Feature Article

UK minister cites ‘other stakeholders’ in furthering Geneva investigations

[TamilNet, Thursday, 29 January 2015, 20:35 GMT]
The visiting British Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire in Jaffna said that there was no change in British position on proceeding with Geneva-based war crimes investigations. But, there are also other stakeholders behind the Geneva discourse, the visiting British minister told the Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran. In the meantime, Conservative and Labour MPs who debated the developments in the island of Sri Lanka on Wednesday that took place in British parliament have recognised the crime against Tamil civilians as genocide and have called for continuation of Geneva-based investigations as a necessary step for reconciliation. Yet, the British politicians' framework continues to harp on ‘unitary Sri Lanka’ and ‘minority Tamils’, British Tamil activists lamented.

Hugo Swire visits Jaffna
Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire is getting briefed by grassroots activists in Jaffna on the extent of genocidal landgrab by the Sri Lankan State and its occupation military

The Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council, who met the visiting British Foreign Minister in Jaffna, explained to him that the major issue affecting the population in the Northern province was immediate de-militarisation and the return of the military-occupied lands back to the people.

Although the new SL government has positively cooperated with the NPC on the transfer of former military governor and the chief secretary, these were minor issues compared to de-militarisation, return of occupied lands and the demographic changes threatening the 99% Tamil-speaking Northern Province, Mr Wigneswaran told Mr Swire, who was reportedly shocked to learn the scale of the militarisation and the demographic threats of the structural genocide, informed sources told TamilNet.

John Ranking, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, accompanied the visiting British foreign minister.

Mr Hugo Swire donated books to Jaffna Public Library, met journalists at the Jaffna Press Club and visited the uprooted people from Valikaamam North at Sabapathipillay Camp.

Mr Swire was confronted with the allegations that the West was planning to buy more ‘time and space’ to the Sri Lankan State in Geneva. Responding, the British FM said there would be ‘no change’ in British position. He said that the outcome also depended on other stakeholders behind the Geneva discourse.

Commenting, activists for alternative politics in Jaffna told TamilNet that the Geneva process has already been engineered to buy necessary time and space for the SL State and to pass the blame of war crimes equally to both the sides of the conflict, ostensibly leaving out the outside stakeholders the outlook and designs of whom were fundamentally responsible for the genocide and the on-going genocide.

The US drafters of the resolutions passed in Geneva have pre-empted the process from maturing into a full-scale international investigations, they noted. The resolutions intend to shield the widespread allegation of genocide from being investigated in the Geneva process. Even the ‘de-militarisation’ was deleted from the draft, they said.

So, the response of ‘no change in British policy’ needs to be carefully perused by the Tamils, the activists further said.

Hugo Swire visits Jaffna
Hugo Swire talking to an uprooted Tamil mother from the SL military occupied Valikaamam North, currently residing at Sabapathy camp in Jaffna

In the meantime, Tamil activists in the UK welcomed the positive aspects of the debate that has taken place in the British parliament on Wednesday.

“There is apparent positive moves within the UK parliament regarding promoting the positive aspects of the Geneva discourse beyond the regime change and transcending the LRRC,” a Tamil lobbyist belonging to the Conservative Party told TamilNet.

“While Tamils can welcome such positive steps, there is the need for Tamils in these times, especially following the geo-political realignment, to foster a discourse that addresses the national question of Tamils in the truest sense of self-determination, including the right to secede. International investigations into the decades long genocide is absolutely necessary,” the activist who did not wish to be named, further said in an email sent to TamilNet. He was arguing that the Tamil lobbyists were making progress in ‘educating’ the British parliamentarians.

Conservative MP Lee Scott, who secured the debate, was the most articulating regarding the need to recognize Tamils Right to Self-Determination and to recognize the fact that what happened in the island was genocide against the Tamil people.

Another Conservative politician, MP Robert Halfon was also articulating on genocide of Tamils while staying within the ‘Tamil minority’ discourse.

