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SL govt now under pressure than a week ago-Cameron

19 November 2013 10:17 am - 17     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Sri Lankan government is now under more pressure than a week ago or months ago regarding the alleged human rights violation.

“…I do not think that anyone can be in any doubt that they are under more pressure today than they were a week ago, or a month ago, because of the international attention that has been shone on these issues—they know that the world will be watching. One only has to watch President Rajapaksa’s press conference, which was dominated by questions about human rights and inquiries into what happened at the end of the war, to see that there is pressure today that there was not a week ago,” Cameron said in British Parliament on Monday.

He also said that the Sri Lankan Government have set up some processes, including the ones to which he referred, but too many of them have been military-led inquiries.

“I accept that the Sri Lankan Government have set up some processes, including the ones to which he referred, but too many of them have been military-led inquiries—basically, private inquiries into events at the end of the war—rather than a proper, independent inquiry, which is what needs to be held,” he said.

"I had a choice at this summit to stay away and allow President Rajapaksa to set the agenda he wanted or to go and shape the agenda by advancing our interests with our Commonwealth partners," he said.

"I chose to go, to stand up for our values and do all I could to advance them. That was, I believe, the right decision for the Commonwealth, Sri Lanka and for Britain."

The full debate

David Cameron (Prime Minister)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the disaster in the Philippines and the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka.

Ten days ago a category 5 super-typhoon brought massive destruction across the Philippines, where the city of Tacloban was devastated by a tidal wave almost 2.5 metres high. The scale of what happened is still becoming clear, with many of the country’s 7,000 islands not yet reached or assessed, but already we know that more than 12 million people have been affected, with over 4,400 dead and more than 1,500 missing, including a number of Britons. This disaster follows other deadly storms there and an earthquake that killed 200 people in Bohol last month. I am sure the thoughts of the whole House will be with all those affected, their friends and families.

Britain has been at the forefront of the international relief effort. The British public have once again shown incredible generosity and compassion, donating £35 million so far, and the Government have contributed more than £50 million to the humanitarian response. In the last week HMS Daring and her onboard helicopter, an RAF C-17 and eight different relief flights have brought essential supplies from the UK and helped get aid to those who need it most. An RAF C-130—a Hercules—will arrive tomorrow and HMS Illustrious will also be there by the end of this week, equipped with seven helicopters, and water desalination and command and control capabilities.

Beyond the immediate task of life-saving aid, the people of the Philippines will face a long task of rebuilding and reducing their vulnerability to these kinds of events. Britain will continue to support them every step of the way.

Let me turn to the Commonwealth, and then to the issues in Sri Lanka itself. The Commonwealth is a unique organisation representing 53 countries, a third of the world’s population and a fifth of the global economy. It is united by history, by relationships and by the values of the new Commonwealth charter which we agreed two years ago in Perth. Britain is a leading member. Her Majesty the Queen is the head of the Commonwealth and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales did our country proud acting on her behalf and attending last week.

As with all the international organisations to which we belong, the Commonwealth allows us to champion the values and economic growth that are so vital to our national interest. At this summit we reached important conclusions on poverty, human rights and trade.

On poverty, this was the last Commonwealth meeting before the millennium development goals expire. We wanted our Commonwealth partners to unite behind the ambitious programme set by the UN high-level panel which I co-chaired with the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia. For the first time this programme prioritises not just aid, but the vital place of anti-corruption efforts, open institutions, access to justice, the rule of law and good governance in tackling poverty.

On human rights, the Commonwealth reiterated its support for the core values set out in the Commonwealth charter. Commonwealth leaders condemned in the strongest terms the use of sexual violence in conflict—an issue that has been championed globally by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). We also called for an end to early and forced marriage, and for greater freedom of religion and belief. We committed to taking urgent and decisive action against the illegal wildlife trade ahead of the conference in London next year. And Britain successfully resisted an attempt to usher Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth without first addressing the deep concerns that remain about human rights and political freedoms.

The Foreign Secretary and I also used the meeting to build the case for more open trade and for developing our links with the fastest growing parts of the world. The Commonwealth backed a deal at next month’s World Trade Organisation meeting in Bali that could cut bureaucracy at borders and generate $100 billion for the global economy. Before and after the summit in Sri Lanka, I continued to bang the drum for British trade and investment. I went to New Delhi and Calcutta in India before heading to Sri Lanka—the third time I have visited India as Prime Minister. And I went from the summit to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where Airbus agreed new orders from Emirates and Etihad airlines that will add £5.4 billion to the British economy. These orders will sustain and secure 6,500 British jobs, including at the plants in north Wales and Bristol, and open up new opportunities for the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby.

The last Government agreed, late in 2009, to hold the 2013 Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka. That was not my decision, but I was determined to use the presence of the Commonwealth and my own visit to shine a global spotlight on the situation there, and that is exactly what I did. I became the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since independence in 1948 and, by taking the media with me, I gave the local population the chance to be heard by an international audience.

I met the new provincial Chief Minister from the Tamil National Alliance, who was elected in a vote that happened only because of the spotlight of the Commonwealth meeting. I took our journalists to meet the incredibly brave Tamil journalists at the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna, many of whom have seen their colleagues killed and who have themselves been beaten and intimidated. I met and heard from displaced people desperately wanting to return to their homes and their livelihoods. And as part of our support for reconciliation efforts across the country, I announced an additional £2.1 million to support de-mining work in parts of the north, including the locations of some of the most chilling scenes from Channel 4’s “No Fire Zone” documentary.

When I met President Rajapaksa, I pressed for credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes, and I made it clear to him that if those investigations were not begun properly by March, I would use our position on the United Nations Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commissioner and call for an international inquiry. No one wants to return to the days of the Tamil Tigers and the disgusting and brutal things that they did. We should also show proper respect for the fact that Sri Lanka

suffered almost three decades of bloody civil conflict and that recovery and reconciliation take time. But I made it clear to President Rajapaksa that he now has a real opportunity, through magnanimity and reform, to build a successful, inclusive and prosperous future for his country, working in partnership with the newly elected Chief Minister of the Northern Province. I very much hope that he seizes that opportunity.

Sri Lanka has suffered an appalling civil war—and then of course suffered all over again from the 2004 tsunami; but it is an extraordinary and beautiful country with enormous potential. Achieving that potential is all about reconciliation. It is about bringing justice, closure and healing to the country, which now has the chance, if it takes it, of a much brighter future. That will happen only by dealing with these issues and not ignoring them.

I had a choice at this summit: to stay away and allow President Rajapaksa to set the agenda he wanted, or to go and shape the agenda by advancing our interests with our Commonwealth partners and shining a spotlight on the international concerns about Sri Lanka. I chose to go and stand up for our values and to do all I could to advance them. I believe that that was the right decision for Sri Lanka, for the Commonwealth and for Britain. I commend this statement to the House.

Edward Miliband (Leader of the Opposition; Doncaster North, Labour)

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me start by saying that all our thoughts are with the people of the Philippines as they struggle to deal with the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. Thirteen million people have been affected by the typhoon, over 4 million of them children; nearly 3 million have lost their homes and, as the Prime Minister said, thousands are believed to have lost their lives, including a number of British citizens. The pictures we have seen are of terrible devastation. As so often happens when disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the British people have reacted by reaching deep into their pockets: so far, £35 million has been donated by the British public through the Disasters Emergency Committee. I also want to thank our forces on HMS Daring and HMS Illustrious for the work they are doing to help with disaster relief, and to commend the leadership of the Prime Minister and the International Development Secretary in providing £50 million in aid. We need to see the same from other countries, as the UN appeal has only a quarter of the funds it needs. Therefore, may I ask the Prime Minister what actions the Government are taking to encourage other countries to commit and free up resources as quickly as possible to the Philippines, so that this UN aid target is met? Serious damage sustained to airports, seaports and roads continues to present major logistical challenges for the emergency response, so may I ask the Prime Minister what steps are being taken to ensure that humanitarian relief is reaching those in very remote and isolated areas who have been worst affected by the typhoon?

On the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting —CHOGM—we welcome the communiqué’s conclusions on global threats and challenges, on programmes promoting Commonwealth collaboration and, of course, on development. At its best, the Commonwealth summit gathers together 53 countries seeking to promote common values, including democracy, accountability, the rule of

law and human rights. I believe that this House is united in our abhorrence of terrorism and in recognising that what happened in Sri Lanka, particularly towards the end of the conflict in 2009, when tens of thousands of innocent civilians were murdered, totally fails the test of those values.

It was for that reason that, at the 2009 Commonwealth summit, the last Labour Government blocked the plan for Sri Lanka to host the summit in 2011. As the current Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs:

“The UK made clear…during the 2009 CHOGM...that we would be unable to support Sri Lanka’s bid to host in 2011.”

Those are the words of the Foreign Secretary. Delaying the hosting of the summit until 2013 was to allow time for the Sri Lankan Government to show progress on human rights. This has not been the case; indeed, things have got worse, not better. I say to the Prime Minister that when he attended the summit in 2011, he could have acted precisely as the Labour Government of 2009 had done and brought together a coalition to block Sri Lanka’s hosting the Commonwealth summit in 2013.

Let me ask the Prime Minister a series of questions. First, the Deputy Prime Minister said in May to this House that

“if the Sri Lankan Government continue to ignore their international commitments in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, of course there will be consequences.”—[Hansard, 15 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 634.]

