The UK Parliament on Tuesday debated the question of participating the CHOGM meet in Hambantota in the island of Sri Lanka in November this year. Even as many voices among the parliamentarians urged the UK government to consider boycotting the CHOGM meet, there was however a section that argued for a conciliatory approach towards Colombo, despite the worst ever genocide of this century it committed and continues to commit against Eezham Tamils. This section cited the TNA leader Mr R Sampanthan in support of their argument. Obviously the intention of the pro-Sri Lanka section in citing Sampanthan was malicious, but Tamil politicians should take a note of it in guarding against providing undue space for adversaries through infirmity in political fundamentals, commented new generation political activists in the island.
Arguing that Sri Lanka was the only country that stood with the UK in the Falklands dispute with Argentina, Mr. Paisley, a leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, North Antrim, said that on his trip to Sri Lanka, he observed that it had “made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.”
He based his arguments on his interactions with TNA MP Sampanthan.
“I spoke to him and his party colleagues at length, and I waited for him because I wanted to hear from him at first hand, without his being pushed or prodded into some of the difficult issues about the past. He did not raise with me the issue of the disappeared; he did not take time to raise with me the issue of war crimes; he did not take time to talk about routine torture, in his country, of his people. He had a politician with him from this nation and he did not want to talk about those things.”
“In fact, he actively applauded the Government, whom he opposes. He applauded them on their investment in the country—in parts of the north—and he said that the most effective thing that many of his people required was practical help to get bicycles and other tools to help them to work and run their country. That was the message of the man who is leading the opposition.”
Mr. Paisley also wanted UK to exert pressure on Sampanthan to take part in Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Select Committee.
“If people took the time to speak to the active politicians on the ground who are representatives of their community, they might have a slightly different perspective than that in some of the propaganda that we have seen and heard. I urge the Minister to appeal publicly today to Sampanthan to stop his boycott of the political process, to lead his people and his party, and to join with other parties in the parliamentary select committee of Sri Lanka to find a political solution to the problems. We learnt the lesson the hard way,” he said.
Supporting Mr. Paisley, Aidan Burley, Conservative MP for Cannock Chase, said “I also met, Mr Sampanthan, a leader of the opposition, for several hours in Trincomalee—I recognise the comments of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley)—and I remember him telling us that he wanted a bicycle for every one of his people, which is his main priority.”
Mr. Burley, who was in the centre of a controversy in December 2011 for pro-Nazi statements, was of the opinion that UK should help Sri Lanka rebuild considering it was their “former colony.”
Speaking after Mr. Paisley, Conservative MP for Stockton South James Wharton, who had gone on a trip to Sri Lanka with International Alert, also gave a clean chit to Sri Lanka, opposing those who were calling for action to be taken against the GoSL.
“The tone of the debate here needs to change. We need to work constructively with the Government of Sri Lanka to put pressure where it is due and, where we can, to deliver improvement,” he said.
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Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, who initiated the debate, opined that the International Community turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan state, asserting that the UN suppressed information on casualty figures and hid the Sri Lankan Government’s responsibility for the lives lost.
“The international community was weak in its handling of this tragedy as it unfolded; we should not be weak when it comes to imposing justice after it has happened. No regime in the world should be able to think that if it commits the most heinous crimes, it will be left untouched. The UN has an overriding responsibility to protect that supersedes sovereignty. We should have used the responsibility to protect during the conflict,” she said.
She also strongly emphasised the fundamental flaws in the LLRC set up by the Sri Lankan state, questioning its very validity.
“The LLRC was not independent or international, and our fears about it have been shown to be well founded. Government forces were largely exonerated of culpability. Only military rather than independent courts of inquiry have been established to look into the few abuse cases that were deemed worthy of further consideration by the LLRC,” she said.
Adding that there was no justice or accountability with the LLRC, she said “what we see instead is a culture of impunity—enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, gender-based violence as well as the recent trumped-up impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice—which is testament to the breakdown of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.”
“Just as we had a responsibility to protect civilians at the time of the killings, so too do we now for ensuring that there is accountability,” she stressed.
Arguing against UK attending the CHOGM in Sri Lanka, she concluded “We should tell Sri Lanka in no uncertain terms that we cannot support its hosting the Commonwealth summit while its reputation is under a cloud. We have a duty to protect, and we cannot fulfil that responsibility by continuing to be weak, weak, weak.”
Lee Scott, Conservative MP for Ilford North, stating that he would like to know at the Geneva session in March what the Sri Lankan Government will do to ensure that an international inquiry shows what has happened and who is responsible so that those involved are brought to justice, stated “Should we forget Auschwitz, Rwanda or the atrocities committed in Northern Ireland? No, we should not. That would be an insult to the memories of the people who lost their lives on all sides, and that is not acceptable.”
Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, said “Clearly the Tamil Tigers are no longer a threat to the Sri Lankan Government and can no longer be used as an excuse, but persecution continues. The excuse of security was used as a cover for genocide, and it is now being used for an attempt to wipe out the inheritance of the Tamil-speaking minority.”
Jeremy Corbin, Labour MP for Islington North, explained a possible sinister future of the island unless action was taken immediately. “If we do not ensure the closure of what I do not refer to as welfare camps—at the end of the conflict, they were more like concentration camps—and if we do not address rights and opportunities for Tamil people in Sri Lanka, the war will return in a different form at a later stage,” he said.
“It is not a question of the Sri Lankan Government claiming victory over the Tamil people and the Tigers, as they have done; it has to be a question of their perception of the future of that country, otherwise in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, if any of us are still here, we will be debating the same thing again: yet another massacre of Tamil people and yet another wave of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka trying to flee to a place of safety,” he further added.
Simon Hughes from the Liberal Democrats and Kerry McCarthy from Labour also opined against UK attending the CHOGM in Sri Lanka.