UK supports international inquiry reiterates FCO minister at meeting with Tamil diaspora

Nandani houseThe UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister of State, Hugo Swire reiterated the UK’s strong support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL) during a meeting with representatives of Tamil diaspora organisations on Tuesday (07) in London.

“Mr Swire held a meeting with members of the Tamil community following a number of requests in order to discuss developments on Sri Lanka and the human rights situation there. During the meeting, Mr Swire reiterated the UK’s strong support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL),” a spokesperson for the FCO told the Tamil Guardian.

“We are disappointed at the position the Sri Lankan government has so far chosen to adopt in regards to the UN Human Rights Council mandated investigation,” the spokesperson said, adding that the UK would “continue to strongly support the renewed resolution agreed at the March UN Human Rights Council, and continue to call upon the Sri Lankan government to both co-operate with the investigation and make progress on human rights and reconciliation.”

Speaking to Tamil Guardian on Tuesday evening, Jan Jananayagam from Tamils Against Genocide said TAG welcomed the investigation as “one milestone in the roadmap to prosecutions of perpetrators of mass-atrocities”, however, urged that the investigation be “sufficiently resourced to comprehensively address the full range of alleged crimes particularly given how obstructive the government of Sri Lanka has been”.

“Given the scale of the mass-atrocities it is crucial that the present investigation covers the broad range of allegations, including the deliberate, repeated targeting of the civilian population via a multiplicity of methods including the use of cluster and chemical munitions, the with-holding of food and medicine and attacks on the distribution centres for food and medicine,” she said.

“Culpability extends throughout the chain of command of the military as well as the government departments responsible for withholding food and medicine from the Tamil victims.”

The UK FCO said however, it was confident that Sri Lanka’s refusal to cooperate would not deter the OISL team from carrying out the necessary investigation.

“Even if co-operation from the Sri Lankan government is not forthcoming, we are confident that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with independent experts, can carry out the broad and robust investigation that is needed,” the FCO spokesperson said.

Calling for tangible action to be taken against the Sri Lankan government in response to its non-cooperation, Tamil diaspora organisations told the Tamil Guardian on Tuesday, they believed that targeted sanctions against key Sri Lankan political and military figures were urgently needed to force Sri Lanka to cooperate with the inquiry.

“The GTF calls on the UK to take urgent action to reprimand Sri Lanka for not cooperating with the UNHRC on the international investigation such as a travel ban on the individuals within the regime and military, and freezing of their assets,” the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson, Suren Surendiran said.

He added that the targeting the sanctions at the regime and military was necessary to avoid hurting the general Sri Lankan public.

Ahead of today’s meeting, the GTF wrote to Mr Hugo Swire, calling for a more “full and frank appraisal” of the current situation in the North by the British High Commission staff in Sri Lanka, and also wrote to the FCO Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, calling for action to be taken against the proscription of several Tamil diaspora organisations by the Sri Lankan government. See letters here and here.

Endorsing the call for travel bans and asset freezes, Sen Kandiah of Tamils For Labour criticised the current British government’s policy on Sri Lanka, as one of “no consistency”.

“What is the consequence to date of not cooperating with UNHRC resolution by Sri Lanka? Nothing,” he said. “A very weak response from British Government indeed.”

The UK government’s reiteration of its support for the inquiry was welcomed by Arujana Sivananthan of British Tamil Conservatives meanwhile, who said “BTC welcomes the strong emphasis placed on the OISL by the British government”.

Supporting the call for targeted sanctions, the British Tamils Forum (BTF) urged the UK and EU to also implement broader economic sanctions, in response to Sri Lanka’s non-cooperation with the UNHRC mandated inquiry.

The BTF’s General Secretary V. Ravi Kumar however stressed that the process of accountability must not stop with the investigation, and must instead lead on to justice.

“Regardless of political positions such as regime change in Sri Lanka and any international support to bring good governance – the accountability process should continue until justice is delivered to the victims of these genocidal crimes committed against Tamils,” Mr Ravi Kumar said, calling for an international tribunal, similar to that in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, to be established.

Reiterating the need for justice following the OISL’s report, expected in March 2015, Ms Jananayagam said, “we are very much hoping to see a referral to the UN Security Council”.

“This should be in parallel to any domestic efforts under universal jurisdiction that individual member states may undertake,” she added.

“We and other diaspora groups are clear that prosecution of perpetrators is a non-negotiable objective for the Tamil people who have suffered so much.”(Tamil Guardian)

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