John McDonnell MP
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting): how many more times do we have to be here before we get firm action?
I thank the hon. Members who secured this important debate, and I pay tribute to all my constituents and the community groups who have contacted me to express their views about the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. All of them, especially from the Tamil community, have impressed upon me the need for decisive international action merely to secure a peaceful and just future for the country.
These next few days in the run-up to the UN Human Rights Council meeting on Monday are critical to securing a meaningful international intervention that could lead to that better future. That is why I support the call in this debate for urgent action from the highest levels of our Government, in particular the Prime Minister and The Foreign Secretary, to ensure that the resolution is strengthened for Monday and also that the vote is overwhelmingly carried. I urge the Government to draw upon the full range of our diplomatic relationships, especially with our friends in the Commonwealth countries in Africa and Asia.
Many of us have been shocked but not surprised at the latest report in January on the situation in Sri Lanka from the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. It sets out straightforwardly the litany of concerns that our own constituents have drawn to our attention: the failure of the Sri Lankan Government to address past human rights violations; the closing down of the space for independent voices; the intimidation of civil society alongside a deepening attitude of acting with impunity within the Government; a visible and increased militarisation of the civil Administration; and, yes, the rise of ethno-nationalism and hate speech—there clearly has been a concerted and targeted attack on the rights of Tamil and Muslim communities.
I repeat what others have said: the seriousness of these issues means that the UK Government must throw their full diplomatic weight behind the strengthening of the United Nations Council resolution and make sure that we follow it through to implementation. As my hon. Friend for Ilford North said, we should also recognise that the adoption of the resolution does not preclude individual countries like ours from taking additional unilateral action. I believe that this country has a special responsibility for action as a former colonial power. We united the three kingdoms, one of which was a Tamil kingdom, into one country and then left in 1948.
To prove that we are serious about holding the Sri Lankan Government regime to account, the only way is for the UK Government to undertake unilaterally three distinct actions. First, we must ensure that all trade and aid agreements with Sri Lanka are only granted following the full ratification and enactment by the Sri Lankan Government of the UN human rights conventions and the fulfilment of their pledge to scrap the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Secondly, I support all Members who have said that we should use the Magnitsky provisions that we have recently put into legislation to ensure that we take action against those individuals who are accused of gross human rights violations. Finally, we must ensure that we fully fund and support bodies investigating human rights abuses and war crimes and bring on to the agenda the claims of genocide during the war in Sri Lanka.