Sri Lanka: Human Rights — [Dame Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 2:54 pm ar 20 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden 2:54, 20 Mawrth 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Maria. I congratulate Elliot Colburn on securing the debate, and it is a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon, who has so frequently spoken in support of the Tamil people.

I hope that I am a friend of the Tamil community: a community that is hard-working and entrepreneurial, and that has given so much to our country and our capital city. It has an almost obsessive desire to educate its children to ensure that they are the future doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants who will make such a great contribution.

I am well aware of the tenacity of the Tamil community. In the 14 years since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, I have stood alongside Tamils in my constituency of Mitcham and Morden on the road to justice, peace and accountability. Those 14 years have presented so many challenges and such little progress, but so much pain.

Not only have we called for accountability for the terrible war crimes committed 14 years ago, but we are calling for an end to the human rights abuses that are still being experienced by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka today. That starts with repealing the sixth amendment, which continues to be a barrier to Tamil self-determination. The sixth amendment criminalises support, in Sri Lanka or abroad, for the establishment of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka. Anyone convicted of violating the sixth amendment faces losing their passport and will not be able to sit for public exams or even qualify for a trade that requires a licence. It prevents Tamils at home and abroad from coming together freely to express their political aspirations.

It is not just about the sixth amendment—we need to go further than that. The 13th amendment stops elected members of provincial councils from using their powers and instead gives them to unelected governors controlled by the Sri Lankan President. That leaves Tamils powerless when the state takes ancient Tamil places of worship and converts them into Sinhala Buddhist temples. Tamils have nowhere to go.

Back in the UK, I had hoped that at the last Cabinet reshuffle we might have got a Foreign Secretary who would take some action on Sri Lankan human rights—a Foreign Secretary who had more than warm words for British Tamils calling for justice. What did we get? We got Baron Cameron of Chipping Norton, who has spent his time out of office being paid by a Chinese state enterprise to promote a commercial court in Sri Lanka, promoting a Rajapaksa-era mega-infrastructure project.