries to put Sri Lanka on the Commonwealth ministerial action group agenda. Given the importance of Canada’s views within the Commonwealth, Britain would surely have a crucial ally in beginning to apply the pressure necessary to achieve that end.

I should welcome clarification of the Minister’s view of the Commonwealth secretary-general’s performance in his handling of human rights concerns in Sri Lanka. I can find no evidence of any statement even of concern from him. He has agreed to organise an observer mission to follow the provincial elections in the north of Sri Lanka, but in the context of widespread human rights abuses, that invitation appears to be another example of the observance of the forms of democracy, rather than its substance. If I am right to think that Mr Sharma has not spoken out, it is surprising that a secretary-general who presided over a recommitment to the Commonwealth’s democratic values and traditions as recently as March should have nothing to say about continuing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka—never mind those that date back to the events of 2009.

If the Prime Minister goes to Sri Lanka without taking any further significant steps, he will be validating the regime and giving it succour and comfort. He will create further incentives for Mr Rajapaksa and his colleagues to continue to ignore Commonwealth values.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab):

I have heard what my hon. Friends have said today—that the meeting should not happen. However, it is likely to take place in Sri Lanka, and I hope that we can use it to lobby our Commonwealth Heads of Government to make better progress on getting girls into education and to tackle the issues of child marriage and female genital mutilation, which we did not manage to raise as much as we could have done last week. We must have that on CHOGM’s agenda.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab):

The last thing that I will mention is CHOGM, which many other hon. Members have discussed. The Government’s long-standing and repeated position was that they would make a decision on attendance closer to the time. The Minister said during our debate in March that no decision had been taken, and I received a similar response in Foreign Office questions in April. The Government have a real opportunity to use this situation as leverage to say to the Sri Lankan Government, “We are reviewing whether to come to CHOGM. We are reviewing the size and scale of our delegation and, indeed, our attendance overall.” However, in May, the Prime Minister announced that both he and the Foreign Secretary would represent the UK in Colombo. Can the Minister tell us what changed between the end of April, when it seemed that that was still a matter for consideration, and early May? Why was the decision taken to send the most senior delegation, and why did the Government choose to announce that so far in advance?

It is not even clear that the Government are united behind the decision. In May, the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged in the House that it was a “controversial” decision “in the light of the despicable human rights violations”.

He concluded rather vaguely: “If such violations continue, and if the Sri Lankan Government continue to ignore their international commitments in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, of course there will be consequences.”—[Official Report, 15 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 634.]

When I tabled a written question, however, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), was unable to tell me what those consequences might be and in which circumstances they would be considered. I hope that this Minister will be able to provide more clarification in his closing remarks.

I do not have time now to discuss the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights about her recent visit to Sri Lanka—some of my colleagues have mentioned that—but I hope that the Minister will do so. I know that he has limited time; he is looking at the clock, but he will get his 10 minutes. The UN commissioner’s conclusion was: “The war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded”. She warned that Sri Lanka, far from showing improvement, was “showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”.

I hope the Minister will tell us what consideration the Government have given to the UN commissioner’s report and whether it has influenced the size, scale and scope of the delegation going to CHOGM.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): […] In the remaining moments, I shall address our attendance in Sri Lanka, which is an issue we are divided over: some hon. Members think that we should not go to Sri Lanka and others think that we should. The right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who is no longer in his place, thinks that we should not. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole, who is in his place, thinks—I think rightly—that we should. It is worth pointing out the history. In 2009, Sri Lanka offered to host CHOGM in 2011. At CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, the Heads of Government decided not to accept the offer and decided that Australia should host CHOGM in Perth in 2011. They decided that Sri Lanka should host in 2013, and that decision was reaffirmed in Perth, at which the Commonwealth representative was a Minister from the previous Government. There was no widespread support among the Heads of Government for a change of location.

The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned the Commonwealth day debate on 14 March. As she said, since the debate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and I have decided to attend the meeting. That is the right thing for the Commonwealth—an organisation we strongly support—which has a positive role to play in promoting freedom, democracy and human rights. The non-attendance of Her Majesty was also raised. It is worth pointing out for the record that Her Majesty, as head of the Commonwealth, will be represented by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. That CHOGM will discuss the crucial issue of what will succeed the millennium development goals in 2015, following the publication of the report of the high-level panel, co-chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is important that the Commonwealth articulates a clear view that recognises the centrality of Commonwealth values such as gender equality, good governance and the rule of law to the enabling of development. We are pressing for the discussion of those values to play an important part at CHOGM.