Can the Prime Minister tell us: what were those consequences for the Sri Lankan Government? Secondly, at the summit on Friday, the Prime Minister called for the Sri Lankan Government, as he said, to initiate an independent inquiry by March into allegations of war crimes. But by Sunday, President Rajapaksa had already appeared to reject this. The UN human rights commissioner called two years ago for an internationally-led inquiry, and we have supported that call. Is not the right thing to do now to build international support for that internationally-led process?

Thirdly, after this summit the Sri Lankan President will be chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years—that includes attending the Commonwealth games. Did the Prime Minister have any discussions at the summit with other countries about whether President Rajapaksa was an appropriate person to play that role? Finally, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Prime Minister of India decided not to attend this summit. In explaining his decision, Prime Minister Harper said:

“In the past two years we have...seen...a considerable worsening of the situation.”

Accepting the good intentions of the Prime Minister, were not Prime Ministers Harper and Singh right to believe that the attendance of Heads of Government at CHOGM would not achieve any improvement or prospects for improvement in human rights within Sri Lanka? Indeed, the summit communiqué failed even to reference the issue of human rights in Sri Lanka.

The legacy of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka is in contradiction to the good traditions of the Commonwealth. We believe we cannot let the matter rest. Britain must do what it can to ensure that the truth emerges about the crimes that were committed, so that there can be justice for those who have suffered so much. When the Government act to make that happen, we will support them.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the response on the Philippines. I agree with him: other countries need to do more, and we will continue to work with them, through both the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, to make sure everyone lives up to their responsibilities. He asked specifically how we will ensure that relief gets through. That is why HMS Illustrious, with seven helicopters, joining the American carrier there can make a difference—because of the lift capacity.

I am also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his response on Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth, but it is worth recalling that, had we listened to his advice, we would not be having this statement now in the House and discussing this issue. Given that Labour agreed to this conference taking place in Sri Lanka, criticising my attendance breaks new records for opportunism and double-speak. Let me respond very directly. In 2009, some time after the end of war, the last Government agreed that the conference should take place in 2013 in Sri Lanka. If he knows anything about foreign affairs—I doubt it, because he barely gets out of Islington—he would know that this is a consensus organisation: once something has been agreed, it is very difficult to unblock it. So it was in 2009 that the pass was sold. I have to say to him that, more than that, this shows very poor judgment. This is a multilateral organisation of which we are a leading member and our Queen is the head. How do we advance free trade if we are not there? How do we stand up for issues such as tax, transparency, tackling poverty, and preventing sexual violence in conflict? How do we do all that from 4,000 miles away?

On Sri Lanka, the right hon. Gentleman specifically asked whether we pressed for our agenda. Yes, we did, very directly, on the importance of land reform, on the importance of human rights, on the importance of an independent inquiry. Of course, some other leaders decided to stay away, and everyone must take their own decision, but frankly, no country on earth has a more direct relationship with the Commonwealth than this one, and that is why it was right to go. If he is concerned about the rights of Tamils, as I am, and reconciliation, the right thing to do is to go and shine a spotlight on their plight. You cannot do that sitting at home. I remember when his brother said that we needed Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers who could stop the traffic in Beijing. He will not even get out of Primrose Hill. This whole area of judgment by the right hon. Gentleman is a sign of weakness. He was given a choice: an easy political path or a tough, right path, and he cops out every time—too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey, too weak to stand up for Britain abroad.

Menzies Campbell (North East Fife, Liberal Democrat)

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s observations about the Philippines and congratulate him and the Government on ensuring such a remarkable response on behalf of the United Kingdom?

I am not one of those who believes that the Prime Minister should not have attended. Unlike other Prime Ministers, he had a constitutional obligation to be present to provide support and, if necessary, advice for the Prince of Wales who was representing Her Majesty the Queen. Is not the rightness of the Prime Minister’s

decision demonstrated eloquently by the quality and volume of the coverage he was able to achieve? Of course, the test will be the extent to which there is a proper follow-through. In that respect, will my right hon. Friend assure us that everything will be done to try to achieve unanimity of purpose at the United Nations for an inquiry of the kind he has outlined?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am very grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend says about the importance of attending. This point about media organisations is important, because they have been unable to travel freely in the north of the country. By taking respected organisations such as the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 directly to the areas affected in Jaffna, they were able literally to shine a spotlight on the things that have happened. He is entirely right to say that what matters now is follow-through, but what is important is that this is now an established part of Britain’s foreign policy—to raise at every international forum, in every way we can, the importance of a strong, united, prosperous and reconciled future for Sri Lanka, and that is exactly what we will do.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley, Labour)

The report from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the FCO’s human rights work stated:

“We recommend that the Prime Minister should obtain assurances from the Sri Lankan Government that people who approach him to talk about human rights while he is in Sri Lanka to attend the CHOGM do not face reprisals or harassment by security forces.”

