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* UK parliament debates Sri Lanka's progress in fulfilling promises made for transitional justice, human rights
Wed, Mar 1, 2017, 12:51 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Feb 28, London: The British parliament today debated the human rights in Sri Lanka and the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday, as Sri Lanka's Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera in Geneva apprised the Council of the progress the country has made in fulfilling the key promises made by the Government in 2015 to address accountability, human rights protections and reconciliation.

Opening the debate Conservative MP James Berry, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils acknowledging that some progress has been made, expressed concerns that key promises made by the Government in 2015 to address accountability, human rights protections and reconciliation have not been fulfilled.

MP Ian Paisley pointing out that building a peace process is incredibly difficult said Sri Lanka has made significant progress. "Significant progress has been made - admittedly not as much as some Members would like, but we should recognize that slow progress has been made towards a new, changed and beneficial society," he said.

MP Berry pointing out areas in which there has been a lack of progress, criticized the Sri Lankan Government for not having a timetable for setting up the judicial mechanism to probe the alleged war crimes.

The debate focused on the Sri Lankan government's refusal to include foreign judges in the tribunal to address the war crimes.

"The Government of Sri Lanka - the President, the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers - have made clear comments that they do not intend to involve foreign and Commonwealth judges, prosecutors and defence counsel. They want it to be a purely domestic tribunal. Senior Ministers have also commented that the military will be protected," MP Berry said. He added that the the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council is necessary to show that the international community requires it.

Responding to MP Berry, MP Sir Hugo Swire said the national unity Government of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is trying to maintain a delicate balance.

"Without that Government of national unity, we would not be seeing progress on any front at all. Everything that we say, maintain and argue for has to be done with a greater understanding of the domestic political situation in Sri Lanka," he said.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Tobias Ellwood said many of the steps that Sri Lanka committed to take under resolution 30/1 are yet to be implemented but the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister has said that the Government need more time to deliver on the outstanding commitments.

He said the UK is now discussing a follow up to resolution 30/1, in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka and the other countries that presented the original resolution.

"Our guiding principle in the negotiations will be that Sri Lanka should implement its existing commitments in full. In addition to the work at the Human Rights Council, we have also been encouraging progress in Sri Lanka through high level engagement and programme funding," he added.

Focusing on the key areas that the government of Sri Lanka needs to progress such as constitutional reform that delivers the devolution required to build the foundations for future stability and prosperity Under-Secretary Elwood said UK urges all parties to work together to find a way forward that is acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka.

He said the issue of returning land is very important and the UK has consistently called for the release of private land occupied by the military in the north and east of Sri Lanka, and will continue to do so.

The Under Secretary said in the area od transitional justice mechanisms the UK is encouraged by the progress of legislation to establish an office of missing persons but the Sri Lankan Government must now take the necessary steps, including providing funding, to get it up and running.

He concluded that bringing about reconciliation and the conditions for lasting peace in Sri Lanka will require a concerted effort from the Government, the Opposition, civil society and everyone who has an interest in supporting a brighter future for the country and affirmed that the UK Government will continue to support and encourage the people and Government of Sri Lanka along that path.

"We will recognise and welcome progress when it is made and will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to deliver in full on their commitments, for the benefit of the people," Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Tobias Ellwood said.

Full text of the debate


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