On 8th of January Tamil Solidarity asked Labour MP Ivan Lewis for the government’s response to some of our campaign demands.
Please read the report (Manchester Rally at Ivan Lewis MP office- Lawrence Arokianathan and Paul Gerrard.)
Ivan Lewis reported that he had forwarded our request to the Foreign Office. We publish below the long delayed response.
In its statement the foreign secretary completely denies the existence of secret camps. However, no comments are made regarding the Sri Lankan government’s silence on the thousands of young people who are still unaccounted for. The North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) recently reported the existence of secret ‘camps’ or ‘prisons’ where these young people are held for interrogations. We will publish the report as soon as NESOHR completes its research.
We also do not agree with the UK Foreign Office’s view that the military presence in the North is merely to maintain ‘law and order’! The military’s involvement in ‘reconstruction work’ is an appalling infringement of human rights. In our view, any reconstruction must be done under the direction of elected bodies of the people who live there, not the military, which is responsible for the devastation in the first place.
Having refused to take action regarding refugees and the humanitarian disaster, the UK government states that the UK will continue to work with the Rajapaksa government which stands accused of committing war crimes and proposes what it calls a ‘inclusive political solution’, which means a continuation of the present Sinhala chauvinist policies of divide and rule.
Tamil Solidarity stands for the right to self determination of the Tamil-speaking masses in Sri Lanka, including separation if that is what the Tamil-speaking people want. We will continue to defend their rights.
Since the reply, Paul Gerrard, on behalf of Tamil Solidarity, has written to Ivan Lewis pointing out some inaccuracies in the response (see below). We will post any reply once we get it.
Following is the correspondence between Ivan Lewis and Manchester Tamil Solidarity.
Letter from Ivan Lewis
2 March 2010
To: Tamil Solidarity
When we last met I promised to write to you to give you an update on our assessment of the recent humanitarian and political developments in Sri Lanka. This letter also addresses points raised in your letter to the Foreign Secretary.
Humanitarian situation facing lDPs
Since the end of conflict in Sri Lanka last May, our immediate priority has been to ensure the safety and well-being of the Internally Displaced Persons (lDPs) who were forced to leave their homes by the fighting and who were detained in government-run camps. We have made very clear in all our discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka that these people should be allowed to return to their homes as soon as it is safely possible to do so and allowed freedom of movement.
The latest official UN figures of 15 January estimate that 187,500 IDPs have been released from the camps. The recent progress on return of lDPs is encouraging, but we continue to have concerns. Humanitarian access remains restricted for agencies to help the IDPs recover their livelihoods and rebuild their communities. Although the restrictions on freedom of movement for the 100,000 IDPs who remain in the camps have eased recently, there are still constraints. We continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow full freedom of movement for the lDPs who remain in the camps and allow full access for humanitarian agencies to help those displaced.
We have been offering practical support to these humanitarian agencies, through £12.5 million of Department for International Development (DFID) humanitarian funding. We continue to fund impartial agencies to clear landmines, provide transport so that IDPs can return home quickly and safely and restart their Lives. I have enclosed a breakdown of DFID funding, with further details on how the UK’s £12.5 million of humanitarian assistance is being spent. More information on the UK’s humanitarian effort can be found at www.dfid.qov.uklsrilankacrisis.
With regards to the claims of secret camps in Sri Lanka, we have not seen any evidence of these, nor heard any specific rumours. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also not aware of any secret camps or secret places of detention. Apart from the IDP camps and the camps for suspected LTTE combatants, the ICRC has full access to all known places of detention, including prisons and police stations, at approximately 120 locations across Sri Lanka. We are also not aware of any reports suggesting that young Tamils are being exploited in employment. Our High Commission in Colombo will of course monitor any developments closely.
Military situation in the Northern Province
You also asked for our assessment of the latest military situation in Northern Sri Lanka. Officials from our High Commission in Colombo have been able to visit the Vanni and Jaffna districts of the Northern Province recently. They advise that there continues to be a high military presence in the Vanni, as reconstruction work, clearance and demining operations continue. The military continues to maintain a holding role, aimed at preventing the re-emergence of terrorist or paramilitary activity in the area. It also assists in returning IDPs to their home areas.
Whilst the military presence in Jaffna remains high, it appears to have become less visible then before. There are fewer checkpoints and it appears easier to pass through those that remain. However, there has been an increase in the police presence in Jaffna since the end of the conflict, as the government looks to reestablish law and order. Reports of paramilitary activity in the area have decreased in recent months. The Government of Sri Lanka has stated that its long term aim is to reduce its overall military presence in Jaffna, and we will continue to encourage a return to normality as soon as is possible.