Was he able to obtain those assurances from the Sri Lankan Government, or not?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I made very clear to all the authorities I spoke to how important it was to be able to visit the north of the country, to meet refugees and displaced people and to raise their cases. That was exactly what I was able to do with the President. The world will now be watching what happens to those people, and I was given assurances that people were being re-housed and given new livelihoods. We will watch very carefully to see what happens to the people I met.

Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk, Conservative)

I congratulate the Prime Minister on going to Jaffna and raising those difficult questions with President Rajapaksa. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that as Sri Lanka will be in the chair of the Commonwealth running up to the Mauritius CHOGM, it is incredibly important that it focus relentlessly on the agenda he encapsulated of good governance, the rule of law, free trade and wealth creation?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

That is absolutely the agenda we should be addressing and pushing for. I would make the point that the role of the Commonwealth chair can be overstated, as it is the secretary-general who sets the agenda for the Commonwealth. Again, however, the Commonwealth is a consensus organisation. Once the previous Government had signed up to CHOGM’s being in Sri Lanka, the natural consequence was that Sri Lanka would be the de facto chair for two years. That flows from a Labour Government’s decision, not our decision.

Jack Straw (Blackburn, Labour)

May I press the Prime Minister on the question from my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd? She asked him whether undertakings were given that there would be no harassment of those he met and had dealings with in the north. Re-housing is one thing, and it is important, but I would be very grateful if he expanded on that.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

The point I was trying to make was that although undertakings that those people should not be harmed were vital, their cases should also be taken up by the Sri Lankan Government. The response of the Sri Lankan Government to such issues is not to say that such people do not exist or that there is nothing that can be done. They are saying, “Please give us time. We are dealing with this.” It is right for the international community to press them on these issues. Yes, there were many more internally displaced people four years ago, but there are still too many today and they need to be properly looked after.

Lee Scott (Ilford North, Conservative)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real issue at stake is the approximately 40,000 women, children and men—innocent people—who were slaughtered at the end of the conflict, and that the robust approach he showed on the visit to Sri Lanka and CHOGM should be carried through, as their memories deserve justice as well as the work that he has done? I have had many e-mails over the past few days thanking the Prime Minister for his robust approach, while also asking him to ensure that we take things forward in March if President Rajapaksa does not take his stance.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I challenge almost anyone in the House to watch even part of the Channel 4 documentary about the events at the end of the war—when there were appalling levels of casualties among civilians in the north of the country who were, it seems, targeted—and not to believe that there should be a proper independent inquiry. Of course, dreadful things happened throughout the war and it is for the Sri Lankan Government to decide how they should be investigated. It is clear, however, that those particular events at the end of the war need an independent inquiry so that the issue can be properly settled.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

Will the Prime Minister explain how exactly he proposes to follow up his demand for an inquiry? What monitoring and reporting will there be, and what action will the Commonwealth take if and when Sri Lanka does not follow up on the assurances he was apparently given? Many people are dead, and many people are very angry about the abuses of human rights by the Sri Lankan Government.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. The key thing is that the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has made the point that there should be an independent inquiry and has set the deadline for when it should at least begin. If it is not begun, there needs to be, as she has said, an international independent inquiry. We are saying that we support that view and will put behind it Britain’s international diplomatic standing in all the organisations of which we are a member, including, of course, the United Nations.

Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden, Conservative)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the fierce reaction in the Government-influenced press in Sri Lanka throughout his visit ensured that human rights in that country was the stand-out issue? Would he agree that in future CHOGMs, a stronger presence on the part of Commonwealth parliamentarians would help the whole matter of the promotion of human rights?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that links between Commonwealth parliamentarians are very helpful for raising these issues. His first point is absolutely spot-on: because of visiting the north and raising these issues, human rights, and questions about land reform, reconciliation, and investigations, were top of mind for the press, the media, and everyone in Sri Lanka in a way that they simply would not have been.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South, Labour)

The Prime Minister says that the Government will press the issue in March next year at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the light of that council’s woeful record—at one point, it actually praised the Government of Sri Lanka for their internal policies—how confident can he be, given the authoritarian states and friends of Rajapaksa who are on the council, that we will get anywhere on this in the UN?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I think this is going to be very hard pounding for a very long period of time, but what the Sri Lankan Government need to understand, and I think understand more today than perhaps they did a week ago, is that the issue is not going to go away, and if they do not hold an independent inquiry, the pressure for an international inquiry will grow and grow. Using the UN human rights machinery is the right way to do that.

