UK demands full implementation of Geneva Resolutions on Lanka Says US pullout from Geneva body irrelevant
The UK government has again dismissed Lord Naseby’s call to terminate Geneva Resolution 30/1 in 2015 and Resolution 34/1 in 2017 on the basis that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government didn’t perpetrate war crimes as alleged by the UN.
Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) on Wednesday (Feb. 05) during a House of Commons debate on UNHRC Resolution declared that the UK expected the full implementation of both Resolutions.
The following is the full text of Lord Ahmad’s statement: “I make the Government’s position clear from the outset: Her Majesty’s Government have no plans to annul or withdraw those resolutions. The UK continues to believe that full implementation is essential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made clear. Without truth, justice, and guarantees of non-recurrence, there can be no lasting reconciliation. In co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1, the Government of Sri Lanka also sent a clear signal that they recognised this.
“My noble friend Lord Naseby rightly noted that the United States co-sponsored the resolutions. As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, we deeply regret the decision of the United States Government to resign from the Human Rights Council. However, as leader of the resolutions core group, we remain determined to see them implemented in full. To that end, and following consultation with the core group, I am pleased to notify your Lordships’ House that Canada and Germany have agreed to join the United Kingdom, Macedonia and Montenegro as alternate sponsors. Both Canada and Germany share our understanding of the importance of achieving reconciliation in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the US remains a strong external supporter of the resolution and an advocate for progress, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.
“On 21 March 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights rightly recognised the steps taken since January 2015 to improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Framlingham. We echo that report. As the UK’s Human Rights Minister, I welcome progress on the restoration of important democratic checks and balances, improvements in respect for freedoms of expression and movement, the return of land held by the military to civilians, the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons, the ratification of the convention on enforced disappearances, and the passing into law of, and budget allocation for, the Office for Reparations Bill.
“My noble friend Lord Sheikh raised the important issue of land rights. We welcomed the Sri Lankan Government’s instruction to the military in 2016 that all land obtained from civilians should be released at the latest by 2018. However, as of January 2019, some land is still to be released. We encourage land returns. I assure noble Lords that, as a friend of Sri Lanka, we continue to support the return of land to civilians through direct funding for demining activities—mentioned by my noble friend—in the north of the country. In August 2018, my right honourable friend the Minister for Asia, Mark Field, announced a further £1 million increase in funding to support family resettlement and peacebuilding. From a governance perspective, while progress clearly still needs to be made, it is clear that Sri Lankans do not live in the same climate of fear that existed under the former Government, and that people now have greater confidence to speak openly and honestly, and with rising media freedom, about the challenges faced by the country. This point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Low.
“On the issues that confront the country, it is clear that the pace of change has been disappointingly slow, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, recognised. We must see further and faster progress by Sri Lanka towards implementing its commitments under Resolution 30/1. I will outline the further steps on four key issues. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded the House, is the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism, including a truth and reconciliation commission. Second is the urgent repeal and replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the British high commission in Colombo is in regular contact with government officials, including Tamil National Alliance MPs and civil society representatives, about the situation of detainees held under the PTA. We also continue to work on this issue with other diplomatic missions, including the EU and UN bodies.
“The noble Baroness also asked whether funding for the Office on Missing Persons has been included in the budget. I understand that that office has now been established and is operating. However, a final decision has yet to be taken on funding the establishment of the Office for Reparations.
“This underlines the important fact that the legacy of Sri Lanka’s recent conflict can be addressed and lasting reconciliation achieved only if we see further progress in this regard. As the noble Baroness also rightly pointed out, there were deep concerns over recent political developments at the end of 2018, when President Sirisena dissolved the Parliament, in an apparently unconstitutional manner, in an attempt to dismiss Prime Minister Wickremasinghe and install former President Rajapaksa in his place. “Ultimately, the peaceful resolution of the 51-day crisis was a welcome indication of resilience, as noble Lords have recognised. We need to recognise the progress that has been made in Sri Lanka’s judicial and democratic institutions and on the effective checks and balances between state powers. This is an important step forward, but there were 51 more days when progress towards reconciliation came to a halt.
“We have repeatedly urged the Government of Sri Lanka to go further and faster. On 21 January, I met the Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera, in London. He has been a strong supporter of Sri Lanka’s commitments to Resolution 30/1. It was a pleasant and constructive meeting, during which he took the opportunity to engage directly with representatives of the diaspora in the UK, including members of the Tamil community. My honourable friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific did the same when he met Foreign Minister Marapana and a number of other Sri Lankan Ministers and officials in Colombo last October. Last September, the UK led a statement on behalf of the core group at the 39th session of the Human Rights Council, urging Sri Lanka to prioritise and drive forward the implementation of its commitments.
“The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked questions about CSSF funding. We are providing £8.3 million for the current period and are evaluating projects and proposals for continued funding. She also asked whether the President would appoint commissioners for the Office on Missing Persons. We hope and expect that President Sirisena will appoint commissioners who command the full support of all communities.
“The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked an important question about the current situation in terms of accountability. There has been progress. The British Government are a friend of Sri Lanka and have supported projects to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to rape and gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. This has included the funding of a helpline for victims of domestic abuse and increasing police support for women and children. I assure him that the UK continues to support efforts by the Sri Lankan Government to develop a more professional and accountable police force, including increasing gender-sensitive policing. We have raised issues across the whole spectrum of human rights and continue to support various NGOs working in the community, including support for the Sri Lankan LGBT community.
“Let me be very clear and assure all noble Lords that the United Kingdom is a friend of Sri Lanka. We have made a long-term commitment to work with Sri Lanka on improving human rights and supporting the rebuilding of the country after three decades of conflict. Our £8.3 million of funding over three years is an example of this. On the strength of our relationship, I know that my noble friend Lord Sheikh mentioned the positive outreach conducted by the high commission here in London. I very much look forward to paying tribute to the breadth and strength of our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka when I speak at the Sri Lankan high commission tomorrow to recognise and celebrate Independence Day.
The UK remains convinced that Resolution 30/1 must be implemented in full if Sri Lanka is to achieve the long-term reconciliation that all its people need and, we all recognise, truly deserve. We recognise that progress has been made, as my noble friend highlighted in tabling this debate, but we also believe that—with a concerted effort by Sri Lanka and support from co-sponsors including the United Kingdom, as well as external advocates including the United States, the European Union and the UNHRC—Resolution 30/1 can be fully implemented, allowing Sri Lanka to realise the true potential we all seek, as a stable prosperous country providing growth and opportunities for all Sri Lankans.”