October 28, 2010 § 3 Comments
27th October 2010, House of Commons Debate, United Kingdom
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): As a former PR man, does the Prime Minister agree that no matter how much Bell Pottinger tries to spin the Sri Lankan Government, the demands for an international independent war crimes tribunal intensify as more evidence of alleged assassination and civil rights abuses comes out?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady makes a fair point. We need to see an independent investigation of what happened. Everyone has read the papers and seen the TV footage, but we need an independent investigation to work out whether what she suggests is right.
Click here to read from UK Parliament Hansard.
BBC Sinhala – Cameron supports Sri Lanka investigation call
June 21, 2010 Comments Off on UK Parliamentarians Debate on Sri Lanka
Will this take place in Australia? Will the Australian politicians support the motion proposed by Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young which backs calls for a United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka?
Private Members’ Debate:
Government policy on investigations of alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka – Siobhain McDonagh
Westminster Hall, London, United Kingdom
Wednesday 16 June
Meeting started at 9.29am; ended at 11.31am
Alleged War Crimes (Sri Lanka)
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I am grateful for the chance to highlight again the appalling treatment of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan Government. Many hon. Members share my interest in the subject, and although the debate is short, I will take as many interventions as I can. I pay tribute to the former hon. Member for Enfield North, my great friend Joan Ryan, who has always been one of the most powerful and passionate supporters of human rights and who continues to care deeply about what has happened to the Tamil community.
January 23, 2010 § 1 Comment
Official Press Release – Dublin Tribunal finds against Sri Lanka on charges of War Crimes
In Dublin today, 16th January, at 2.00pm the Peoples’ Tribunal Chairman Francois Houtart read the preliminary findings of the Peoples’ Tribunal on the war in Sri Lanka and its aftermath. There were four findings:
1: That the Sri Lankan Government and its military are guilty of War Crimes;
2: That the Sri Lankan Government is military are guilty of crimes against humanity;
3: That the charge of genocide requires further investigation;
4: That the international community, particularly the UK and USA, share responsibility for the breakdown of the peace process. More
The Sri Lanka government was found guilty of war crimes, a peoples tribunal in Ireland has said.
In its preliminary findings, the People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka (PTSL) that conducted hearings from 14 to 16 January in Dublin has also concluded that the Sri Lanka government is also guilty of crimes against humanity. More
However, the-pro Tamil Tiger groups’ accusation that the government carried out Tamil genocide at the last phase of war between the security forces and the LTTE needs to be investigated.
“Harrowing evidence, including video footage, was submitted by eye-witnesses of the use of heavy artillery and phosphorous munitions, and of the continuous violation of human rights by military activity to a panel of ten international jurors over two days,” the PTSL said in a statement.
Dublin war-crimes tribunal, conducted by Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) based in Milan, which held hearings on Thursday and Friday on war-crime charges on Sri Lanka from eye-witnesses and other material evidence, in the preliminary findings issued Saturday said, Sri Lanka Government is “guilty of War-Crimes” and “guilty of Crimes Against Humanity.” The tribunal also concluded that the charge of Genocide requires further investigations. Eye witnesses included several escapees from the final week of Sri Lanka offensive in the Mullaitivu “No Fire Zone” where more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly slaughtered by Sri Lanka Army (SLA) training heavy weapons on them.
October 22, 2009 Comments Off on UK Parliament during question time
UK Parliamentary Questions Wednesday 21 October 2009 Sri Lanka
1. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation of refugees in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): Two weeks ago, I visited Sri Lanka to see for myself the situation of the 250,000 internally displaced people detained in camps. Conditions have improved there compared with my previous visit in April, with basic needs such as food and shelter being met. However, health care and humanitarian access remain inadequate and we are concerned about military oversight of the camps and family separations. We also believe that conditions will deteriorate during the monsoon season, which is about to start. While I was in Sri Lanka, I repeated the United Kingdom’s call for freedom of movement for all the IDPs so that they can go back to host families, relatives or their places of origin.
Mr. Cunningham: May I ask my hon. Friend whether he has been able to get a time scale for the Tamils to go back to their homes in Sri Lanka? Also, how has the aid been distributed?