Tony Baldry (Second Church Estates Commissioner; Banbury, Conservative)

The UN Special Court for Sierra Leone has been sitting in The Hague for some time now. It demonstrates that there is plenty of precedent showing that if the United Nations Security Council has the will, it is perfectly possible to devise mechanisms for independent judicial inquiries into crimes against humanity by UN member states.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

My hon. Friend brings considerable expertise and experience to this area. I would argue that the Commonwealth, like the United Nations, is of course an imperfect organisation, but even with the Commonwealth, it is possible to point to examples where it has stood up for human rights and for democracy —perhaps particularly recently in the case of Fiji. We have to use these organisations to get the results that are right, in terms of human rights and these sorts of issues.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour)

I welcome the Prime Minister’s third visit to India, and his first to Calcutta. In Jaffna, he saw the devastation and grief inflicted on the Tamil people by President Rajapaksa. Is he aware that we continue to deport Tamil people from this country to Sri Lanka, where they are tortured? Will he speak to the Home Secretary about updating the advice given on the Home Office website so that we can protect those people, who are genuinely seeking asylum in our country?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

The asylum system should work on the basis of the best and latest information about whether someone genuinely faces a risk of torture and persecution if they return. Of course, I shone a light on some of the human rights abuses that are taking place, but it is also right to point out that in Sri Lanka today warfare, civil war, terrorism and violence of that kind are not taking place, so we should be clear and welcome that. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about my third visit to India and my first to Calcutta. This is part of building the special relationship that I believe should exist between Britain and India, and which spans diplomacy, politics, trade and other international relations.

Stephen O'Brien (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, International Development; Eddisbury, Conservative)

I congratulate the Prime Minister on the high impact that he and the British Government have had in relation to the Philippines. That includes not just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development but the extension resourced through the armed forces, which is most welcome. In relation to CHOGM, the

Sri Lankan President proposes a truth and reconciliation process, but that is not adequate to meet the concerns and anxieties about alleged war crimes. We therefore need to follow the process proposed by the Prime Minister, however good the truth and reconciliation processes have been in South Africa and Mali.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I accept that the Sri Lankan Government have set up some processes, including the ones to which he referred, but too many of them have been military-led inquiries—basically, private inquiries into events at the end of the war—rather than a proper, independent inquiry, which is what needs to be held.

Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Plaid Cymru)

I have to confess that I thought it unwise to go to Sri Lanka, but having heard the Prime Minister’s statement and what he now plans to do I am changing my mind—not a bad thing, possibly. As someone who has raised the Tamil question many times in the past 20 years or so, may I urge him and the Foreign Secretary to give due priority to the issue to ensure that at an early stage we will have a just peace and reconciliation on this worried island?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind and very generous remarks, and for the way in which he put them. I completely agree. Having made this visit, having taking this important stand and having given the issue the attention it deserves, we must now make sure that we follow through, but we should do so on a basis of huge optimism about the potential future of the country. If proper efforts at reconciliation are made, there is no reason why that country, which is now essentially at peace and is not suffering warfare and terrorism, cannot be an immense success story in the future.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Liberal Democrat)

As somebody who was very uncomfortable about the meeting happening in Sri Lanka in the first place and very troubled by our participation endorsing President Rajapaksa, may I, too, commend the Prime Minister for being extremely robust and effective on the war crimes issue, and encourage him down that road? Was he able to ask any questions about disappeared people and about assassinations, and is there a chance that the Commonwealth, under its next Secretary-General, will stand up for human rights better than it has been doing?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his very kind remarks and for what he said about my attendance at the summit. I did raise the issue of the disappeared, and at the refugee centre in the displaced persons village I met some people who told me about relatives who had disappeared. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Swire, held a meeting with families of the disappeared, so the issue was raised at every level in our engagement with the Sri Lankan authorities. We must continue to raise these issues in the months and years ahead. There is much to commend in the Commonwealth, but it is an imperfect organisation. At its best it does stand up for values that we all share and believe in, and the more it does so the better an organisation it will be.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden, Labour)

In answer to a question, the Prime Minister suggested that he had made a tough and brave decision to go to CHOGM. May I tell him through you, Mr Speaker, that the tough and brave decision was that of those family members of the disappeared who were willing to approach him? They are now at serious risk for their lives, the lives of their families and the future of relatives they have not seen for years. What are the Government going to do, and principally what is the British high commission in Colombo going to do, to ensure the safety of those families?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. The bravery that was shown was by the displaced people who were prepared to meet me and to speak out about their concerns. Bravery was shown by all those who have lost relatives and who do not know where they are. Also, it was incredible to meet journalists who have stood up for freedom of the press and risked assassination, torture and persecution. In the offices of the Uthayan newspaper are pictures around the walls of journalists who died reporting facts and truth in Sri Lanka. We should do everything we can, including through the high commission, to make sure that nobody who spoke out or met me suffers in any way at all. It is now very public who I met and where I went, and our engagement with the Sri Lankan Government could not be clearer about the importance not only of their safety, but of making sure that they are properly housed and have access to a livelihood as part of reconciliation.

Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East, Labour)

Given what happened at the end of the war in Sri Lanka and what has happened since, why does the Prime Minister think that the Sri Lankan Government can be trusted to set up a proper independent inquiry? Why is it not right for us to press now for what he said he might press for in March, which is an international inquiry in which the world can have trust?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

Just to be clear, I have not said we might support it; I have said we will support it. What is required is an independent inquiry, and if there is not a proper independent inquiry, we will—will, not might—push for an independent international inquiry in March. That is the right approach. The Sri Lankan Government need to be put to the test. The war is over. The terrorism is finished. They have this incredible opportunity. It is no good the shadow Foreign Secretary just sitting there. He was the first one who said there was no point going; there was nothing to talk about; nothing Britain could do. It is the sort of stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach to diplomacy that does absolutely no good for this country or for human rights.

Matthew Offord (Hendon, Conservative)

For some time now many Government Members have been privately pressing the Sri Lankan Government to undertake an independent inquiry in order to allay the fears of our constituents, including my constituent, Mr Jana Mahalingam, who regularly corresponds with me on the issue. Does the Prime Minister agree that although peace has come through the ending of violence, the battle is now for reconciliation, which could be achieved through an independent inquiry?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. An independent inquiry is essential, but we should be clear that reconciliation is so much more than that. There were issues put to me about restoring land to people who have been moved from their homes, about the army needing to play a reduced role in the north of the country, and about real change being needed with regard to respecting the elected chief Minister in the north of the country. That is both frustrating and yet quite exciting: the country is, at one level, at peace, because there is no more war or terrorism, so the Government can afford to be generous and magnanimous, and that is exactly what they should do.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East, Labour)

Further to the question from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, does the Prime Minister accept that over the past few years the British Government have forcibly returned Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, only for them to be bundled into white vans at Colombo airport and subjected to horrific torture? Is he proud of his asylum policies?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

Our asylum polices should be based on the latest information and on proper judgments about whether people are likely to be tortured or persecuted on their return. That is not a decision that is made by Prime Ministers, or even by Ministers, but it is right that those decisions are properly taken account of in each case, and that is the way it should happen.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West, Labour)

Is it the Prime Minister’s position that the Governments of Canada, India and Mauritius, by deciding not to attend the summit, exercised a serious misjudgement and are sticking their heads in the sand?

David Nuttall (Bury North, Conservative)

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, which I warmly welcome. I think that he was absolutely right to go to Sri Lanka and demonstrate this country’s commitment to the Commonwealth. Does he agree that one concrete way

of demonstrating our continued commitment to the Commonwealth would be to establish dedicated channels of entry at UK airports for Commonwealth citizens, on the grounds that if it is good enough for the European Union it is good enough for the Commonwealth?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary might have a few things to say about new, simpler routes for people to come to this country. What we have tried to do is improve our visa system. For instance, in India we have introduced a one-day visa system. Of course, we should look at all countries on the basis of how we can have an improved visa system and encourage people who genuinely want to come here to visit, but we should also ensure that there are not abuses, and I am afraid that we have to apply those rules to Commonwealth countries as well.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

The war may be over, as the Prime Minister says, but there are still many Sri Lankans here in this country, particularly Tamils, who are seeking asylum and are being given first decisions that are so dubious that they have been overturned at appeal. Will the Prime Minister, with the new information that he has personally gained, look again at the way we treat people who are seeking asylum from Sri Lanka in this country?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

As I have said, our work should be based on the latest evidence. It is not the case that every single Tamil who comes here or to another country would be persecuted on their return. We would be making a great mistake if we took a blanket view like that; it should be done on the evidence.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead, Labour)

Is the Prime Minister aware of any lobbying activities undertaken by the Sri Lankan Government within Westminster, either directly or through third-party lobbying companies?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am frequently lobbied by the high commissioner for Sri Lanka who is here in the UK, and obviously he wants to put the best gloss on everything that is happening in his country, but one of the most important things is going to see some of these things for yourself rather than simply reading about them.

David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

Some hon. Members may recall David Miliband, the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, saying when Foreign Secretary that the Sri Lankan Government have engaged in a war without witness. Can the Prime Minister assure me that following his visit Sri Lankans can all benefit from a peace with witnesses?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. What is required is peace and reconciliation and proper rights for everyone who lives in Sri Lanka. As I said, the fact that the world is going to be watching how this reconciliation takes place is very important.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent, Labour)

Given the defiant tone of President Rajapaksa after the summit, does the Prime Minister really believe that progress on human rights by March next year is possible?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

That decision rests with the Sri Lankan Government. I do not think it is fair to say that they have done nothing in response to the need for action or, indeed, international pressure. As I said, the fact that an election has taken place in the northern province and a new chief minister has been elected who is part of the Tamil National Alliance is a very positive step forward. We will not get anywhere if we do not point to the positive things that are happening as well as being very tough and firm about where further action is needed.