“Yesterday morning, I stood in silence at the holocaust memorial, where we recognised the victims of not only Nazi persecution, but other genocides that have taken place throughout the world since the end of the second world war. I am afraid to say—it gives me no pleasure to say this—that genocide has happened,” Mr Lee Scott said.

“Sri Lanka must also sign the Rome statute on the International Criminal Court, to which 123 states are party, including the United Kingdom, to demonstrate its intent to be a good global citizen,” he said.

“Only a political solution that recognises the rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, including that to self-determination, can address the root cause of the conflict.”

However, looking beyond Lee Scott's positive statements, his view that the unitary Sri Lankan Constitution is made viable to provide for such Right to Self-Determination for Tamils, was criticised by Tamil activists belonging to the Labour party in the UK. The Conservative MP was comparing the Sri Lankan Constitution to the British model employed on Scotland and Wales.

The Labour activists took serious note of Lee Scott's statement that “[t]he Sri Lankan constitution already provides for an autonomous assembly, much as Scotland or Wales has in the United Kingdom. That assembly should be given to the Tamils. People should have power over their own destinies. I am calling not for changes to the existing constitution, but for people to honour the existing constitution.”

Robert Haflon said: “There are not many Tamils in my constituency; I wish there were. I am taking part in the debate because I am from the Jewish faith and believe that it is my duty to help races and nations that have suffered genocide. I believe that there has been a genocide of the Tamils. I define genocide as scientific murder. The Tamils have for decades been demonised and marginalised. They have been imprisoned in camps and annihilated.”

“We must encourage the Tamil minority in their struggle for self-determination. As the representatives of a country that has always upheld the values of human life and freedom, we cannot let the new Sri Lankan Government carry on the repression and errors of the past. The Tamils deserve international recognition of the genocide of their people, and I ask the Minister to comment on that. They deserve their right of self-determination, and to be treated equally before the law,” Haflon further said at the parliamentary debate in UK.

Labour MP John McDonnell said: “The international investigation should be part of the reconciliation process, which involves moving towards a general, agreed constitutional settlement that recognises the rights of the Tamil people, trying to bring back normality to Tamil areas and implementing the demilitarisation that has been called for.”

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh noted that the new SL president “Sirisena has already rejected the mandate of the current UN investigation into war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka and has given no indication that he would be willing to grant greater autonomy to the Tamil and Tamil-speaking Muslim areas of the north and east of the island.”

Ms McDonagh rejected the LLRC and urged the British government to exert pressure on Sri Lankan State on a number of important issues.

“In the weeks and months ahead, I therefore call on the British Government to undertake a number of measures. They should urge the Government of Sri Lanka to co-operate with the war crimes investigation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and engage constructively with the UN Human Rights Council’s concerns about the promotion of reconciliation and accountability. They should also state what the consequences would be if President Sirisena’s Government continued to snub the UN process and reject any criminal investigations that arise from the findings and recommendations of the war crimes report by the Office of the High Commissioner. Given the seriousness of the issue, no measures should be taken off the table, including possible sanctions and travel bans, if Sirisena’s Government fail to comply.”

“The UK Government should also make a formal request that the Government of Sri Lanka join more than 150 other countries by finally signing the declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict; place conditions on aid and inward investment into the island, specifying the need for accountability, and the promotion and protection of human rights; urge President Sirisena to publish a long-term plan, along the lines of his road map for his first 100 days in office, stipulating how he intends to address the concerns of minority communities, and to ensure truth, justice and accountability; and call on the Sri Lankan authorities to address the Tamil national question, and enter into immediate and meaningful negotiations with elected Tamil representatives and others to ensure a comprehensive and permanent political solution. In addition, the British Government should request that President Sirisena, as an act of good will to the Tamil community: revoke the proscription of Tamil diaspora groups and individuals, which was implemented under the rule of Rajapaksa; call on Sri Lanka to demilitarise the Tamil majority areas of the island, release all political prisoners who have not been charged with any offence and revoke the draconian measures in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allows for 18 months’ detention without charge; and closely monitor the human rights situation on the island, particularly in relation to religious and ethnic minorities,” she said.

The Labour parliamentarians were also referring to Tamils as a ‘minority’.

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