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Britain will Press  Sri Lanka on Human Rights Abuses
- but will not support independence for Tamils

"The purpose of the meeting called by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was to engage with the Tamil Diaspora and understand their perspective to the conflict in Sri Lanka, the British Tamil Forum statement said. Britain will support political solution with major devolution of power to the Tamil areas, Foreign Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said, adding that Britain could not support independence for Tamils."

Comment by tamilnation.org [See Sathyam Commentary: Who is Lobbying Whom? and also Report of 20 February 2008 by The International Crisis Group co-chaired by  Lord Patten of Barnes, Former UK Cabinet Minister and by Ambassador Thomas R Pickering, Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN; and with Gareth Evans, Former Foreign Minister of Australia as President.

" Western governments� policies on Sri Lanka should consciously include attempts to open up political space within their Tamil communities for non-Tiger political voices. Those governments with significant Tamil populations should engage representative civil society groups directly, expressing sympathy for the legitimate grievances of minorities in Sri Lanka, while challenging them to reject the LTTE�s destructive politics and actively guarding against any intimidation of anti-Tiger Tamil groups...Peace supporters should consider setting a deadline for renunciation of a separate state, after which they would actively pursue prosecutions of current LTTE leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.... ....Countries should develop step-by-step benchmarks for progress towards revoking the terrorist designationin part to encourage Prabhakaran�s removal..."  ]


Tamilnet Report on British Foreign Minister Lord Malloch-Brown's 'engagement' with the British Tamil Forum, 26 February 2008


House of Lord Proceedings, 27 February 2008

Tamilnet Report on British Foreign Minister Lord Malloch-Brown's 'engagement' with the British Tamil Forum, 26 February 2008

Britain will be pressing Sri Lanka�s hardline government for greater access for senior UN officials and would join European allies in taking a stronger position against Colombo over human rights abuses.

In a meeting with Tamil Diaspora representatives at the British Foreign Office on Monday, Foreign Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said he would personally be attending the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva next week to press the point. The government of President Rajapakse had �made political process secondary to military process,� the British Tamil Forum, a Diaspora advocacy group which attended the meeting, quoted the Minister as saying.

Lord Malloch-Brown observed that there are two key issues with regards to Sri Lanka�s conduct: prosecution of war and failure to enter into serious negotiation, and human rights issues, the BTF said.

�I have told the [Sri Lankan] President, Foreign Minister and visiting delegation that we do not find the political process credible or serious. We feel that we really sought to push for a political negotiation as a way forward. There is no military solution to this problem,� Lord Malloch-Brown said.

�We are going to go on pushing hard to put the political negotiation back on track,� he said adding this will not be done from a bilateral position but by working closely with Europe, UN and the Commonwealth.

The UK will be demanding and pressing hard for wider access by Sir John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, he said.

The UK will also demand that all recommendations made by Louise Arbour, Head of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ms. Coomarasamy be implemented in full.

The purpose of the meeting called on Monday by the FCO was to engage with the Tamil Diaspora and understand their perspective to the conflict in Sri Lanka, the BTF statement said.

It was attended by Parliamentarians from Britain�s three major parties and members from the House of Lords heard views were made by different Diaspora representatives.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Gajan Ponnambalam was also present and spoke as part of the Tamil community.

Britain will support political solution with major devolution of power to the Tamil areas, Lord Malloch-Brown said, adding that Britain could not support independence for Tamils.

The BTF argued that UK and the rest of the international community �must explicitly make their support for Sri Lanka unity and territorial integrity conditional on the Tamil people collectively being satisfied with the state�s sharing of power and its governance.�

�Tamils safety and political future can only be guaranteed if the Sri Lankan state is restrained by international law,� the BTF told the meeting, adding that the international community must, on this basis, support the Tamils� claim for independence, just as it had supported the Kosovars�.

�At independence in 1948 Sri Lankan State was entrusted with all minorities� rights,� BTF spoksman Suren Surendiran told the meeting. �They have abused the trust against Tamils, human rights, free speech, pluralism and denounce the demand for statehood.�

He pointed out that in the 1977 elections, long before the armed conflict began, the overwhelming majority of Tamils voted for an Independent State as the only way to escape state repression.

TNA MP Ponnambalam noted that �even though I am an elected member of parliament I cannot espouse the wishes of the vast majority [of the Tamil] due to the 6th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution [which outlaws advocacy of independence].�

Mr. Ponnambalam reiterated the position adopted by the TNA when it met Lord Malloch-Brown last summer, arguing that UK should make its development assistance conditional on human rights, progress in the political negotiations and implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

The UK should seriously consider trade and travel bans on Sri Lanka and the international community must take up the position that if the right to internal self determination of the Tamil people is denied any further, the right to external self determination of the Tamil people will have to be inevitably recognised, he said.

Whilst Lord Naseby, an advocate of the Sri Lankan government�s stance had denounced the BTF and its views, sources at the meeting said. However the organisation had been praised by Parliamentarians and the Foreign Minister had also welcomed their engagement with the British government.

�It is extremely important and absolutely correct for you as British citizens to organise and demand sympathy and support for your objectives from your local MPs. This is how the British democracy works,� Lord Malloch-Brown was quoted as telling the meeting.

�I wish the Sri Lankan democracy also worked that way. I want to register that point.�

Noting that �the British Tamils Forum has been labeled �terrorists� and there had been some smear campaigns,� he observed: �I can draw parallel to my own experience. I have lived in the US for 21years. My wife is Irish American. We have been in the same position as you are. How do we support the change that we want in Northern Ireland while making sure that one doesn�t actually support violent acts against the British or the British Army?�

�There is always a case for freedom struggle and self determination,� the British Foreign Minister said.

