I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) not only on securing the debate, but on setting the scene so well. Briefly, I want to ask the question: how many more times will we have to come here and debate this issue before the UK plays its full role in securing justice for the Tamil community? Other Members in this Chamber have, like me, been around a long while in dealing with this issue. I can recall the situation before 2009, but I remember distinctly what happened at that time. The calculation is that more than 70,000 people—at least—were unaccounted for, with some disappeared. One of my constituents went back to Sri Lanka to try to find his family and he was disappeared as well. We have never heard from him since.
Like others, I have received the briefing from the Sri Lankan Government, and I have tried to examine it in relation to what I believe is the reality on the ground. The Sri Lankan Government claim that a process of reconciliation is taking place and that arrangements have been put in place that will ensure the protection of human rights and civil liberties, but those are certainly not the reports we get from our constituents who have families back in Sri Lanka. Let me give a few brief examples.
We have recently been told about what happened on Tamil remembrance day, when people were arrested and detained, and then memorials were smashed. That does not sound like the protection of civil liberties or respect being meted out to the Tamil community. The use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act has been a continuous abuse. The recent death in custody of a young man called Nagarasa Alex is another example of the result of the use of detention in this way. We know of claims that torture has taken place in some instances.
……My right hon. Friend provides evidence of the long history of this, including the long history of the PTA being used to detain, with example after example of its use involving not only torture, but deaths in custody. From what we hear, the new legislation being proposed might be worse than the PTA itself. This is the problem we face.
The issue that comes up time and time again in the Tamil community in my constituency is the continued militarisation of their Tamil lands and the way that those lands are being used. We have to recognise the operation of the military within Sri Lanka. They are not just a military establishment; they are a whole industry in themselves, often profiteering at the expense of the Tamil community, particularly through the seizure of the Tamil lands. The process of demilitarisation has hardly been evidenced by the Sri Lankan Government.
Why is all this happening, and why are the Sri Lankan Government continuing to operate with impunity? I think this represents a collective failure by the international community, including the UK. We have not done enough to pressurise the Sri Lankan Government. We have not taken the action that I thought we were going to take and targeted those identified as abusing human rights—in effect, we are talking about war criminals as well—in a way that we have in respect of other countries, for example via the use of the Magnitsky clause. From what I have seen, or from the evidence we have had, I do not believe that the Magnitsky provisions have been used a single time to sanction the human rights abusers from Sri Lanka. Let us congratulate the United States and Canada, as they have used those provisions. We should be following their example.
As for the truth and reconciliation commission that has been established anew, I believe it is the 15th or 16th that has taken place. What we were pressing for before is that this should be an independent, internationally convened commission, not just an in-house one, where the country is almost marking its own homework.
Finally, we have previously raised the reference to the International Criminal Court, because it is clear that during that period, certainly in 2009, there were offences against the Rome statute that could constitute war crimes.
I believe that we should now maximise the pressure that we can put on the Sri Lankan Government. We should now look at the use of sanctions and reviewing all aspects of our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka. We have raised this before, but I believe that we should not have given Sri Lanka the benefit of developing countries trading scheme status and the concessions that brings. That is the only way to influence the Sri Lankan Government to abide by at least some of the commitments that they have given us to protect human rights and civil liberties and respect the rights of the Tamil community overall.