Following a day of meetings with senior government officials and members of opposition parties, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for South Asia, Alistair Burt, delivered a lecture on “Sri Lanka: 2013 and beyond” at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies today.
In the toughest speech delivered by a British minister in Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt called on the government to implement the LLRC* report in full.
He also looked to Sri Lanka as host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013 to demonstrate its commitment to Commonwealth values. He spoke about “the golden thread of development” which British Prime Minister David Cameron has outlined in his capacity as current co-chair of the review of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The Minister said:
“The golden thread describes the underlying conditions that provide the foundation for sustainable prosperity and development.
“Among these, first and foremost is an absence of war. It is clear that the end of the conflict in 2009 has underpinned your country’s recent growth. The end of the scourge of terrorism has opened a new chapter.
“But an absence of war alone is not enough. As David Cameron has said, we believe that true prosperity is not possible without good governance, property rights and the rule of law, effective public services and strong civil institutions, free and fair trade, and open markets.”
He then noted the UK’s concerns about recent developments in Sri Lanka, from the impeachment of the Chief Justice to intimidating attacks on lawyers and others, and called on the government to uphold human rights and the rule of law. He also noted that it is clear that scrutiny from the international community will be even more intense in 2013 – the year that Sri Lanka is due to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. He said:
“CHOGM is a time to recall the values uniting the Commonwealth – values to which we have all freely agreed. As the UK has repeatedly stated we have not yet decided on the level of any attendance at CHOGM, but we will be looking to Sri Lanka, as we would any host, to demonstrate its commitment to upholding the Commonwealth values of good governance and democratic principles, adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights. This will help ensure a well-attended and successful meeting.
“And I hope too that it can be a helpful reminder of the golden thread. A way for countries to ensure that the necessary conditions for long term stability are in place. A chance to showcase Sri Lanka’s development and opportunities to the world. An occasion for the rest of the world to invest in Sri Lanka’s economic and political future.
“It is the responsibility of states to protect the rights and freedoms of every citizen, and it is the responsibility of Commonwealth members to remind each other of our declared common values. So the Meeting will also be an opportunity for the Commonwealth and the wider world to see the situation for ourselves.
“We will do all we can to help you achieve these goals. But ultimately it is, of course, up to the Sri Lankan government and people to shape the country’s future.”
During the day, the Minister met the Sri Lanka Minister for Economic Development, Hon. Basil Rajapakse; the Minister for External Affairs, Hon. Prof. G L Peiris; Secretary to the President, Mr Lalith Weeratunga, members of the opposition and civil society.
*THE LLRC is 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.
FCO Minister Alistair Burt is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister for South Asia and is currently in Sri Lanka for a two-day visit. He will answer questions about Sri Lanka via a Twitter Q&A on 5 February between 1115 and 1200GMT.
Follow Mr Burt on Twitter @AlistairBurtFCO
UK in Sri Lanka website
Read and comment on the latest human rights and democracy report on Sri Lanka