Sri Lanka

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 5th February 2009.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:43 pm, 5th February 2009

I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words. I will try to be brief so that Mr. Love, who is the chairman of the all-party group on Sri Lanka, can say a few words. It is clear and important that today in the House we heard strong words of criticism from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Bill Rammell, and from my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson, on the unfolding humanitarian crisis. That must be important to the Sri Lankan Government, and to our Tamil constituents, who feel the oppression.

As early as last April, it was quite clear that the Sri Lankan Government's next push would be to do what they have since done. I had the privilege of visiting Sri Lanka as a member of the all-party group last year. The reason why I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk was that we saw some progress in the east, even before the provincial council elections. We went to Jaffna, although our high commission tried to persuade us not to. Walking down the high street, we had the chance to meet some people who lived there. It is absolutely clear that Jaffna is, to all intents and purposes, a prison camp. There is a continuing problem there. Although the Sri Lankan Government think that they will have a military victory, there will be no victory unless there is a political solution.

The Tokyo quartet is absolutely right to say to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, "Lay down your arms to make sure that there is no loss of life." The Minister may well take on board the points made about pressure at the UN and the need for an envoy, but the Sri Lankan Government must commit to an immediate ceasefire, too. They must ensure safe passage not only for the poor innocent people currently affected by the conflict, but for those who come to the ceasefire table and for the UN human rights mission. Will the Minister consider speaking to the Sri Lankan Government about a process that we learned in Northern Ireland—the de Chastelain de-armament process, which is binding on both sides—to accompany the ceasefire?

Looking ahead, the eastern model may not be perfect, but it could be the basis for a solution. The Government must be made to realise that there cannot be a military victory in any credible international sense. A victory without a political solution for all Sri Lankans will be worthless. Without a negotiated solution and universal suffrage, the economic, cultural and political resentments of the Tamil community which have fuelled the conflict will remain unresolved and nothing will have been gained.

I urge the Minister in his representations to consider not just the call for an immediate ceasefire, but for the measures that must accompany it. I listened to Mr. Dismore, who dismissed my point about sanctions. In other parts of the world we have seen sanctions hurt the very people we want to help. We must ensure that any sanctions that we impose hurt the people we intend to hurt.

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