Generalised System of Preferences plus (GSP+)
We also discussed the EU’s GSP+ trade preference scheme. The European Commission released its report on 19 October 2009 on Sri Lanka’s implementation of international human rights conventions. The report highlighted failings in Sri Lanka’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We shared these concerns.
EU Member States have since voted on the European Commission’s formal proposal recommending the withdrawal of GSP+ benefits from Sri Lanka. The UK supported Sri Lanka’s withdrawal. The damning nature of the Commission’s report on Sri Lanka’s implementation of core human rights conventions made this a clear decision. We have always made clear that Sri Lanka must respect its international human rights obligations under GSP+, and we have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate action to address the issues outlined in the report.
Sri Lankan refugees
I appreciate your concern for the well-being of the Sri Lankans who were rescued by the Australian Oceanic Viking vessel in the Indian Ocean and transferred to Indonesia. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working with the Governments of Indonesia and Australia to resolve this issue. I understand that the UNHCR has since mandated all those onboard as refugees and they are being referred for resettlement in various countries, including Canada, the US, Norway, New Zealand and Australia.
The Sri Lankan Election Commissioner announced on 27 January that President Rajapakse had won the presidential election with a clear majority. We will continue to work with his Government to take forward the need for a fully inclusive political solution which addresses the underlying causes of the conflict, It remains our view that this is the only way to achieve lasting peace in Sri Lanka. Genuine reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s communities will depend in a large part on the government promoting and protecting the rights of all Sri Lankans – Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese.
We will also be pressing the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that investigations are carried out into the reported irregularities in the election campaign, including the incidents of violence that tragically resulted in the deaths of five people. It will be important for the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the forthcoming parliamentary elections are free fair, so that all Sri Lankans can exercise their democratic right to elect the politicians of their choice.
Reconciliation will also require a process to address possible violations of international humanitarian law committed by both sides during the conflict. We fully support the EU’s call for an independent and credible inquiry into allegations of violations of international law in the conflict in Sri Lanka. Under international law, it is the primary responsibility of the state concerned to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by their own forces. President Rajapakse made a commitment to take such measures following the visit to Sri Lanka of the UN Secretary General in May 2009. We continue to take every opportunity to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to live up to this commitment as we believe it could play an important role in the post-conflict reconciliation process.
I hope you find this reply helpful. I have enclosed a copy of the Foriegn Secretary’s recent Written Ministerial Statement on the situation in Sri Lanka, which may also be of interest.
Letter Paul Gerrard Sent on behalf of TSC- 6 Mar 2010
Thanks for your email reply received on Tuesday and for investigating these matters. I have also now received a hard copy.
We note the UK government’s continued pressure on the Sri Lankan government and in particular the position the government took, alongside other EU governments, over GSP+. We note also that despite a Sri Lankan government undertaking to close all the detention camps by the end of January 100 000 IDPs are still detained. We do not believe that the continuing occupation of Jaffna can be excused by the Sri Lankan government and we hope the British government will exert increased pressure for the immediate withdrawal of all troops. We would point out that if the government are serious about increasing pressure they can officially call for a ‘war crime investigation’ or call on the Sri Lankan government to allow an independent fact finding team in.
We are somewhat surprised at the verdict that there is no evidence for the existence of the special, secret camps when Sri Lankan government ministers have admitted their existence. We have no doubt that such evidence will not be long in coming to light.
In relation to asylum seekers detained in Indonesia your reply unfortunately confuses two groups. The document points out that one group of 78 aboard the Oceanic Viking were re-settled in countries associated with the Tamil diaspora (Canada, Norway etc) towards the end of January (see also http://www.tamilsolidarity.org/?p=846 BBC REport). However an even larger group (250+), whose concerns we raised with you on 8th January, are still detained in Merak harbour, amid growing concerns for health and welfare and with one death already of a 29 year old (see http://www.tamilsolidarity.org/?p=917). On 10th March they will have been detained for 150 days. We are currently renewing protests to the Australian government on their behalf, particularly in view of International Women’s Day.
We appreciate that you will not wish to engage in lengthy correspondence but given the misunderstanding which has arisen about two important cases involving Tamil asylum seekers we would still expect to hear from yourself / FCO about the latter case which we regard as a major human rights violation and also about any representations which have been made by UK government to either the Indonesian or Australian governments.
We will be posting your reply on the Tamil Solidarity website, along with more detailed comments.