Announcement

Foreign Office Minister responds to report on the conflict in Sri Lanka

Alistair Burt, Minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, informs the House of the Government's views on the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission's Report.

“I would like to inform the House of the Government’s views on the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) report, which was published on 16 December 2011. The LLRC was established in May 2010 to look into the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The British Government welcomes the fact that the LLRC report has been published in full. We have read the report closely and have considered in particular its findings relating to: reconciliation and an enduring political solution in the North and East; accountability for alleged war crimes committed during the conflict; and ongoing human rights issues in Sri Lanka.

We have noted the Sri Lankan government’s initial response to the report. We have also seen statements from political parties in Sri Lanka, from respected human rights organisations and from other governments.

The British Government believes that the report contains many constructive recommendations for action on post-conflict reconciliation and a political settlement. Implementation of these recommendations, however, is the real test of Sri Lanka’s progress.

We note the Commission’s conclusion that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people and the recommendation that the Sri Lankan government should take the lead in delivering a devolution package. We urge the Sri Lankan government to implement quickly this recommendation and the LLRC’s call for the Northern Province to be returned to civilian administration. We note the Sri Lankan government’s recent assurance that it will ensure the withdrawal of security forces from all aspects of community life and restrict their role exclusively to security matters.

We agree with the recommendation that more action be taken to help internally displaced persons rebuild their lives. We also agree that the government should make available to relatives a list of all detainees in custody since the end of the conflict; publicly declare all detention sites; and allow family, judicial and International Committee of the Red Cross access. We support the call for anyone responsible for unlawful detentions to be prosecuted.

The British Government is, on the whole, disappointed by the report’s findings and recommendations on accountability. Like many others, we feel that these leave many gaps and unanswered questions. We welcome the acknowledgement that “considerable civilian casualties” occurred during the final stages of the conflict and the recommendation that specific incidents require further investigation. But we note that many credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including from the UN Panel of Experts report, are either not addressed or only partially answered. We believe that video footage, authenticated by UN Special Rapporteurs, should inform substantive, not just technical, investigations into apparent grave abuses.

The British Government believes that the report’s recommendations on ongoing human rights issues in Sri Lanka are well founded. We hope they will be implemented vigorously. We welcome especially the focus on tackling attacks on media freedom and disappearances - including thousands of outstanding cases.

We encourage the Sri Lankan government to move quickly to implement the LLRC report’s recommendations. Some recommendations could be completed in a matter of months. Others may take time to implement fully, but initial steps can be taken now. Ultimately, the success or failure of the LLRC will be judged on the Sri Lankan government’s implementation of its recommendations.

On accountability, implementing the report’s recommendations would represent a useful first step. But we continue to believe it is important that an independent, credible and thorough mechanism is put in place to investigate all allegations of grave abuses.

The British Government has consistently condemned terrorism in all its forms. The LTTE is a brutal and ruthless organisation which remains proscribed in the UK. Our long-term interest is in a stable, peaceful Sri Lanka, free from the scourge of terrorism, and as a fellow member of the Commonwealth, conforming to the standards and values which Commonwealth membership requires.

Sri Lanka’s aim of achieving reconciliation amongst its people is one we value. It can be achieved through an honest acknowledgement of the past and processes, in which all parties take part, to ensure justice, reconciliation and political progress.

We remain committed to helping Sri Lanka achieve lasting peace and reconciliation and will work with international partners to this end, including with the assistance of relevant international organisations.”