Andrew Love (Edmonton, Labour)

While recognising the good intentions of the Prime Minister in going to the north of Sri Lanka, that action has failed to drag any concessions out of President Rajapaksa or to convince his Commonwealth colleagues to sign a communiqué criticising human rights in Sri Lanka. What confidence does the Prime Minister have that in five months’ time or so action can be taken on its chairmanship of the Commonwealth and on setting up a United Nations investigation?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

As I said, the decision will rest with the Sri Lankan President, but I do not think that anyone can be in any doubt that they are under more pressure today than they were a week ago, or a month ago, because of the international attention that has been shone on these issues—they know that the world will be watching. One only has to watch President Rajapaksa’s press conference, which was dominated by questions about human rights and inquiries into what happened at the end of the war, to see that there is pressure today that there was not a week ago.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North, Conservative)

Does the Prime Minister know that he was described recently in the Australian press as a

“defender of democratic ideals and confident international statesman”?

Is it not the case that he was right to go to Sri Lanka because of the constitutional obligation of supporting the head of the Commonwealth and her representative the Prince of Wales, and because the concomitant publicity, both in the UK and around the world, has highlighted the issue front and centre?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was right to take that stand and attend, and to stand up for the Commonwealth. Above all, it was an important meeting of a multilateral organisation in which we play an important part. I have been called quite a lot of things in recent days, but let me put it this way: those views are not always necessarily shared widely in the Cameron household.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore, Labour)

The Prime Minister has made much of the spotlight his visit has shone on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. What do we make of the fact that not only was there no communiqué, but that in the final statement there was no mention of those human rights abuses, let alone an inquiry into them?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, one of the strengths of the Commonwealth, but also the source of some of its trouble, is that it is an organisation based on consensus. If someone disagrees with a potential conclusion it is effectively struck out. It was not, therefore, possible to have everything in the communiqué that we wanted. Is there, however, pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to act, to reconcile and to sort these problems out? As I said, there is more pressure today than there has been for a while.

Peter Bone (Wellingborough, Conservative)

The British people, seeing the television pictures from Sri Lanka of the Prime Minister smashing Muralitharan for six, will

think that the Prime Minister is auditioning for a role in the England Ashes team. Afterwards, Muralitharan said that the situation in the north was improving. Would the Prime Minister like to comment on that?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

First, I did not hit Muralitharan for six. Secondly, I think he was being quite gentle with me. I certainly could not read which way the ball was going to go and I was fairly lucky to hit it at all. He made a good point that a huge amount of progress has been made in terms of peace, stability and economic prosperity. His organisation is bringing together Tamils, Sinhalese and others to help forge the country together. He is doing amazing work and we should back that work. He also thought I was right to attend and to raise these issues. What he wants, as a proud Sri Lankan, is to ensure that a fair picture is painted of his country, and he is right to say that.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough, Conservative)

Amnesty International has welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for

“genuine freedom of expression and…an end to the intimidation of journalists”.

Does my right hon. Friend think that it would have been as easy to speak up for the freedom of the Sri Lankan press had he stayed in London?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Being able to take journalists to the north of the country, particularly to the Uthayan newspaper, so many of whose journalists have been injured or killed in the course of their work, was a very powerful way of drawing attention to the importance of a free press and of freedom from intimidation.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative)

The Prime Minister rightly highlighted the extensive work done by the Foreign Secretary to end the abhorrent practice of sexual violence in conflict. Given the evidence of that having occurred in Sri Lanka, what can our Government do to assist the victims?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

The first thing we must do is to continue the Foreign Secretary’s excellent work to drive the issue to the top of the international agenda. Some

really important steps in relation to commitments from other countries and through the UN have now been made. The specific allegations are one reason why the independent inquiry that we have talked about this afternoon is so important.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)

Did the Prime Minister detect any signs, even small ones, from the Sri Lankan Government that crimes against humanity might have been carried out by their security forces when operating in the north of the island?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I obviously discussed that issue with President Rajapaksa, as well as the need for an independent inquiry. The Sri Lankan Government’s current position is that they do not believe such an inquiry to be necessary and that they have their own processes and procedures. However, it is fair to say that they recognise that questions are being asked internationally and that they will have to provide some answers. The answer is that we must keep up the pressure.

Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative)

Many people in our country will be proud of our Government for standing up against mass murder and genocide in Syria and Sri Lanka. The Tamils will be comforted by the Prime Minister’s strong visit to the north of Sri Lanka. Will he continue to ensure that the Sri Lankan regime is held accountable? If there is evidence that any member of the Sri Lankan regime has committed war crimes, whether from a Sri Lankan inquiry or a United Nations inquiry, will he look at bringing them to the International Criminal Court for justice?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

Of course, that remains an option, but the most important thing is to get the independent inquiry under way. I would urge colleagues who have

not seen some of the evidence in the recent Channel 4 documentary to look at that, because one really can see the need for rapid answers to the allegations made.

Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal, Conservative)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to stand up for British values abroad and not play opportunist politics while important human rights issues are being discussed? Many of the people affected by those issues are currently living through a nightmare.

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

That is important on two counts. First, this is the Commonwealth, a multilateral organisation, and we should be there making our arguments, because if we do not, we will lose important battles over the issues we care about. Secondly, it provided an opportunity to talk about human rights specifically in Sri Lanka and to raise their profile in a way that would not have been possible sitting at home.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire, Conservative)

Human Rights Watch has praised my right hon. Friend for honouring his promise and delivering a strong message on human rights abuses and allegations of war crimes while in Sri Lanka. Does he agree that had he listened to the advice of some political leaders and not attended in Sri Lanka, that message would have gone completely unheard and unreported?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

It is notable that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which might have had some doubts about my attending, have made it clear that we put forward human rights in a way that Britain can be very proud of.

  Comments - 17

  • suresh Thursday, 21 November 2013 05:05 AM

    Cameron why you keep poking your nose u no longer rule

    mind your own business & not interfere in our affairs

    Niluk Rathnayake Tuesday, 19 November 2013 10:40 AM

    I don't understand what British Prime Minister David Cameron is saying at the parliament , we are a Independent Country, how he can interfere other countries problems this is no doubt a part of campaign which carries out Pro LTTE organizations, He clearly show the development carrying out Northern part of the Country, how all Nationalist live harmony in all part of the country, what we need now international community need to help us rather than pressurize us

    san Thursday, 21 November 2013 12:00 AM

    do u honestly believe chin a or Russia will let UK to do so Saman? I think you are a day dreamer. via DM Android App

    saman Wednesday, 20 November 2013 08:25 AM

    compare to middleeast you are nothing , for country like UK 1 hour is toomuch to finish you off. so don't talk rubbish calm down .

    Fayad Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:24 AM

    Mr Cameron you are sadly mistaken
    Do not try same as Middle east

    Victor Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:35 AM

    I read the whole debate. I am not bothered about the content.

    .... But look at the way in which they address a fellow MP. It is really nice to see how all members address each other and the way in they run the affair.

    Our Speaker , ruling party MPs , Opposition Party and all other members should learn how to respect each other.

    Thanks to DM for publishing this so that we can understand
    our weakness.

    Mangala Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:37 AM

    In his dreams.

    JR Thursday, 21 November 2013 08:10 AM

    David has personal issues. He needs help.

    shanthapriya Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:37 AM

    therefore i plead for your vote pls.
    i know more pressure on SL more votes for me

    JR Thursday, 21 November 2013 08:12 AM


    Jfdo Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:40 AM

    It is appropriate that Priminister Cameron provide an ELAM area in the UK ,as the LTTE diaspora is contributing so much for the Uk Political parties.They only have contributed for the destruction of the good people and the assets of SriLanka.

    karuna Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:40 AM

    Mr Camron teach in your style after march 14th 2014

    Vic Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:44 AM

    I can not understand, our Prime Minister didn't ask for anything apart from an Independent investigation and Justice, what's wrong with that?

    SAM_SPARROW Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:49 AM

    Mr Cameron, you are on hell of a brave man. Hats off to you.

    Sriyani Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:54 AM

    "Its always empty barel makes the worst noise!" Look at this hypocrite Cameron, just to ensure his vote bank is safe, he listened to diaspora Tamils without finding the gospel truth and had initial brain washing in London. Instead of coming to Colombo direct, he landed in Delhi first, met Manmohan Singh and got a sad picture on Sri Lanka and came to Colombo with a suspicious face. As soon as the CHOGM opening ceremony was over he ran to Jaffna, had further brain-washing from Vigneswarn and Sambandan. Instead of following CHOGM agenda, he had his own agenda and criticized Mahinda Rajapaksa government on human rights and had even set an ultimatum on Sri Lanka like champion of Human Rights or as if Sri Lanka is this moron's grandmother's property!!!!!!!.

    Esther Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:55 AM

    British PM is under huge pressure by British Parliamentarians who are biased with LTTE as well as those who want to see who loosing his next elections. If the British PM and his colleagues wants the Tamils in the North and South of SL to live peacefully they should stop ineterfering with its inetrnal affairs. More the external pressure is mounted the Sinhalese who have no ineterest with politcis will build up anger with Tamils and the situation will become worse.

    Aja Tuesday, 19 November 2013 12:02 PM

    Sri lankan Government will do what is required not according to the your terms as our president said British have no moral Rights to questions us after invading our countries go fly a kite .

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