Mr. Foster: The Government of Sri Lanka were committed to having 80 per cent. of those detained in camps going back to their places of origin by the end of the year. To facilitate that process, I am pleased to announce today an allocation of £500,000 to the HALO Trust for mine surveillance and de-mining in the Mullaitivu area. That work has started and will make the area safe for homes and for land use for the people who were put in the camps.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Minister look into whether further pressure can be put on Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth? If Sri Lanka continues not to let people return or go home from the camps, perhaps it should be suspended from the Commonwealth.
21 Oct 2009 : Column 894
Mr. Foster: It is important that the international community makes clear its position with regard to the number of people still in the camps and the importance of freedom of movement. We believe that that is happening, but, as far as the Commonwealth’s position is concerned, I know that the Government of Sri Lanka are keen to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in a couple of years’ time. That might have some bearing on their response to the developments for people who are in the camps.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): May I thank the Minister for his statements and for his visit to Sri Lanka on behalf of my Tamil constituents? May I also ask his Department to support the EU Trade Commissioner’s GSP— or generalised system of preferences— plus report, which was issued on Monday, to ensure that preferred status will be withdrawn from Sri Lanka should things continue as they are?
Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend has long been an advocate for her Tamil constituents and I applaud her for her commitment. As regards the GSP plus and the announcement made this week by the European Commission, there is a process that should be followed to maintain the integrity of the GSP plus system. We believe that in the meantime the Government of Sri Lanka should look at the findings and act on them swiftly.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): As someone who visited the camps earlier this year, along with you, Mr. Speaker, I welcome the Minister’s report on the basic conditions in the camps. Does he agree with me, however, that the Sri Lankan Government would better serve their interests if they gave full unrestricted access to the camp to the media and all the agencies and fulfilled their promise to allow people to return home before Christmas? What are the chances of that happening?
Mr. Foster: The right hon. Gentleman knows the situation well from his own experience and from his experience as Chairman of the Select Committee. I agree entirely with his assessment that it is in the Government of Sri Lanka’s interest to allow open access to the media. During the visit that I undertook two weeks ago, I had people from the BBC with me. It had full access to camps and individuals within those camps to do whatever reporting it felt necessary. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman an indication of the scale of the transfer that is needed. We have had a request from the International Organisation for Migration for transport assistance to help 41,000 people from the camps go back to Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, in addition to the 32,000 whom we know left the camps in September.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): I had the very distressing experience with the all-party group of visiting the camps at Menik farms zones 2 and 3 at Vavuniya. In spite of that distressing aspect, there was an uplifting side to the visit because of the attitude of the people and their hope for the future. Will the Minister ensure that any aid that is forthcoming from the Government is directed primarily at the welfare of the people in the camps and their displacement back to their own homes, which have been out of reach, to be joined with their families? Secondly—
21 Oct 2009 : Column 895
Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not wish to be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that one question will do.
Mr. Foster: When I was in Sri Lanka, I made it clear to the Government that from the end of this year, when the monsoon season was brought to a conclusion, we would no longer be funding aid for closed camps and that our aid would be directed towards facilitating movement from the camps. That includes the de-mining to which I have referred and means that I can announce £250,000 for predictable, safe and dignified transport for people from the camps back to host communities, as well as a further £220,000 to the Food and Agriculture Organisation to provide bushels of rice seeds to enable people to have a decent livelihood when they get back to their homes.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The Minister has confirmed this morning that a package of rehabilitation measures is being put in place by the Department. That is welcome, but he has also confirmed that emergency aid will be redirected away from the camps. The Government also voted against the $2.5 billion International Monetary Fund package in July and are now considering ending the EU’s special trade privileges that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned. Is that really the most constructive way to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to promote a long-term reconciliation process, and to meet their stated pledge that 80 per cent. of displaced people should be returned by Christmas? That is what members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, and all Sri Lankan people in the UK, desperately want.
Mr. Foster: We were speaking up for all the people I saw in the camps two weeks ago. It was clear that they wanted to be returned to their homes as quickly as possible, but the nature of the closed camps, with their restrictions and military oversight, is wholly wrong. That is why our assistance will be geared to the de-mining, transport and livelihood programmes, as they will enable people to move safely and securely from the camps back to their homes, where they will be able to get on with their lives. I think that that is what the diaspora community here in the UK wants to hear.
October 9, 2009 Comments Off on More on SL Camps: "Deeply Distressing"
Rapidly built up for the Tamil refugee influx last spring, Menik Farm has pylons, banks, even cash machines – and thousands upon thousands of tents in the cleared arid lands west of Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka.
