“If Sri Lanka refuses to investigate war crimes does the UK think the UN should name a panel of inquiry, as in Guinea?”
This question was put to the UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, during a Q&A session hosted by Inner City Press (ICP) in the US. The response, although not from the foreign secretary himself, was certainly revealing!
John Sawers, a British diplomat and senior civil servant, told ICP that the UK had “had the votes” to put Sri Lanka on the UN security council’s agenda during the bloodbath on the beach stage of the conflict in the spring of 2009, but chose not to, in the name of the security council unity: (http://www.innercitypress.com/ukun1twitsri031010.html)
The following statement was also received by ICP from the British embassy: “This was a war without witness. The UK supports any credible process to address possible violations of international humanitarian law by both sides to the conflict. Such a process could advance the prospects of national reconciliation. Whatever the outcome of the UN process, the GoSL retains primary responsibility to investigate possible war crimes committed on its territory and we urge it to do so.”
This statement came just over a week after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised the state of human rights in Sri Lanka in an annual report. The report describes the mistreatment of critics of the Sri Lankan government as a threat to peace in Sri Lanka, and says it would strongly encourage a full investigation into accusations of rights violations during the country’s civil war.
Sawers’ quote is revealing. But the words from the British embassy are more so. The author of this statement is speaking out of both sides of its mouth at once, attempting to show concern while in reality supporting the status quo. Leading New Labour politicians claim to have ‘concern for human rights’. But here we can see that the British government are happy to hand responsibility for investigating “possible war crimes” over to a regime that even the Financial Times calls an “elected dictatorship”.
According to the IPC, Sawers, previously a British ambassador to the UN, made it clear that the British government wanted to protect UN security council unity at the expense of thousands of lives! It is not that they do not know the extent of the humanitarian disaster. Speaking at the Global Tamil Forum’s launch meeting, Miliband stated: “We know that during the conflict Tamils were every day in fear for their lives, trapped between government forces and the LTTE, many thousands killed, we know seventy thousand in total from all communities. Thousands more injured or maimed which often is not mentioned in a grim recitation of statistics.” Still, the British government not only refused to take action, but also prevented any action being taken towards investigation.
As a consequence, in the name of ‘peace’ and ‘development’, people will be made to suffer more
All the leading parties in the UK are aware of the situation in Sri Lanka. Economic interests prevent them from taking any genuine action to defend the rights of the Tamil-speaking people and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka.
The head of the UK Diplomatic Service, Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Peter Ricketts, visited Sri Lanka on 10 March 2010 and welcomed the ‘progress’ made by the Sri Lankan government. He said: “The UK wants to support Sri Lanka to restore full freedom of movement to all IDPs.” He assured the warmongering and brutal Sri Lankan government that the British government “engage[s] with expatriate Sri Lankans from all communities to encourage them to support peaceful efforts to achieve peace in Sri Lanka.”
David Miliband, who championed the war and regime change in Iraq which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, now preaches “non violence” to Tamil-speaking people. At the GTF launch he said: “I want to commend very, very strongly your decision to, not just to support non violence, but to advocate non violence.” Tamil-speaking people wish to live in peace, free from persecution and oppression. But every day they face the harsh state violence of the Rajapaksa regime which denies them basic rights and access to decent education, work, accommodation, healthcare and so on. What Miliband was really saying is that the British government wants Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and the diaspora to remain passive and allow it to carry on with its international policies of doing business with brutal and repressive regimes.
The New Labour government in the UK has always maintained that they want to be ‘friendly’ to the Sri Lankan regime and have shown no signs of taking any action to challenge its methods, despite the denial of basic human rights. Last autumn Alasdair Gray of the British Retail Consortium, speaking to the European parliament of the threat to withdraw the GSP+ tax cuts in Sri Lanka, said: “Whatever the human rights concerns, any response has to be balanced. Otherwise, if the preferential access deal is withdrawn by the Commission, business in Sri Lanka could close.” The ‘business’ he speaks of pays poverty wages, but it is Gray and co who have the ear of Miliband, not ordinary working and young Tamil-speaking people. ( For Tamil Solidarity in EU- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03znhPYKdzQ&feature=player_embedded)
The foreign secretary also said that they will not interfere in the ‘internal affairs’ of Sri Lanka. He stated that: “There needs to be a genuinely inclusive political process in Sri Lanka which involves all communities of Sri Lanka. It’s important to say that, whenever a British minister says this, there are accusations that we are trying to tell Sri Lanka how to govern or run its own affairs. I want to refute that very, very clearly”. When he said this in the GTF launch meeting, Miliband was directly speaking to the Sri Lankan regime and assuring them that they will not act against them. He refused to talk to the tens of thousands of oppressed masses in Sri Lanka who suffer greatly in the hands of current Sri Lankan government. New Labour’s hypocrisy was exposed during a Westminster debate. Please read TS review of that debate – Westminster Hall debates on Sri Lanka (IDP Camps).
Also, the reality is that the Conservative Party, which could form the next government, went as far as congratulating the Rajapaksa regime for finishing off the ‘terrorists’. Yet, its shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, made the outrageous claim that the Tories opposed the war! All their members and spoke persons argued for support for Rajapaksa to ‘end the war on terror’. And, to claim that they fully support the EU’s decision to withdraw the GSP+ tax relief to Sri Lanka is also untrue. Not only did the majority of Conservative Party MEPs refuse to participate in the discussion, those who did argued the case for the Sri Lankan government. Video proof of this is still available on the EU website(EU debate) . Hague also claimed: “There is a natural affinity between Tamils in Britain and our party”! But the majority of Black and Asian people in the UK do not support the Conservative Party. The Tories pander to racism and promote pro-big business policies that will damage the interests of most vulnerable people in the UK, and around the world. Commenting on the impact of Tory policies on minorities, Shamit Sagar, senior lecturer in politics at Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, and director of the ethnic minority side of the definitive British Election Studies, said Tory support was so low among the Asian and African-Caribbean communities that the Conservatives had “nothing to lose”, giving the lie to Hague’s claim.
These politicians, who give the impression that they are concerned for the plight of Tamils, are not to be trusted. We should not build Tamil people’s hope or trust in any of the establishment parties, both here in Britain and in Sri Lanka. Instead, those who genuinely stand for defending and fighting for the rights of ordinary people must help to build an independent force that will consistently defend the most oppressed population, and not put their own careerist aspirations first.