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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 2:59 pm ar 20 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 2:59, 20 Mawrth 2024

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. He is right, and I will touch on that momentarily.

It is absolutely essential that there is accountability and that people are held to account. We must use what powers we have to ensure that that happens, because various UN bodies, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations have long criticised successive Sri Lankan Administrations for failing to investigate seriously and prosecute those responsible for the most grievous of human rights abuses. Amnesty International has identified that despite mounting global pressure to act, those violators have gone scot-free. The issues have remained unaddressed, and groups pressuring the Government to act have been harassed and marginalised.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington talked about the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act. That has been an area of real, grave concern for many of us. The Act has allowed arbitrary arrests, detention without charge, false confession and torture of anyone suspected of terrorism. The Government have used that Act for 40 years to arrest and detain opponents and suppress the Tamil community. More recently, it has been used to detain protesters and anyone speaking out against the Government, even if their comments were made on social media. However, there are now real fears that its replacement, the Anti-Terrorism Bill, may be actually worse, and that the Government’s attitude towards minority groups has not changed one iota.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has already stated that the new Anti-Terrorism Bill does not get anywhere close to sorting out the defects in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, saying:

“It is deeply regrettable that the proposed legislation does not remedy any of these defects”.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reported on the proposed new laws, which it says will “severely curtail civil liberties”. The new laws, including an Online Safety Act, an Electronic Media Broadcasting Authority Bill and a Non-Governmental Organisations (Registration and Supervision) Bill, will grant broad powers to security forces and severely restrict the right to freedom of assembly, association and expression. They will impact on not only the civic space, but the business environment.

Sri Lanka appears to be going backwards in its adherence to the principles of upholding and protecting fundamental human rights that we hold dear. As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden said, that represents a collective failure by the international community. It says that we and our partners have not done nearly enough to pressure the Sri Lankan Government to change their behaviour. Thus far, I believe that we have not used all options open to us. Is it not time that, as well as discussing and debating in this place, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office persuading and pressuring in its place, the UK actually flexes its muscles where it can? It should apply targeted Magnitsky sanctions against those who can be identified as active or complicit in human rights abuses. Other countries can do it, and other countries have done it. That is the very least that the victims of the war—both living and dead, both here and in Sri Lanka—could and should expect from us.