Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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The British House of Commons Debate on Sri Lanka

by a Special Reporter, May 18, 2007

The Minister of Foreign Affairs recognised the clear need to address the underlying causes of conflict. Reference was made by an MP that if Sinhala nationalism needs to be satiated, consequent Tamil nationalism too had to be satisfied in the pursuit of a mutually acceptable political formula in putting right injustices and autonomy arrangements within a democratic process.

All we are saying is: Give Peace a Chance
All we are singing is: Give Peace a Chance
- - John Lennon

The lengthy Debate on Sri Lanka in the British House of Commons on 2 May 2007 was a unique one devoted to the internal conflict on the island, the ongoing escalating violence and the impact of that violence in light of the breakdown of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002.

The debate was occasioned on a motion signed by no less than 60 MPs with their expressions of concern in respect of human rights violations that have gripped the island for over a year now, hand-in-hand with a renewal of hostilities between the government and the LTTE.

The individual contributions made by the Honourable Ministers and MPs ( see http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansard/cm070502/indexes/cx70502.html) are quite insightful as regards the depth and breadth of how each of them saw the conflict unfold. They are cognisant of the disastrous consequences for people, most of all for Tamils and the country at large.

However, one common theme that runs through all the speeches pertains to the dire need for a cessation of all forms of violence, extra-judicial killings, abductions, human rights violations, outright hostilities and a return to the CFA and the Peace Process in pursuit of a durable peace for all the people and communities.

This common theme is reflected in the unanimous passage of the motion by all political parties across the House. It seemed they were all echoing what John Lennon sang way back in 1969, which still rings true and clear, not only in respect to Sri Lanka but in all countries in conflict.

Among the other highlights of the Debate, the following are worth mentioning, namely:

  • Formation of an All Party Tamil Group with MP office bearers
  • Offering the experiences of the Northern Ireland Peace Process to both sides of the conflict, especially of the mediatory role played by MP Paul Murphy to support the ongoing facilitation role played by Norway; however, at a present impasse
  • Call by some MPs to lift the ban on the LTTE in order to improve channels of communication, deftly put by the Minister of International Aid in his summing up, in order to realise "parity of esteem"
  • By end September for an All Party Group to visit Sri Lanka (including areas under the LTTE)
  • Proposition to the LTTE to send a Representative to visit the UK
  • Proposed Summit Meeting in London in July (2008?) on how to take the Peace Process forward
  • Recognition that the willingness to make peace has to come from within the country
  • Agreement with the EU, Norway, Japan, and US that there should be open land and sea routes for transport of humanitarian goods and essential supplies to people in affected conflict areas
  • The perpetrators of HR abuses should be brought to justice, and welcomed as well as supported the establishment of an Independent Group of Eminent Persons to monitor domestic investigations into such abuses while one MP stated that those guilty of war crimes should be brought to the International Court of Justice at the Hague
  • Call to both the LTTE and the Karuna factions to halt all child soldier conscription
  • The need to strengthen the SL Monitoring Mission on the ground
  • Seek a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council against the background of HR violations against international humanitarian laws especially as Britain is also a member of the Council
  • The Minister of International Aid announced the importance of accountability for aid by Sri Lanka and withholding of half of the 2006 Debt Relief Payment for 2006, in addition to aid for 2007, until their consultations with the Sri Lanka government are completed.

Questions arise as to what impelled this Debate at this particular time when the conflict has been a protracted one, in fact for over decades. What was clearly palpable was the resurgence of killings, violence, abductions, open conflict and the mass displacement of Tamil people in the east as a result of the failure of the last round of Geneva Talks in February 2006.

As expressed by many MPs and the concerned Minister for Foreign Affairs, their concerns have been based primarily on representations made to them by Tamils in Britain regarding the untold suffering faced by their kith and kin back in Sri Lanka. Some 200,000 Tamils live in the UK as a result of the exodus from 1983 to the present time to flee violence and HR violations. Besides, the Debate also seemed based on Britain's historic ties with the country and its people from colonial times and by its concern within the EU as part of the international community's effort which backed the Peace Process of 2002, which has been reduced to tatters.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs recognised the clear need to address the underlying causes of conflict. Reference was made by an MP that if Sinhala nationalism needs to be satiated, consequent Tamil nationalism too had to be satisfied in the pursuit of a mutually acceptable political formula in putting right injustices and autonomy arrangements within a democratic process.

Reference to 'terrorism' and proscription of the LTTE under the Terrorism Act of 2000 was also made notably by a few MPs and by both Ministers (of Foreign Affairs and International Aid). At the same time, reference was also made to the possibility of LTTE proscription being under review under the Act should the party concerned wish to appeal against such a ban to the Home Secretary, as had been successfully done in one case to date. Caution was expressed by an MP who articulated that the label 'terrorist' polluted a proper debate by reference to policy in a country when different standards are applied to a government where, as another MP pointed out, one ought to expect proper standards. Thus, while several MPs and both Ministers referred to widespread HR violations by both parties and to the prevailing culture of impunity, they were quite careful to apply denigrating terms discriminatingly only to the LTTE! Which begs the question whether the UK is having second thoughts about the proscription in order to support Norway in restoration of an effective Ceasefire Agreement on the ground and to try and move the Peace Process forward?