“The [OISL] report has a vital role to play in understanding the events that took place during and after the conflict, but it is not an end in itself. I agree with hon. Members who said that this is the start of the process and in no way the end. I am sure that all in this House who have followed developments in Sri Lanka closely now want, as I do, to see Sri Lanka move towards meaningful reconciliation, long-term stability and prosperity for all parties.”
A debate on the motion on Tamil Rights in Sri Lanka moved by James Berry MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils,was held in the British Parliament on 15 September 2015. Speaking at the debate Mr Berry said, “Instead of engaging with the UN report in a meaningful or sensible way, the Sri Lankan Government arrogantly rejected it, describing it as “fundamentally flawed” and “patently biased”. Sri Lanka did nothing to address the alleged human rights abuses at the end of the war. Not a single prosecution was instigated. It is reasonable to surmise that the Sri Lankan Government hoped that the international community would turn the other way.”
“During a number of years, there have been repeated failures by the Sri Lankan Government to put in place a credible process. That is why it is important that, whatever comes out of the current UNHRC session, robust procedures are put in place, so that whatever system is arrived at the UN strictly monitors it and can return to the UNHRC if the stages, expectations and benchmarks are not met. Simply leaving matters to the Sri Lankan Government after this long history of, frankly, their taking no action whatsoever is not an acceptable way forward.”
Ranil Jayawardena: In the interests of time, I will say very briefly that it is important that any future work is fair to both sides, and that there is not a witch hunt on either side. People in Northern Ireland have entered into the democratic process, which is absolutely right; that is the direction in which I believe Sri Lanka needs to go. There is a part to play for the Foreign Office in ensuring more trade and investment between our country and Sri Lanka, because as the latter becomes a more prosperous nation, it is possible—indeed, it becomes easier—for everyone to work together and share in prosperity. That is the way to make sure that Sri Lanka goes from strength to strength while ensuring that lessons are learned from the years that have passed.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): As several Members have said, the debate comes at a crucial juncture for all Sri Lankans, not only those from the Tamil community. Parliamentary elections last month were the freest, fairest and least violent in living memory. We were pleased to have played a role through support to the European Union and Commonwealth observer missions and by funding domestic election observers. The elections resulted in the formation of a new Government of national unity committed to reconciliation and peace building, so some of the criticisms and observations by both Government and Opposition Members in the debate might have been better directed at the former Government, that of Mahinda Rajapaksa, rather than at the new Administration. There is now a Tamil leader of the opposition for the first time in more than 30 years. We have a real window of opportunity for all Sri Lankans to work together to secure a stable, secure and prosperous future.
I discussed yesterday with High Commissioner Zeid, and separately with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and with Tamil National Alliance spokesperson Sumanthiran, our expectation is that Sri Lanka will now take forward the report’s recommendations and deliver the required processes and mechanisms to implement them. I also made those points when I addressed the Human Rights Council. I recognise that much remains to be done, but in stark contrast to previous years, I was delighted that I could speak positively about the steps that Sri Lanka’s new leadership has taken to begin to address post-conflict accountability and reconciliation.
A vital part of the reconciliation process must be credible proposals that meet international standards to address the four key principles of transitional justice, namely, truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence. I was therefore pleased that Foreign Minister Mangala’s address to the Human Rights Council included such plans. We now need to work with the Sri Lankan Government and our partners in the Human Rights Council to understand Sri Lanka’s plans in more detail and to agree a consensual resolution that sets out a clear framework for delivery. That will of course include plans for delivering justice and accountability.
Many in the Tamil community have called for a purely international accountability mechanism, but we have been clear for a long time that a credible domestic mechanism that meets international standards is the best way to build a stronger, more inclusive and prosperous society. In practice, that means: an appropriate legislative and judicial framework for prosecutions to take place; an international element that enables it to meet international standards; guarantees of effective protection of witnesses; and an agreed follow-up mechanism to monitor progress. That is the only way in which any process will gain credibility, critically with all Sri Lankan people and with the international community.