Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 6:31 pm, 2nd May 2007

I will indeed. However, first let me highlight the fact that the Foreign Minister and two other democratically elected Members of Parliament have been killed in the past two years. Many ordinary people have been reported as disappeared or simply killed.

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked me about the UN, as did the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Last year, Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, felt that the unfolding human rights situation was so serious that she called on the international community to continue to monitor it. She said that the events were not just ceasefire violations, but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law. That is why we continue to seek a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. We want discussions to take place there so that we can help to build a framework for peace and increase confidence on all sides in Sri Lanka.

As I indicated, we welcome and support the establishment of the international independent group of eminent persons, which will monitor domestic investigations into human rights abuses. However, the group, on its own, is not enough. The investigations must be rigorous and fast. They must help to ensure that more of the perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice.

I am sure that the House will agree that one of the most abhorrent human rights abuses is the continued recruitment of children to fight. Both the LTTE and the Karuna faction have given undertakings that they will stop the practice, but evidence, including that from UNICEF, suggests that both organisations continue to force children to fight.

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked whether the Sri Lanka monitoring mission could be strengthened. We agree that it has done an excellent job in often difficult circumstances. I hope that the LTTE will once again co-operate with the mission and allow monitors from EU member states to return.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton asked about debt relief and the UK's decision to pay thus far only half the outstanding debt relief tranche for 2006. We believe that that sent a clear message to the Sri Lankan Government about our concerns. The outstanding payment will be made only when consultations have concluded with the Sri Lankan Government. Those consultations will, in particular, involve discussions about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. When the high commissioner met the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister last week, they discussed debt relief and our concerns about human rights. The high commissioner urged the Sri Lankan Government to respond to and address our concerns. Further debt relief payments cannot be made until that happens.

Many hon. Members asked what else the Government could do in addition to the considerable efforts that we are already making. Our top political and developmental priority in Sri Lanka is supporting peace building. The Department works closely with our colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence and with those whom support the Prime Minister. We combine our operations in the country, and we are using funds from the global conflict prevention pool to support a series of programmes that will help to bring the sides together, slowly to try to create the conditions for a sustainable peace.

Sri Lanka is a country of huge but unfulfilled potential. We want a peaceful solution to the conflict. That solution must be one with which all the people and communities in Sri Lanka feel comfortable. It must enable the society to become more prosperous and healthier. We will continue to be engaged in the search for peace in Sri Lanka.