Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Trade & Industry Committee 4:30 pm, 2nd May 2007

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that both sides take courageous steps to achieve the ceasefire that we all crave. I have no axe to grind, except that when I hear of a death in the name of politics I am angry. I worry that today we have heard criticism of the Sri Lankan Government for closing roads to the north and east of the country, thus inhibiting reconstruction after the dreadful tsunami. My reading of the behaviour of the LTTE in those areas is that it, too, inhibits reconstruction. It suits such a group to keep people in some subjugation and blame others for their misfortune. That is a familiar technique of tyrants through the ages. Although I deplore any action by the Sri Lankan Government that makes reconstruction more difficult, the LTTE inhibits the process, and that may suit its political objectives.

I want to emphasise my concern about human rights more broadly in Sri Lanka. I referred to the Human Rights Watch document, which—as far as I can see—sets out objectively and fairly the problems on both sides. It is a powerful account. I note that the Archbishop of Canterbury is visiting Sri Lanka next week. The Christian community in that country suffers considerable persecution at the hands of the Government.

The current edition of the Foreign Office human rights report mentions Sri Lanka's anti-conversion laws and moves

"to consolidate the position of Buddhism by constitutional amendment and legislation that would control 'unethical conversion', in part through criminal sanctions. The bill, which appears to undermine the guarantees of religious freedom enshrined in the Sri Lankan constitution and to be inconsistent with Sri Lanka's international human rights obligations, is still being debated."

Things may have moved on since the report was written. It continues by saying that

"there have been consistent and credible reports of harassment, intimidation, destruction of property and occasional violence against Christians over the last three years... Sri Lankan authorities' lack of capacity to protect Christians and members of other faiths, and their failure to prosecute those responsible for inciting and committing violent acts" are highlighted. That is an especially worrying example of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka that are firmly at the door of the Sri Lankan Government. For even-handedness, we must understand that there are problems on both sides.

We must be careful about imposing—or being seen to or wishing to impose—specific solutions to any internal conflict in a sovereign state from these Benches in the United Kingdom. However, we need to convey a clear message that terror begets only terror, and violence begets violence. That is an iron rule of politics and history. In a world hungry for peace, as we all are now, it is my view that if the LTTE could bring itself to renounce its terrorist activities and take the first brave steps to peace, it would find that respectability would follow remarkably quickly on the heels of such a brave and right decision.