We must be willing to respond if we think that the actions of fellow members do not reflect the values we espouse. We will take with us to Colombo a clear message that the British Government have given consistently in this Parliament, in the UN human rights council and in our contacts with the Sri Lankan Government: Sri Lanka must make progress on human rights, reconciliation and a political settlement. A key test of will be the northern provincial council elections on 21 September, which we are pleased the Commonwealth and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation have been invited to observe—a positive step forward. On such issues, the Commonwealth is complementing the work of other bodies such as the UN. The human rights council passed a resolution in March, co-sponsored by the UK, calling for reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Sri Lanka last month and expressed strong concerns, many of which we and others in the Commonwealth share—and those concerns certainly seem to be shared by hon. Members this afternoon. CHOGM will focus attention sharply on the work yet to be done to achieve the aims that the Sri Lankan Government themselves have agreed in follow-up to the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It will allow Commonwealth Governments to understand better the problems still affecting Sri Lanka and consider what support they, and the Commonwealth collectively, can offer.

As my right Hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House on 3 September, we have concerns about media and non-governmental organisation freedom at CHOGM and have pressed the Sri Lankan Government to allow unhindered access. My ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), will reiterate that message when he visits the country on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in October.

පොදු රාජ්‍ය මණ්ඩලීය රාජ්‍ය නායක සමුළුව සම්බන්ධයෙන් බි‍්‍රතාන්‍යයේ පාර්ලිමේන්තුව…..

ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාවේ පැවැත්වෙන පොදු රාජ්‍ය මණ්ඩලීය රාජ්‍ය නායක සමුළුව සම්බන්ධයෙන් බි‍්‍රතාන්‍යයේ පාර්ලිමේන්තුව තුළද වාද විවාද ඇති වී තිබෙනවා. ඒ, පොදු රාජ්‍ය මණ්ඩලීය රටවල්වල මානව හිමිකම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් පැවති විවාදයක් අතරතුරයි. එහිදී ඇතැම් මන්තී‍්‍රවරුන් ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාවට යෑමෙන් වැළකී සිටින ලෙස බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය අග‍්‍රාමාත්‍ය ඬේවිඞ් කැමරන්ගෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටියද, ඇතැම් මන්තී‍්‍රවරුන් ඊට ප‍්‍රතිවිරුද්ධ අදහස් පළ කර තිබෙනවා.

එහිදී අදහස් දැක්වු කම්කරු පක්ෂයේ පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ති‍්‍රනි සාරා චැම්පියන් ප‍්‍රකාශ කර ඇත්තේ මෙරට පැවැත්වෙන පොදු රාජ්‍ය මණ්ඩලීය සමුළුවට සහභාගී නොවිය යුතු බවයි. නමුත් බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය ප‍්‍රජාතන්ත‍්‍රවාදී ලිබරල් පක්ෂය නියෝජනය කරන පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්තී‍්‍ර ඇන්ඩෲ පර්සි ප‍්‍රකාශ කර ඇත්තේ මෙම සමුළුවට සහභාගීවීම තුළින් ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාව සම්බන්ධයෙන් සැබෑ තත්ත්වය වටහා ගත හැකි බවයි.කෙසේ වෙතත්, මෙම විවාදයට එක්වු බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය විදේශ හා පොදු රාජ්‍ය මණ්ඩලීය කටයුතු භාර රාජ්‍ය අමාත්‍ය හියුගෝ ස්වෝයර් ප‍්‍රකාශ කර ඇත්තේ බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය අග‍්‍රාමාත්‍යවරයා සහ විදේශ ලේකම්වරයා මෙන්ම තමන්ද ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාවේ පැවැත්වෙන පොදු රාජ්‍ය මණ්ඩලීය රාජ්‍ය නායක සමුළුවට සහභාගීවීමට දැනටමත් තීරණය කර අවසන් බවයි. මෙම සමුළුවට මහරැජිණ නියෝජනය කරමින් චාල්ස් කුමරුද එක්වන බව මෙහිදී ඔහු ප‍්‍රකාශ කර තිබෙනවා.

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