Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 2nd May 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party 5:37 pm, 2nd May 2007

I will certainly take note of your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Like many Members who have spoken, I have constituents with deep concerns, many of whom have come to my surgery to express their worry about what is happening to many of their relatives in Sri Lanka. Some of them are Tamils, but my Ahmadiyya Muslim community has recently expressed concerns about the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. I agree with a point made by my hon. Friend Peter Luff: it is easy for us to give our views on what should happen in Sri Lanka. I intend to cite the concerns that my constituents have expressed to me, although I will perhaps fall short of saying what should be done, except by noting that a diplomatic and non-violent solution will be needed to find a long-term way out of the tragic situation in Sri Lanka.

There is no doubt that Sri Lanka has suffered as a country for a number of decades and that it continues to do so. Some 3,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict since the resumption of armed hostilities in 2006. As hon. Members have said, 68,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict. There is no doubt that that has brought immense personal hardship to many people who have been displaced across the country—some 0.5 million in Sri Lanka have been displaced as a result of the conflict. I want to refer in particular to the tsunami, which added another 140,000 displaced people to the total of 0.5 million. Many of us who were aware of the troubles in Sri Lanka hoped that that tragedy on Boxing day 2004 would bring the country together and provide a common humanitarian cause so that people could set aside political differences and focus on what was required for the good of the whole country. It is unfortunate that, in retrospect, that did not happen, and I am concerned about what that means for, dare I say, ordinary Sri Lankans caught up in the conflict. Constituents who come to see me are particularly concerned about falling literacy rates among Sri Lankan children, whose education is constantly disrupted.

As we have heard, there are many human rights problems, and the Human Rights Watch briefing to which reference was made earlier in the debate provides a great deal of evidence of an increase in communal violence between different ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, which is a matter of deep concern. The tsunami was a particular tragedy for Sri Lanka, because there was a ceasefire in 2002. Again, to make a comparison with Northern Ireland, I believe that the economic prosperity that resulted from political stability was one of the main reasons why people in Northern Ireland were not prepared to go back to the conflict, bombs and violence of the past. It is truly unfortunate that the tsunami may well prevent that bedding-down or entrenching of the economic development and benefits across Sri Lanka that might have made people less quick to become involved in armed conflict as a result of what they regarded as oppression.

I do not think that there is a military solution to the problems in Sri Lanka. Surely, what must happen is a return to the ceasefire and discussion. That has proved to be the way forward in Northern Ireland, which is close to many of our hearts, and it is almost certainly the way forward in Sri Lanka. Democracy is surely the route through which people across the country can air their concerns, and it will enable Sri Lanka to recover in both economic and humanitarian terms after the tsunami and its effects. There is no doubt that that is the only route by which Sri Lanka can take advantage of the massive opportunities for economic growth in that part of the world. I can only hope on behalf of my constituents, who have many relatives in Sri Lanka—many of them do extremely valuable jobs in our community but they would almost certainly like to be able to do them in their original community in Sri Lanka with their own families—that if our debate has done nothing else today, it has highlighted our concerns as a neighbour on the planet as well as our desire to work with Sri Lanka and all the groups there to see an end to the situation and the violence that so many people who live there face on a day-to-day basis.