Senior Labour Party MPs, including leading members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, have called on the UK Government to ensure that Sri Lanka honours the promises it made - in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution 30/1 - to address the legacy of the country’s armed conflict.
The Government of Sri Lanka’s commitments to achieving justice, accountability and reconciliation, under resolution 30/1, will be assessed by the UNHRC at its current 34th Session in Geneva, Switzerland.
Speaking at a packed Tamils for Labour event in Parliament, on Tuesday 28th February, John McDonnell MP, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the Labour Party is “extremely concerned about the role that the Sri Lankan government has in the recent period – [they] are trying to undermine the UN resolutions and the way which the Human Rights Council has sought to address this matter. I think the Sri Lankan government have had a strategy for dividing and ruling the Tamil community; dividing and ruling the international community; and trying to undermine any attempt to seek truth and justice on this particular issue.”
Mr McDonnell went on to say that “there is a real anxiety that the Sri Lankan government will again manipulate the situation in the Human Rights Council where again we don’t get any further movement on this. That’s why we are saying to the UK government it is important that they stand firm in these negotiations; that we get both the proper investigation: the monitoring of the Sri Lankan government’s activities; and at the end of the day also the holding to account the perpetrators of these human rights abuses that have taken place, particularly in recent years."
"[...] It cannot be right that the Sri Lankan government is allowed to investigate itself. That is not an independent inquiry. In addition to that, it cannot be right that the Sri Lankan government almost vetoes elements of international representation in independent inquiries - that will never achieve the security of truth that we are seeking in this matter.”
Rt. Hon Emily Thornberry MP, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said she was “far from convinced that this is the right time to reintroduce EU trade concessions [GSP+] to Sri Lanka. We need to think about what message this would send on human rights. So I am writing to the Foreign Secretary and urging his government to press for further progress on human rights before trade concessions are offered to Sri Lanka.”
Reiterating his colleague’s call for further action, Barry Gardiner MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, also said the Sri Lankan government cannot be allowed to deceive the international community through another resolution at the UNHRC: “I think it is now time that we should say not just no to a second resolution, but that that we have a referral from the UN Human Rights Council to the UN General Assembly. And I think that really is where this must now go.”
The meeting’s host, Rt. Hon Joan Ryan - the MP for Enfield North, said: “The slaughter of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the Vanni in the final weeks of the war will never be forgotten."
"[...] There are many of us – and I am one – who would say that a genocide took place against the Tamil people on the beaches of Mullivaikal and elsewhere. It is shameful that so many questions about what happened to the disappeared remain unanswered and that justice and accountability has still not prevailed. Justice delayed is justice denied."
"[...] We must not allow the commitment to an investigation that involves international judges and others to just be brushed under the carpet. This was a commitment that Sri Lanka itself made. It was a very, very important step forward in 2015, and we must not allow that to disappear.”
The meeting was chaired by Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden.
The comments of the senior members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet were echoed by Mike Gapes, MP for Ilford South, Wes Streeting MP for Ilford North, Rt. Hon Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, Liz McInnes, MP for Heywood and Middleton, Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West, and Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central.
The messages of the Labour Leader, Rt. Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, and Kate Osamor MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, who could not attend the meeting due to unavoidable circumstances, were read out by their colleagues.
Speaking at the event, Sen Kandiah, the Chair of Tamils for Labour, called for the UNHRC to establish an in country monitoring office in the North and East of Sri Lanka to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms of Tamils are respected and upheld.
Sen Kandiah, Chair of Tamils for Labour, said:
“I was delighted by the incredible turnout at the Tamils for Labour event.
The UK Labour Party is a committed supporter of the Tamil people and for the causes of truth, justice, accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
The Party’s support is as important now as it has ever been and the Labour leadership and Labour MPs will be bringing pressure to bear on the UK Government, the institutions of the United Nations and the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that justice and reconciliation prevail.”