Sri Lanka (Presidential Election)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 20 January 2015.

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Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice) 11:30, 20 January 2015

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Sri Lankan presidential election result on democracy and human rights in that country.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

We have welcomed the election of President Sirisena and his early commitments to good governance, to restoring the independence of the police and judiciary, to respecting the freedom of the media, and to protecting the rights and freedoms of all religions in Sri Lanka. We hope that the new Government will honour those commitments.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice)

Does the Minister agree that the United Nations inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka should continue? If he does agree, does he accept that it would be much better if it proceeded with the full engagement of Sri Lanka, and, if so, what will he do to try to bring that about?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and we continue to urge the Sri Lankans in that regard. I had a conversation with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in which I congratulated him, and I stressed the importance of engagement with the community. I hope to travel out to meet the new Government as soon as I can, and I echo the words of His Holiness Pope Francis, who said there recently:

“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening new wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.”

That is exactly what we feel, too.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Following on from the very successful Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka and the peaceful transition from the Rajapaksa regime, does the Minister agree that there is now a chance for our Government to focus on positive trading opportunities between Sri Lanka and the UK, so that we can travel in the right direction?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I know the hon. Gentleman is a great fan of Sri Lanka, I welcome his endorsement of the new Government and I hope he will continue to take as active an interest now under them. Trade is important and so, too, are human rights. We have a large diaspora community in this country, from both sides of the divide, and we want to see peace and reconciliation. We believe that until there is justice, peace and reconciliation, trade cannot grow in the way it should do and prosperity will not benefit the whole country as he and I would both wish.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am sure we all hope that President Sirisena’s election marks a new era for Sri Lanka. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman, does the Minister agree that if the President is to gain the trust of the international community, he must now demonstrate his support for the UN inquiry? From the Minister’s initial conversations, does he believe that the new Administration will fully co-operate with the UN and will fully commit to securing truth and justice for the Sri Lankan people?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

That is certainly what I want to see. After all, I am part of a Government who went out to Colombo for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting when the hon. Lady’s party said we should not go. We have engaged consistently on this matter. We pressed the Government of President Rajapaksa and we press the current Government


It is no good Opposition Members chuntering, because the Labour party’s position was for us not to go to CHOGM—we went, and the Prime Minister went to the north. We continue to engage, and I shall be travelling to Sri Lanka again shortly to make these points.