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Government must step up efforts to end violence in Sri Lanka

April 29, 2009 11:45 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Lib Dem use debate to press for immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka

The Liberal Democrats have used one of the party's rare opposition day debates to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and call for an immediate ceasefire.

Opening the debate, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary Edward Davey called for access for humanitarian assistance, human rights monitors and members of the international media throughout the conflict zone. He also called on the Government to make it clear that all sides proved to have committed war crimes in this conflict will be liable for prosecution. He emphasised that "no one in the House is taking sides". He said, "I believe that we are united in opposition to human rights abuses and violence whoever perpetrates them."

Ed spoke of the situation in Mullaitivu, where the remaining Tamil Tiger forces are based. He said that according to some agencies there are 120,000 civilians in this area, and "it is clear that the conditions for those people are extremely bleak - little food and water, limited medical supplies that are fast running out and totally inadequate shelter." He referred to warnings from the Red Cross of the "imminent danger of an epidemic and severe malnutrition". Addressing reports of violence against civilians Ed said, "there is little doubt that heavy shelling of the no-fire zones, which is where the civilians are, has taken place".

Ed emphasised the importance of the UN to resolving the conflict. He urged the Prime Minister to make a greater commitment to achieving a resolution in the Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire. He said, "just four years ago... the United Nations committed itself to the responsibility to protect" and therefore have international legitimacy to act given these circumstances. Ed argued the Commonwealth needs to play a greater role in pressuring the Sri Lankan Government to commit to a ceasefire. He said the international community needs to make it clear there will be "personal and political implications for all leaders if they do not stop the fighting." In particular he called for any IMF loan to the Sri Lankan Government to be stalled until sufficient steps have been taken to resolve the conflict.

Simon Hughes highlighted the constitutional difficulties that contributed significantly to the crisis today. He said that, when Sri Lanka became independent, "the majority community built in its Sinhala Buddhist majority constitutionally. It did not accept that Sri Lanka should be a pluralist country of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Burghers, Tamils and Sinhala." He contrasted it to India, "a secular state where people can rise to the highest office irrespective of their religion and where there is devolution to its various states." Simon also pointed to evidence he had seen that heavy armaments have been shelling in the civilian zone, "proving the Sri Lankan government, as well as others, are guilty of those sorts of crimes."

Joining the debate Susan Kramer talked of the achievements of the Tamil community in the UK. She congratulated them for their work to highlight the crisis in Sri Lanka, including envoys to the European Union and many national governments. In particular she praised the young Tamils "whose eloquence made a significant difference" to bringing about action from European governments.

Paul Burstow concluded the debate by reiterating the importance of an immediate ceasefire. He said, "there can be no solution of a military nature to the conflict in Sri Lanka." He argued that "military action simply sows the seeds of bitterness and ensures that there can be no reconciliation whatsoever in that country."

Paul noted that the debate had highlighted 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." He said the lib Dems would not divide the House on their motion and would accept the similar government motion, as "we want to get the House to speak with one voice on this matter".

The Liberal Democrat motion read -

That this House is concerned that the fighting in Sri Lanka has already had a devastating effect on hundreds of thousands of civilians, with thousands killed and wounded, and many tens of thousands traumatised and suffering from lack of food, water and basic medicines; believes there is a real danger of an even greater bloodbath in the next few days if a ceasefire is not immediately agreed between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; further believes that access is vital for humanitarian assistance, human rights monitors and members of the international media throughout the conflict zone and to all internally displaced persons, each of whom must, like every Sri Lankan citizen, have all their internationally recognised rights guaranteed; calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and peace talks; urges the Government energetically to continue and increase its efforts within the United Nations, European Union and Commonwealth and with others to broker a ceasefire; and urges the Government to make it clear to all sides that those who are proved to have committed war crimes in this conflict will be in danger of arrest, prosecution and punishment wherever they go for the rest of their lives.

The Government motion read -

That this House strongly supports the efforts of the Government within the United Nations, the European Union, the G8 and other international bodies to bring about an end to the conflict in Sri Lanka, to open the way for an international humanitarian relief effort and to promote a process of political reconciliation; welcomes the £7.5 million the Government has already committed to the relief effort; supports the Foreign Secretary's joint visit to Sri Lanka with his French counterpart; endorses the Government's calls for the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to declare an immediate ceasefire and to allow the civilians trapped in the No Fire Zone to leave unhindered, facilitated by the UN; urges both parties to the conflict to allow full and unrestricted access for humanitarian aid to be safely delivered; supports the Government's efforts to persuade the government of Sri Lanka to allow international oversight of all internally displaced persons, including a transparent registration process and improved conditions within the camps with better access to food, water and medical facilities; urges the government of Sri Lanka to allow freedom of movement in and out of the camps so that families separated by the conflict can be reunited; and endorses the Government's efforts to persuade the government of Sri Lanka to initiate a process of political reconciliation with all speed as the only way of ensuring a lasting peace between the communities.'