Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 3:52 pm, 2nd May 2007

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Sri Lanka became independent in 1949, nearly 60 years ago. The great consensus was broken in 1956, when Solomon Bandaranaike was elected

"on a wave of Sinhalese nationalism", in the words of the BBC. At that time, Sinhala was made the island's sole official language and other measures were introduced to bolster Sinhalese-Buddhist feeling.

That is how the problem started. After independence, the majority Government said, "We are the bosses now, and no one else will get a look in." That Government represented two thirds of the people, and a 70 per cent. religious majority. The votes that were cast reflected that, as did the make-up of the Sri Lankan Parliament. As the situation in Sri Lanka in 1956 did not resemble the situation in Northern Ireland now, where there is a guarantee of participation across the communities, the island's Government have been able to impose their will on minorities. Only in 1976, 20 years later, was the LTTE formed in response. Eventually, Tamils in the north and east, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula and along the north-east coast, said, "We want our place, too. You've given us enough stick for 20 years." Since then, the Tamils have given as good as they got.

All the independent monitoring shows that the fault lies on both sides. I absolutely condemn suicide bombers, the use of child soldiers and the terrible violence, but let us remember that it started with the majority oppressing the minority. Unless there is recognition of that fact—what Tutu, Mandela and others call peace and reconciliation based on putting right injustices—there will be no progress.