Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 6:11 pm, 2nd May 2007

I agree. We also need to support all the international institutions, the UN processes that have been mentioned, the attempts made by individual Governments, and the attempt of my right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy, whom I had the great pleasure of serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary during the Northern Ireland peace negotiations when the Labour Government were first elected. Nobody could be better qualified to try to assist the process in Sri Lanka, but I wish him luck because the complexities of the politics in Sri Lanka are even worse than those in Northern Ireland. Therefore, no easy solution can be reached.

The violence has had an enormous economic impact, as has been mentioned. Sri Lanka's growth and economic development has been held back, and its once successful tourist industry has been harmed—it would be harmed even more if the BBC were to give some coverage to the appalling situation in Sri Lanka. Our media do not give the conflict in Sri Lanka the coverage that some other conflicts receive. Some of my constituents who demonstrated outside the House of Commons a few months ago were enraged that the hundreds of people complaining about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka received no coverage whatever. It is interesting to ask why. The reason might be the malign role of the LTTE and the image that it gives the community. I am an advocate not of the LTTE, but of my constituents and those who have suffered from the terrible things going on in their country.

Reference has been made to the number of people in refugee camps, the internally displaced people and the refugees who have gone all over the world in the Tamil diaspora. Human rights abuses have been committed on both sides. Many people in Sri Lanka today have suffered as a result of the recruitment of children into terrorist organisations. From evidence given by Human Rights Watch to our Committee and information from other sources, it has become clear that the Karuna faction, which was previously with the LTTE and has gone across to fight on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government, has been recruiting children for its forces and carrying out terrible crimes. The LTTE has also recruited children, and the tactic has been used in the conflict for many years. That is completely against all the international norms and conventions, and we need to denounce that loudly and press for the practice to end.

As has been mentioned, the Norwegians have tried hard to get a political solution over the years. But the situation today requires renewed international efforts. Along with the efforts of our Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, I hope that the Government of India will use whatever influence they have. We must bear in mind the sensitivities, especially given that a Prime Minister of India was assassinated as a result of involvement in the Sri Lankan conflict. Politicians in India might therefore be a bit wary of getting too involved. Nevertheless, if India aspires to be a regional power and player, and certainly if it aspires to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it has a role to play in thinking more about how it might assist in achieving a solution to the conflict on the island to its south.