Since my earlier visit in April, the camp has swollen to cover some 10 zones, the number of camp-dwellers has ballooned to a quarter of a million, while over 20,000 have been resettled or more informally released, the government says.
This was the BBC’s first chance to view all this infrastructure close-up.
A government intensely sensitive to outside criticism or suggestions, and wary of any outsider’s intentions in wanting to visit the camps, was now giving the BBC admittance, alongside the UK’s Development Minister, Mike Foster. That in itself seemed like notable progress.
And yet, just five minutes of conversation with the camp-dwellers was deeply distressing.
This article appeared in Sri Lankan media. Please note we cannot verify the independence of the information in this report.
Lanka News Web – Tamils make history at the UK Labour Party Conference
October 3, 2009 § 2 Comments
Channel 4 – McDonagh on Sri Lanka: ‘Watch Channel 4 News’
Addressing the final day of the 2009 Labour party conference, former Labour whip Siobhain McDonagh MP draws attention to Channel 4 News’s coverage of events in Sri Lanka.
The Labour party conference in Brighton turned its attention to the aftermath of the civil war in Sri Lanka today.
In his speech, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said –
“In those democracies, like Sri Lanka, where civil war claimed lives and liberty, we say governments have a duty to uphold the civil, social and political rights of all their citizens, whatever their ethnicity or religion.”
The conference went on to debate – and pass – a resolution which condemned “the detention by the Sri Lankan government of 300,000 men, women and children” as inhumane.
The resolution also called for journalists to be allowed to enter Sri Lanka and report what is happening in the camps, and for the withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s favoured trading status.
Debating the resolution, former Labour whip Siobhain McDonagh described Sri Lanka as “a country where we can see on Channel 4 News young men, naked and bound, shot at close range.”
On 25 August Channel 4 News broadcast footage which appeared to show Sri Lankan forces executing Tamils.
The footage allegedly dated from January of this year, several months before Sri Lanka declared victory over the Tamil Tigers after a civil war that had lasted more than a quarter of a century.
Sri Lanka’s government disputed the authenticity of the footage, but it nonetheless prompted the United Nations to call for an investigation. UN rapporteur Philip Alston remarked: “This videotape seems to have most of the characteristics of a genuine article.”
On 7 September Channel 4 News broadcast new film which appeared to reveal the victims of Sri Lanka’s war, suffering poor conditions in UN-funded camps.
Four days later, on 11 September, Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, spokesman for Sri Lanka’s ministry of disaster management, appeared on Channel 4 News, questioning the authenticity of the film shown on 7 September and of the earlier footage.
Tamilnet – British MP urges boycott of Sri Lanka goods
Siobhain McDonagh MP, Mictham & Morden, UK, during the Labor Party conference held Thursday appealed to the delegates, and to the millions of live TV viewers, to shoulder their own commitment on the Sri Lanka issue, urging that a boycott of goods and avoiding holidays in the unsavory state would ensure their money would not “prop up that government.” During the event, the sitting government party passed a resolution condemning the treatment of Tamils in the island by that government.
“Next time you want to buy underwear from Marks & Spencer, you want to buy a t-shirt from Next, you want to go on a holiday of a lifetime in a beautiful island off the coast off India – Do you really want to spend your money on a government that chooses to lock 300,000 people up behind barbed-wire.
October 3, 2009 Comments Off on EU to keep SL's trade concessions
The European Union is likely to let Sri Lanka keep a trade concession crucial to its apparel industry, while recommending it be revoked if the country does not improve its human rights record, diplomats said on Tuesday. The European Commission by mid-October is due to decide whether to recommend the Indian Ocean island nation retain the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP Plus) trade concession, which would then be voted upon by the EU Council.
“It is likely to be extended with a negative recommendation,” a diplomat briefed on the EU’s internal discussions told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “There would then be some targets for Sri Lanka to meet.”
GSP Plus gives Sri Lanka the right to export more than 7,200 products duty-free to the EU, which last year accounted for 36 percent of Sri Lanka’s $8.1 billion in total exports.
Lat year, Sri Lanka’s garment and textile industry earned $3.5 billion in total, 43 percent of which came from EU markets.
The EU decision will be the culmination of a year-long rights probe launched in October, when the government was fighting to crush the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and win a 25-year war. Sri Lanka declared total victory in mid-May.
