Sri Lanka

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 29th April 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Chief Whip (Commons) 6:40 pm, 29th April 2009

May I start by thanking every right hon. and hon. Member who has contributed to this truly great debate? It has highlighted what I think is common cause across this House—that there should be peace and justice in Sri Lanka for all the people of that troubled island. The debate has been about trying to make sure that we help facilitate our Government in their efforts to do everything that they can to make that a reality. That can happen only through international action of the sort described by so many hon. Members in their speeches this evening.

Our purpose has been merely to bring the matter before the House today. We do not intend to seek a Division at the end of the debate, as we want to get the House to speak with one voice on this matter. That is why we drafted the motion as we did. We tried to set out the issues in plain language, in a motion that was direct and to the point and which addressed the concerns of the people of Sri Lanka. Those concerns are shared by many of our constituents, and they have represented them powerfully to us over many years, months and weeks, as the situation has worsened in that country.

We need to make it clear to the Sri Lankan Government that a ceasefire is absolutely essential, and that it must happen now. We have to make it clear to the LTTE that it must not stand in the way of anyone seeking to escape from the absolute nightmare that people are currently living in. We must also emphasise that there can be no solution of a military nature to the conflict in Sri Lanka. In the end, military action simply sows the seeds of bitterness and ensures that there can be no reconciliation whatsoever in that country.

The Sri Lankan Government may be able to win a war on the battlefields, but they will not be able to win in the end. Every shell fired, every bomb dropped and every rocket launched simply causes the last shreds of international support and goodwill that the Sri Lankan Government ever had to be lost. That is why the ceasefire is essential—a point made time and again by hon. Members from all parties across the Chamber.

However, access is also essential—for relief organisations, as many hon. Members have argued so powerfully, and for human rights organisations and the international media. John Battle was right to highlight that part of our motion. There is an urgent need for the international media not just to arrive in Sri Lanka and report on the carnage, but to stay and report on the process that builds peace in the future. That must be essential, not least in the light of the Sri Lankan Government's reputation for suppressing their own media and access for media from other countries. I believe that only two countries in the whole globe have worse records when it comes to ensuring access for the media.

Day by day, the humanitarian crisis has worsened. As Joan Ryan made clear in her speech, what is unfolding is not just a crisis but an absolute catastrophe. The Minister noted in her opening remarks that 50,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in just 5 square miles. They are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea by an army set on a military objective that has no regard for the civilians in its sights. Those civilians are under fire, and they are sitting targets; it is no wonder, then, that so many of them are coming out injured, or that so many are dying.

The ones who escape face the prospect of the welfare camps, which are little more than concentration camps. Given the history of the Sri Lankan Government's intent not to settle people afterwards, what is the future for those who eventually wind up in those camps? There must be free and unfettered access to the camps, both for them and for the relief and human rights organisations as well. We need food and medicine, and we need human rights to be respected. My hon. Friend Susan Kramer was absolutely right to raise concerns about the growing numbers of people who are said to be disappearing from the camps.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website