Adjournment (Christmas)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 19th December 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 7:16 pm, 19th December 1990

The House will appreciate why the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) raised a matter of constituency interest, but he supports a Government who were one of the slowest in the world to react to the problems of global warming, which have hastened coastal erosion. There is a rumour that the Government will disappoint many children this Christmas by imprisoning Father Christmas for non-payment of his North pole tax. Whatever the truth of that rumour, the House should not adjourn until the Government have made a commitment completely to abolish the poll tax.

I want to raise an even more serious issue—that of murder—but because it is occurring in another part of the world, it is hardly ever discussed in the House. I refer to murder in Sri Lanka, which is a deeply troubled country. In fact, it is the murder capital of the world. Atrocities occur there daily, and bodies are flowing in the rivers. I welcome Amnesty International's campaign to draw attention to the situation in that sad country, which has not been properly debated in this place for a very long time —despite the detentions, disappearances, executions and indiscriminate aerial bombing of villages that have occurred there. There have also been human rights violations on a huge scale, and civil liberties have been described as a sick joke.

All sides in the troubles have been party to that, including the Tamil Tigers, JVP, the Indian peacekeeping force and the Sri Lankan Government themselves. Regulation 55FF gave the security forces power to dispose of bodies without notifying the victims' relatives or arranging inquests. That measure has been repealed, but the practices continue.

There have been 30,000 deaths in Sri Lanka over the past seven years and a new wave of violence since the Indian peacekeeping force left at the end of March. In the north-east, about 30,000 people were forced to abandon their homes in June alone, and in August, 140 Muslims were massacred at two mosques in Batticaloa. Now the Muslims are thinking of establishing a paramilitary force in addition to all the others that exist. One Tamil Member of Parliament reports 4,000 deaths since June. We have not found time to discuss that in the House. The truth is that the Sri Lankan Government are involved in a policy of genocide, ostensibly to annihilate the Tamil Tigers. The Government's motivation is the fear that if they do not do so, there will be an army coup and they will be removed from power. In reality, they are killing millions of Tamils—a whole population is under threat.

The Sri Lankan Government were faced with a choice between genocide or a bloody military stalemate, and they have chosen genocide—both are totally unacceptable. The situation is intractable, but efforts must be made to try to get a settlement. Amnesty International is right to demand action from the United Kingdom Government, the Common Market, the United Nations and the international community.

Human rights must be a basic condition of any aid given by this country, or the Common Market, and aid should be monitored by the donor Governments to ensure that that is the case. The Sri Lankan Government should be required to work with the United Nations. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has demanded that Sri Lanka end its sponsored terror. The army must be brought under control and told that the people responsible for the killings, to which I referred, will be made accountable. There should be fresh elections, internationally guaranteed by the UN, for the purpose of negotiating a settlement, and thereby people elected to represent the Tamils will be viewed as partners, not as enemies. A solution should be along the lines of a federal, decentralised state, but that is for negotiations to decide.

If that happened we could consider aid for development and the rehabilitation of displaced people. We should make it quite clear that there would be lots of aid for a peaceful democracy in Sri Lanka but very little—perhaps none—if the military took over.

The Home Office must also get the message. It is unacceptable for it to send refugees back to their deaths, and it is also unacceptable that it has not provided a single penny to local authorities which take in refugees and try to help them. That costs a lot of money, and it brings me back to the subject of the poll tax. That extra money is added on to the poll tax, and the Government should provide some money.