Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:20 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 5:20 pm, 2nd May 2007

I take the points that my hon. Friend has raised very seriously, because this is a real debate. I just remarked that I did not agree with the proposition that aid should be stopped, but in deciding which of us is making the right argument I will be dependent on the Minister's response at the end of the debate. We need to know where the aid is going and how it is being used to know whether we can justify continuing it. If we cannot justify that, we need to think about what other mechanisms exist. Could we use multilateral aid or other institutions? Are there vehicles through which some assistance could be given? I look forward to my hon. Friend's contribution.

My next point is perhaps not for my hon. Friend, but for those in government. I want to refer to another issue raised by my constituents: export licences. Inquiries that I have made reveal that £7 million-worth of arms were licensed for delivery to Sri Lanka in the last quarter for which figures are available. The licences were for, for example, armoured all-wheel drive vehicles, components for heavy machine guns, components for military distress signalling equipment, and many other types of equipment, including military aircraft ground equipment and communications equipment, and small arms ammunition. All of that is military equipment that could conceivably be used in the conflict. I know that our Government have obeyed the rules—the EU and the national criteria by which we agree export licences. There is no question of wrongdoing. However, the issue has been raised by members of the Tamil community and I ask the Minister to consider whether those export licences and similar licences should continue when a live conflict is clearly under way in the country.

Constituents have asked me to raise other points, both for our Government and, in particular, for the Government of Sri Lanka. Other Members have referred to the need to ensure that there is effective human rights monitoring. We know that there is a culture of impunity in the country, that the police do not investigate, and that charges are dropped. It is critical that the many disappearances are properly investigated and that the extra-judicial killings, which everyone knows go on in Sri Lanka and which are undertaken by both Government forces and funded paramilitaries, are investigated.

Many people have spoken today about the need to recognise the LTTE. There are people in my community who believe that that is very important and that it should be done. It is critical—whether or not it is recognised—to enter into dialogue. That is one thing that is constantly being demanded of our Government by my Tamil community. People think that the Government should be more proactive and should somehow try to engage more with all sides. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East tell us of the efforts that he is making in that regard and give us the assurance that those efforts will continue and apparently increase.

Another point that my constituents have asked me to raise relates to the need for the Sri Lankan Government to demonstrate their commitment to a peace settlement by withdrawing to the 2002 ceasefire positions. There is a need to support Amnesty International's call to "play by the rules", to investigate the murders and abductions of politicians, many of whom were sympathetic to the Tamil cause, and to investigate extortion and the abduction of Tamil business people by the paramilitaries and armed forces. The Sri Lankan Government should not force civilians to settle in areas of conflict as human shields against their will. The armed forces should be vacated from people's houses and compensation should be paid for those people's suffering. Those guilty of war crimes should be brought to the International Court of Justice. My constituents also make a plea to us and to the rest of the European Community not to curb the peaceful and democratic activities of Tamils living in the diaspora.

I have particularly been asked to raise those points in today's debate. I have done so in tribute to members of my Tamil community, to the contribution that they make in our society and to their entirely justified search for justice and equality for the people of their community in their home country, which is where many of them would wish to be and where many of them have family and friends. I know that all of us would want proper respect in that country for all minorities and religions. We have learned lessons with such pain in Northern Ireland, and we want to see the same kind of positive result that we are about to enjoy in these islands. I thank the Ministers for making this enormously important debate possible. There has been unanimity in the House on the fact that human rights are indivisible and apply to all nations.