Legal challenge to block IMF loan, charges UK's complicity in Genocide

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 28 April 2009, 13:35 GMT]
In a "letter before action" sent to high level British Government officials, Public Interest Lawyers, a group of attorneys representing a Tamil activist group in UK, charge that in light of the Sri Lankan Government's systematic and gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law "the UK under international law has various obligations, namely, to denounce and not recognise the situation in Sri Lanka as lawful [and] not to render aid and assistance to Sri Lanka," the UK Government's response thus far has been "woefully inadequate and does not comply with its obligations under international law." The group will file legal action in the British High Court if the UK Government fails to respond satisfactorily to the charges.

John Hutton, Defence Secretary UK
John Hutton, Defence Secretary UK
The "letter before action," yet to be officially released, was sent to Rt.Hon. John Hutton, M.P., Secretary of State for Defense, Rt.Hon. Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt. Hon. David Miliband MP, British Foreign Secretary, and Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, according to attorneys at Public Interest Lawyers.

Full text of the Press Release follows:

UK government faces legal challenge over its failure to comply with international law in light of the situation in Sri Lanka

The UK government faces a possible judicial review over its failure to comply with its obligations under international law in light of the worsening crisis in Sri Lanka. On Monday 27 April, Justice for Tamils (representing a group of Sri Lankan Tamils residing in the UK) and the human rights law firm Public Interest Lawyers sent a “letter before action” to the relevant Secretaries of State of the UK government.

The letter details that in face of the Sri Lankan government persistently and systematically breaching international humanitarian and human rights law, arguably carrying out war crimes and acts of genocide against the Tamil community, all states, including the UK have obligations under international law to act in certain ways.

The situation in Sri Lanka could not be more serious. According to UN figures released on 24 April almost 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians have been killed and 14,000 more injured since late January. These figures, which do not include those killed in last week’s intensive fighting, mean that in the past three months an average of 70 civilians have died each day. It is submitted that in light of this horrifying situation the UK under international law has various obligations, namely, to denounce and not recognise the situation in Sri Lanka as lawful; not to render aid and assistance to Sri Lanka; to use all lawful means to bring Sri Lanka’s breaches to an end and to take all possible steps to ensure Sri Lanka respects its obligations under international humanitarian law. Justice for Tamils contend that the UK government’s response thus far has been woefully inadequate and does not comply with its obligations under international law. The proposed visit to Sri Lanka by the Foreign Secretary, the appointment of a Special Envoy and the various public pronouncements are not nearly enough to satisfy the obligations imposed on the UK under international law.

The letter before action asks the UK government to set out in clear detailed terms, supported by evidence of the actions taken, exactly how it purports it has met and will continue to meet all of its obligations imposed by international law arising from the situation in Sri Lanka. Amongst other things, the letter seeks:
  • An immediate, clear and unequivocal declaration that the UK government will vote against the proposed $1.9 billion IMF emergency support loan to the Sri Lankan government. To agree to an IMF loan when the Sri Lankan Government is perpetrating gross violations of humanitarian and human rights law would be a flagrant breach of the UK’s international obligations.
  • An urgent explanation and justification of the sale of military equipment to the Sri Lankan government in 2008 and 2009.
  • An unequivocal written assurance that there is no question that any UK products or components could be or may continue to be implicated in the attacks on civilians in Sri Lanka in the context of the egregious human rights violations being committed.
  • A suspension of all arms export licences to the Sri Lankan government:
  • A full and clear explanation as to what steps the UK has taken to:
    • ensure a cessation of preferential trading with the Sri Lanka;
    • cooperate with other states to bring an end to Sri Lanka’s serious breaches of international law;
    • satisfy its duty to investigate and where appropriate prosecute those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.
If the UK government fails to adequately reply to the letter, proceedings for judicial review will be lodged at the High Court without delay.

If you would like any further information, please do not hesitate to contact Mr Kesavan of Justice for Tamils, 07968 52 55 63, or Tessa Gregory at Public Interest Lawyers, 0121 515 5069,

The British action follows similar legal measures taken in the U.S. against Secretary of the US Treasury, Timothy Geithner, and the US Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Meg Lundsager, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to obtain a "declaratory judgment that a failure of the United States to oppose Sri Lanka’s pending $1.9 billion IMF loan application would constitute a violation of 22 U.S.C. 262d."

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PIL: UK government faces legal challenge over its failure to comply with international law


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