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Revisiting options for justice beyond the UNHRC on Tamil New Year - Paul Scully MP

Op-Ed by Paul Scully, MP

Today Tamils living in the United Kingdom and across the globe will be welcoming a new year. 

It is a time to spend with loved ones, feast, exchange greetings and offer prayers at temples. Whilst it is a time for celebrating with family and friends and enjoying the festivities, it is also a time for reflecting on past achievements and looking towards the future with hope.

In Britain, achievements and contributions of the Tamil community continues to grow. From academia to healthcare and from business to technology, Tamils contribute across sectors. As the Prime Minister noted in her Thai Pongal message earlier this year, the Tamil community in Britain punches well above its weight.

I know today, as Tamil families across London and the United Kingdom welcome a new year, they will also be thinking of their friends and family back home in Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, despite the brutal war in that island coming to an end over nine years ago, there has been no progress in bringing those who were responsible for mass atrocities towards the end of the war to justice. Progress on de-militarisation of the North-East and returning land to its rightful owners have been painstakingly slow. Recent reports show that the military remains entrenched in the economic and civil affairs of the North-East. Development of a new constitution aimed at devolution of powers to the Tamil North-East to ensure equality has been stalled due to lack of political will to combat Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and achieve true reconciliation. Even worse, according to UN agencies and investigative reporters, human rights abuse of Tamils including, sexual violence and torture continues with impunity.

With all that is going on in the world today our Government will not stand by whilst international agreements are overlooked, nor will we fail to act to alleviate humanitarian distress. Which is why the situation in Sri Lanka disappoints me so much.  As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, I fight for accountability and justice for Tamils both inside and outside the British Parliament.

In February I attended the 37th sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to meet ambassadors of member states to persuade them to continue to pressure Sri Lanka to publish a time-bound action plan for delivering its commitments.

On my return from Geneva, I secured a debate on Sri Lanka at the House of Commons. At this debate I expressed the frustration and fear I had of the UNHRC process. Whilst it was well intended, I felt Sri Lanka was using it to buy time and the council itself lacked power to force implementation of the resolution by Sri Lanka and how the council was looking at member states to progress accountability.

I am very proud that the United Kingdom played an instrumental role in drafting and passing resolution 30/1 in 2015. This resolution uniquely co- sponsored by Sri Lanka, required the country to deliver on various preventative, reparatory measures including setting up an accountability mechanism with foreign judges and prosecutors; return of land; security sector reform and develop a lasting political solution via a new constitution.

In addition to the initial two years Sri Lanka was given in 2015 to deliver on its commitments, the country received an extension of another two years in 2017 to deliver on its commitments. Just under a year to go on the extended period, Sri Lanka has not made any meaningful progress on any of its commitments. 

Just as we would assess our past achievements and look forward to the future at new year, I think it is apt for us to assess Sri Lanka’s progress in delivering justice and look forward to new initiatives. Reviewing Sri Lanka's lack of progress, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed the need for the international community to consider various alternatives for delivering justice for Sri Lanka's war time atrocities.

In this spirit I would like to revisit the recommendation I made at the House of Commons on 20th March 2018. Whilst it is absolutely important to support the UNHRC process and apply pressure for Sri Lanka to deliver on its on commitments, we should explore alternative avenues. One such avenue might be an international tribunal, with a possible referral to the UN Security Council. 

The Conservative party has stood with the Tamils on their arduous journey to achieve justice in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Jaffna in 2013, the first by a world leader since the end of the Second World War and his call for an independent International Investigation, led to the UN resolution. The Conservative party was the only political party in the whole of Europe to call for accountability and justice for Tamils in their manifesto. Under Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK is now pushing for a time-bound action plan from Sri Lanka.

As Prime Minister Theresa May noted in her speech the Tamil community in Britain espouses the same values the Conservatives party promotes, valuing education, entrepreneurial spirit and the support of family networks all of which build a sense of self-reliance and offer the best chance of prosperity. I am excited to see many Tamils standing as Conservative Party candidates in the upcoming local council elections on 3rd May 2018. 

The Conservative Party is working hard to build a Britain fit for the future. We want all children, no matter what community they are from and where they live in the country, to have the best start in life and each generation to be better than the last. That is why our team in government is working hard to build a stronger, fairer economy and a more caring society – a country where everyone’s hard work is recognised and rewarded so people can live fulfilling happy lives. I see the Tamil community as a community that is ready to meet the challenges of the future head on, with hope and optimism that our best days lie ahead of us.

Let me take this opportunity to reiterate my and my party’s support for the Tamil community and wish you “Puthaandu Vaalthugal”.

Paul Scully is the Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam (UK). He is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils.