UK is ready to work with Maithri

DavidCameronSriLanka1-621x339The British Government says it is ready to work with President Maithripala Sirisena and welcomed his early commitment to good governance and to working with all international partners.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the spokesperson in the Lords for the Cabinet Office and Whip responsible for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told the House of Lords, that he hopes the new Government, as they get under way, will take a more generous approach to the UN investigations on Sri Lanka.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire was responding to a question posed by Lord Naseby and follow up questions, on the British Government’s assessment of the conduct and result of the presidential election in Sri Lanka, and of the policy statement made by Maithripala Sirisena, the newly elected Executive President.

Full discussion on Sri Lanka:

Lord Naseby:

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on Sri Lanka.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):

My Lords, we commend Sri Lanka’s electoral commission for its conduct of the election and all Sri Lanka’s political parties and people for accepting the final result and committing to the peaceful transfer of power. However, we also note the view of Commonwealth observers that the election contest fell short of key benchmarks for democratic elections. We welcome President Sirisena’s early commitment to good governance and to working with all international partners. We stand ready to help the new Government implement their commitments.

Lord Naseby:

Does my noble friend agree that it is greatly to be welcomed for any democracy to have an 80% turnout and, as he says, to have carried out an election so well? Is he also aware that, on the back of that election result, the new President Sirisena—supported by all the minorities, including the Tamils—has pledged to have a revitalised domestic human rights inquiry into alleged war crimes, possibly using the missing persons commission, with two highly respected Britons in Desmond de Silva and Geoffrey Nice? On top of that, he has stated clearly that there will be independence of the law and the judiciary, and media freedom. Against that background, will Her Majesty’s Government give a commitment to give forth the hand of friendship and to give this new all-party Government time to implement the pledges that they have made?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, we are entirely ready to give that commitment. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have already sent messages. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, will be aware that the new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is known to many people within his own party, as his party is associated with the Conservatives on an international basis.

Lord Bach (Lab):

My Lords, we on this side join in the congratulations to the new President and wish him and his Government well. Will Her Majesty’s Government, when they are in discussions with the new Government of Sri Lanka, encourage them to review, seriously and as a matter of urgency, the allegations that have been made about human rights abuses over the last few years in that country? Further, would Her Majesty’s Government encourage the new Government in Sri Lanka to sign up to the initiative of the former Foreign Secretary, the right honourable William Hague, on sexual violence in conflict, something that the previous Sri Lankan Administration singularly failed to do?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, we are in a regular dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government and Administration on all these matters. Members of this House may not be aware how closely the British Government and their representatives work with our colleagues in the European Union on issues such as this—in Sri Lanka as in Georgia—to exert pressure and bring it to bear. There is of course the UN human rights investigation, which will continue. The UN Human Rights Council will discuss that at its forthcoming meeting in March.

Lord Dholakia (LD):

My Lords, one of the early pronouncements made by the new President was about the establishment of an all-inclusive Government. There seems to be some reluctance on the part of the Tamil National Alliance to participate in this political process. Now that the elections are coming up in April, what efforts could we make, and what advice and assistance could we offer, so that there is proper participation by Tamil nationals, not only in Sri Lanka but among the large diaspora in this country?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, it was a very broad coalition election that elected President Sirisena, and it will be very difficult to hold all of that coalition together. I understand that the Tamil National Alliance has said that it is willing to support the Government from the outside but does not at the moment want to take ministerial posts within the Government. However, it is a temporary Government and there will probably be elections in April.

Lord Luce (CB):

My Lords, given that Sri Lanka is the current chair of the Commonwealth, can the Minister say whether the new President is fully committed to the Commonwealth charter, which reflects all the values of the Commonwealth?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, I cannot say that, but I certainly hope so.

Lord Avebury (LD):

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister mentioned that President Sirisena has undertaken to conduct a domestic inquiry into the allegations of war crimes that were committed in the final stages of the conflict in 2009. Has anybody suggested to him that he should facilitate the inquiry which was launched by the United Nations Human Rights Council at a meeting last March? Will our Government encourage him to invite it to Sri Lanka and facilitate its work there?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, that has been the position of our Government for the past year. Of course, there are some sensitive issues of national sovereignty. The noble Lord may be aware that there are even some people in the United Kingdom who take objection to international organisations looking at human rights issues within this country.

Lord Naseby:

Is my noble friend aware that, on that last point, both India and Australia stand foursquare with the sovereign Government of Sri Lanka; that, yes, they do need an enhanced domestic enquiry; and that perhaps they can work in tandem with Europe, but that both the former Government and the present Government have made it quite clear that they are not willing to take part with Europe?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

I am well aware of the previous Government’s resistance to the UN inquiry. I hope that the new Government, as they get under way, will take a more generous approach to the UN investigations.

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