A Unison trade union branch in London sent a strong protest to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about its decision to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Sri Lanka this year.
The host of this meeting, the government of Sri Lanka, stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Outrageously hosting Chogm will be followed by Sri Lanka taking the head of the Commonwealth for the next two years.
This disgraceful endorsement of a truly brutal regime, responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils in 2009 and continued trampling of democratic rights, has angered many activists and campaigners, including the trade unions in Britain. A number of key leading union activists came together in June this year to firmly condemn the government’s plans to hold this meeting in Sri Lanka.
The FCO communicated an official reply to the Unison branch (see attached pdf). In it they make a contrived claim that they call for a “credible investigation into allegations of violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law by both sides”. The FCO also claims that the UK sponsored the resolution passed in the UN on 21 March. In summary the FCO says it will ‘pressure’ the government to implement the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and will ‘ask’ the government to respect human rights.
There is no room for hope that the FCO’s vague proposals will be effective. The LLRC makes the mildest and frailest recommendations, which was itself commissioned by the regime, and yet the government refuses to implement it.
Tamils living in Britain have heard this story since 2009. Then Tamils marched in their tens of thousands – one of the largest gatherings of ethnic minorities in British history – to demand justice. The then government promised to stand up for ‘human rights’ but did nothing. The details of the gross violations and the massacre committed by the Sri Lankan regime and the hypocritical and puny efforts of the LLRC recommendation have been communicated to Labour and Con-Dem government officials on a number of occasions by activists and human rights campaigners.
The current Coalition government of the Tories and Liberal Democrats has done nothing of substance to contribute to bringing the justice that was demanded by that mass movement of British citizens of Sri Lankan origin. Now strong trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of members are adding their voice to this.
In the face of such mass opposition the government tries to ‘soften’ its language by repeating the hypocritical claim that they ‘continue to stand for human rights’. The government hopes this will satisfy the Tamil populations and unions and that they give up their campaign, and even provide grateful vote banks.
But recent revelations in the British press prove the real approach of the British government to the murderous regime. Arms licences continue to be signed off for export to Sri Lanka. Tamil Solidarity demands that the FCO publishes the details of all the dirty dealings with the Sri Lankan government. We demand to know all the business deals, including super-exploitation of workers in Sri Lanka’s Special Economic Zones in the interest of British big business profit, that are proposed for the Sri Lankan government. In the interest of profit, the rights of Tamils do not feature.
The FCO statement also refers to Alistair Burt’s visit to Sri Lanka and claims that he took the human rights concerns directly to the Sri Lankan government. It’s breath-taking how the FCO spins the role the Conservative MP, Alistair Burt. In fact Burt described the Sri Lankan regime and its president as ‘great friends of Britain’. He also played a role in opening up a number of government offices in the north which are seen by the local populations as sites of intimidation and offensive monitoring by the government.
During Burt’s visit he seems to have made no effort whatsoever to talk to the real victims of the war or to visit a number of camps that the Sri Lankan government still don’t want to show to the world. It appears he was escorted by the government to its ‘showcase’ areas and cooperated with the Sri Lankan government in spreading some of its propaganda. He is becoming the regime’s voice in Britain.
Burt claims that he is impressed with the Sri Lankan government’s development and improvement. He claims that the “end of terrorism in Sri Lanka makes Sri Lanka a more ‘attractive market’”. He also “welcome[s] the end of war and end of horrific LTTE terrorism”. No regret whatsoever about how the war was ended with such a brutal massacre and the continued persecution of a huge number of people, including the denial of basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom to organise, as well as a notorious land grab in the traditional Tamil areas.
In February this year Burt claimed that the UK has no evidence that deported Tamils were tortured on their return to Sri Lanka. The Tories have now hired an advert van to be drive around East London with the big slogan of ‘go home or face arrest’! Again in February, Burt claimed publicly that the UK does not export arms to Sri Lanka, saying that only ‘shotgun cartridges for sporting use’ and ‘communications equipment for a transport aircraft’ were exported.
But in July it was revealed that 49 arms equipment licences worth £8m have been granted to the Sri Lankan government – and they included 600 assault rifles. (See: http://www.tamilsolidarity.org/?p=3144) We refuse to be fooled by him, the FCO or the British government.
We do not believe for an instant that the prime minister and foreign secretary visiting Sri Lanka will act decisively to deliver justice. The sole aim of their visit is to represent the business interests of a few companies who also stand accused of violating human rights in their drive to produce cheap products. The tragedy which ensues has been illustrated devastatingly by the deaths of textile workers in Bangladesh.
Watch this video of Alistair Burt:
Tamil Solidarity categorically rejects the shoddy explanation given to Unison by the FCO.
· We urge all Tamils and Tamil campaign groups to cut its all ties with the Conservative Party and to instead expose their hypocrisy.
· We reject our community being used as a vote bank. Not a single Tamil vote to the Tories.
· We appeal to all trade unions to inform their members of this hypocrisy and to organise public meetings and branch meetings to inform members.