The government refused to cooperate with the probe or let the EU-contracted investigators enter the country, and said doing so was tantamount to betraying its sovereignty.
Since July 2008, the EU has warned Sri Lanka may not meet the human rights standards required to retain GSP Plus, mainly because of allegations security forces either carried out or failed to crack down on abductions and killings during the war.
Sri Lanka has been wary of criticism from Western nations, particularly those with large Tamil populations that supported the LTTE, and flatly rejected any interference or criticism as it battled to finish off the Tigers over the past year.
They were billed as “garments without guilt” — cheap, good-quality lingerie, casual clothes and sportswear made in Sri Lanka and sold in stores such as Next, Tesco and Marks & Spencer.
For the past four years, such clothes worth billions of pounds have been imported, tax-free, to the European Union under a trade scheme intended to help Sri Lanka’s recovery from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
Within months, however, clothes from the country could disappear from British shops.
Although conditions in Sri Lanka’s factories are beyond reproach, the EU looks set to punish the Government’s alleged human rights abuses in the recent civil war by withdrawing the trade benefits.
September 17, 2009 Comments Off on Sri Lankan war: the disappeared (16 pictures)
September 17, 2009 Comments Off on Tamil medic describes camp conditions
Channel 4 : Tamil medic describes camp conditions
British medic Damilvany Gnanakumar, detained for four months in one of Sri Lanka’s Tamil internment camps, describes to Jonathan Miller the bleakness of the conditions she found there.
A senior UN official has arrived in Sri Lanka to put pressure on the government over the detention of tens of thousands of Tamil refugees in camps following the 25-year civil war.
The Sri Lankan government says it need to weed out Tamil Tiger fighters at the camps before most of the inmates can be released.
Our foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller has talked to a British Tamil who knows how bleak conditions are in the camps, after being detained in one of them for four months.
“Dead bodies everywhere,” recalls Damilvany Gnanakumar. “Wherever you turn round, it’s dead bodies.”
She estimates that 20,000 civilians may have died in the final five-day onslaught by Sri Lankan government forces – a figure also cited by some relief agencies, but one dismissed as unsubstantiated by Sri Lanka.
And she says many people inside the camps are dismayed that the world has done so little to help. “After all this happened, they lost their trust… They don’t feel safe to speak out.
“They don’t trust the international (community) now because they think OK, all this happened – nothing happened, the international (community) didn’t come and help us.”
September 17, 2009 Comments Off on London Tamils live in fear of being deported
Local Guardian – Hounslow Tamils ‘terrified to speak out’
A Hounslow Tamil is urging the Government to stop leaving his fellow islanders in limbo, after reports of Tamils being deported despite officials accusing Sri Lankan authorities of human rights violations.
Former asylum seeker Rajsh Kumar, now a legal adviser at Hounslow Tamil Community Centre (TCC), said many Hounslow Tamils were still waiting for court dates to claim asylum, while others were terrified they would be deported if they could not prove their life would be in danger if they returned.
He said: “These people are terrified to speak out.
“They are often too scared to even speak to me.
“A Tamil came to see me and he has been sleeping rough as he can not work because of his immigration status. He is drinking and has many social problems – all because he has been waiting for 10 years to find out about his status.
“Many others are scared they will have to return. If they are sent back and arrested for so-called crimes they will just disappear because there is no legal system in Sri Lanka now.
“You must remember there has been 40 years of fighting, they have been living with this for that long.
“How can the Government say on one hand these people can not prove persecution while being critical of the situation in Sri Lanka? People are left in limbo, not knowing if they have to go back or when.
“If the Government gave people a timeline to say you will go back in 2010 or 2015, there would not be such social problems.”
In July, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on all governments not to return asylum seekers from the north, as normality had yet to return, despite the end of the war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.
Thavarani Nagulendran, of TCC, claimed the UK authorities deported at least 12 Sri Lankans, most of them Tamils, in July and said she knew of 50 Tamils facing deportation.
The UK has been highly critical of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka as security forces intensified fighting against the rebels before declaring victory in May.
A Home Office spokesman said it would not comment on individual asylum applications and each application was assessed on its individual merits.
He added: “At the moment we are assisting with voluntary returns but we have not enforced the return of any failed asylum seekers.”
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