Lord Naseby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assistance they are offering to the Government of Sri Lanka following the recommendations of the All-Party Representative Committee in that country.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown):

My Lords, we support the efforts of the All-Party Representative Committee to devise a political solution to the conflict and remain ready to share our experiences of devolution. We believe that full implementation of the 13th Amendment, including funding for regional councils and greater emphasis on official use of the Tamil language, can be a step forward, but we would welcome more fresh thinking from the committee on a just settlement that satisfies the legitimate aspirations of all communities.

Lord Naseby:

My Lords, that is a very encouraging Answer. However, as the noble Lord knows, we have a new high commissioner there. Is it not rather disappointing that our aid to Sri Lanka through DfID is, I understand, to be reduced just when the eastern province needs help in educating Tamil policemen and the child soldiers who have been taken out of warfare? Finally, is it not also a great problem that we have 20 bogus Tamil Tiger front organisations in this country? The Tigers are a proscribed organisation. Should we not be doing more to stop the millions of pounds that are going from this country to continue that war?

Lord Malloch-Brown:

My Lords, as to the noble Lord's second point, he was with me at a meeting with the British Tamil constituents of a number of Members of Parliament. I think he will recall that I gave very clear advice to those Tamil UK nationals that we thought it utterly inappropriate for them to contribute in any way that might be used to provide military arms for terrorist activities in Sri Lanka. I am happy to have his full endorsement of that point.

On the noble Lord's first point about DfID assistance, the DfID programme to Sri Lanka has largely ended because of the country's income level. The debt relief component of it is a special case but the fact is that a combination of concerns about the country's human rights and income level have indeed led to a sharp reduction in the DfID provision for Sri Lanka.

Lord Avebury:

My Lords, is not DfID making a contribution to the Common Humanitarian Action Plan, which fears that half a million people may need assistance later in the year? Does the Minister agree that at least a limited devolution of power to the north and east would do something to mitigate the polarisation of the two communities, even though it would be better to insist that the all-party committee recommendations are published by at least April, even if the parties cannot all agree on them? Can the Minister say what we think about the development of a more politically powerful contact group, as recommended by the International Crisis Group?

Lord Malloch-Brown:

My Lords, the humanitarian assistance that we provide will not in any way be changed because of the situation in Sri Lanka. We provide assistance through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool and want to participate in the humanitarian action plan, although, as I said, we have no bilateral aid development programme.

On the second point about devolution of powers, local provincial government and our support for that, we think that is all moving in the right direction. Our fundamental concern is that there is not a sufficiently ambitious political initiative through the APRC or through other means to offer the prospect of a political solution to the problems of the country.

Lord Howell of Guildford:

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Naseby has just circulated a very interesting report on Sri Lanka, following his visit there, in which he points out that there is a threat of EU sanctions against the garment trade in Sri Lanka for various reasons�good or bad�which would have a devastating effect on the country generally at a very sensitive time. Will the Minister assure us that we will use all influence that we can in the European Union to prevent ill-timed sanctions of this kind damaging poor Sri Lanka more than it has been damaged already?

Lord Malloch-Brown:

My Lords, the issue of the garment trade and the EU is a trade matter as well as a political one. On the trade side, we have been anxious that countries such as Sri Lanka do not suffer disruption because of changed EU international trade arrangements. There need to be managed changes in such regimes.

On the broader point, we are concerned about the escalating human rights difficulties in the country and the lack of an adequate political way forward. The EU, like us, is following that. At the moment, our activities are focused on trying to improve human rights monitoring of the situation in Sri Lanka, not on sanctions. That is a position that the EU shares with us. I join the noble Lord in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on his excellent report.

Lord Dholakia:

My Lords, the Government of Sri Lanka have already announced that they are prepared to hold unconditional talks with the LTTE. In light of that, what are we doing in this country to ensure that proscribed, and related, organisations are not collecting funds for the purchase of arms to destabilise that process?

Lord Malloch-Brown:

My Lords, I slightly take issue with the noble Lord about the unqualified nature of the Government's willingness to sit down and talk to the LTTE. I wish it were that straightforward. We would press the Government for a wholehearted political initiative and to resist the danger of believing that there is a military solution to the problem. Seeing many of our colleagues from Northern Ireland in the Chamber today, I shall repeat that we have been impressing on the Government the need to learn from some of our experience in Ireland as regards finding a political way of resolving this conflict. I say again that the LTTE is a proscribed organisation here and in Europe at large and, therefore, people should not be knowingly contributing to its military activities. It is wrong and illegal to do that.

Baroness Northover:

My Lords, I want to follow up on the final question asked by my noble friend Lord Avebury. Will the Minister comment on whether there should be deepened co-operation�this is the recommendation from the International Crisis Group�between India, the EU and the US, with the goal of eventually developing a more politically powerful contact group? Will he comment on that please?

Lord Malloch-Brown:

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving me an opportunity to answer that part of the noble Lord's question. In general, Sri Lanka has been protected by its genuinely democratic character. It has a Government who were elected through the ballot box. That has meant that its neighbours, as well as the EU, have held back a little from forming a contact group or bringing direct pressure to bear and have relied on the Norwegians to provide a mediation function. Unfortunately, that is now at an end. It is an idea that merits serious attention, whether a powerful friends' group might help both sides to begin the much-needed serious dialogue to resolve these issues politically.



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