Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:56 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Minister without Portfolio, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (without Portfolio) 5:56 pm, 2nd May 2007

My hon. Friend makes the point clearly. To be fair to the Government, and although I heard only the second half of the Minister's speech, for which I apologise again, I was pleased to hear about the initiatives that he and his colleagues are taking. I am sure that they have the support of hon. Members of all parties. However, like my hon. Friend Susan Kramer, I urge him to go further and not be put off by the label "terrorists", which can pollute a proper debate about the policy towards a country.

Most of the Tamils to whom I speak do not support the LTTE. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow said, many of them are fleeing violence that the LTTE perpetrated against them, their families and communities. The Tamil community is, of course, varied. Let us be clear: some people support the LTTE, often reluctantly, because they feel that it is the only organisation that can voice their concerns and represent the Tamil community. Some believe that they have no alternative. Let us be honest and say that that is partly because the LTTE has stamped out some of the alternative Tamil political organisations, again with acts of terror. The LTTE has therefore almost created a monopoly. Nevertheless, for many people, it represents a true voice of the Tamil community's demands. Those voices should be listened to and their anger heard.

One must apply proper standards to the Sri Lankan Government. I have read UN report after UN report, Amnesty International report after Amnesty International report, as well as reports from Human Rights Watch and the International Bar Association, which show that the Sri Lankan Government are not fulfilling the requirements of civil rights and due process or their legal responsibilities. The emergency regulations allow for the most incredible abuses of civil and human rights, primarily against the Tamil population. We must bear that in mind in the debate.

I want to make four quick points. First, let us consider the suffering of the civilian population in the east and north. People have commented on the A9 and its closure by the Sri Lankan Government. That is critical. The lack of food and medical supplies, especially in the Jaffna peninsula, causes great hardship, and I cannot understand why the Sri Lankan Government continue to set their face against international pressure. I am told that that was a sticking point at the Geneva peace talks, and that the Sri Lankan Government walked away from them last autumn because of the demand to reopen the road. To me that was a legitimate demand from the Tamil side, and I hope that it will be realised. I refer hon. Members to early-day motion 955 in my name and that of my hon. Friends, in which we press for the A9 to be reopened for humanitarian reasons.

My second point is directed at the Sri Lankan authorities. Like my hon. Friends the Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and for Richmond Park, I have been challenged when I have raised such issues; I have also seen colleagues challenged. Councillor Yogan Yoganathan on Kingston council, a former mayor of the royal borough, has been labelled an LTTE sympathiser and supporter simply because, like hon. Members, he wanted to speak out about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. I believe that the Sri Lankan authorities, possibly through their representatives in this country, are trying to prevent people from speaking out—to prevent freedom of speech. We must convey a message that we will debate such issues in this country, that that is our democratic right, and that the Sri Lankan authorities should accept it and not try to intimidate people who speak out by trying to label them LTTE sympathisers or terrorists. I hope that the Government will make the point that that is unacceptable in their discussions with Sri Lankan representatives in this country. I intend to do that when I meet the Sri Lankan high commissioner, as I shall shortly.

My third point relates to the Home Office, to which one or two other hon. Members have referred. Let me tell hon. Members a story from one of my advice surgeries a few months ago. I met a gentleman who was claiming asylum—for the second time, as he had failed the first time. He had been returned, re-arrested, detained and tortured again. I learned from talking to his lawyer that his case was not an isolated one. This country has been sending back as failed asylum seekers a number of people who went through that experience. Some managed to escape again and tried to claim asylum again; others have disappeared; still others have been killed.

I ask Ministers on the Treasury Bench tonight to take the message back to the Home Office to be particularly careful when considering asylum claims from Sri Lankan citizens. These stories are simply unacceptable and we must ensure that bona fide claims for asylum are considered with real care, particularly given the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka.