As the United States pushed for accountability in Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week, another meeting was underway in London organized by the Global Tamil Forum (GTF).
British government and opposition representatives as well as politicians and human rights advocates were among those attending the 3rd anniversary conference of the GTF at the British parliament premises.
The GTF said that calls for a full independent international investigation and a review of the decision to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo received cross party support from the UK members of Parliament at the conference.
GTF said that speakers after speakers from United Kingdom’s three main political parties including some Cabinet Members called for a full independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. Some senior members of British coalition government and the opposition also called for a review of the policy of attending CHOGM in November due to be held in Sri Lanka.
Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps was the Prime Minister’s representative at the conference. Earlier in his written message to the Conference brochure, the Prime Minister stated, “any peace must be based on justice and rule of law, an inclusive political settlement and reconciliation between all those affected by the war. In particular, Sri Lanka must properly investigate alleged international humanitarian and international law and that those responsible are held to account.”
Selected clips of the controversial documentary film, No Fire Zone, was previewed by the Director of the film Callum McCrae at the conference.
“There is no one who cannot be touched by these images. My Party is committed in ensuring a full credible independent investigation on the alleged war crimes committed during the end of the armed conflict by both sides,” Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg said.
Leader of Tamil National Alliance R. Sampanthan delivered the keynote address at the conference, GTF said.
Sampanthan has said that recent events have shown the government has demonstrated to the world and the Tamil people that it has no political will to resolve the long-standing Tamil national question. He suggested to the international community that the talking must stop and action must begin.
Leader of the British Opposition Ed Miliband in his address to the conference called for “full independent international investigation” and said Labour will be with the Tamil people until justice is served and permanent political settlement is found. In his video message, the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband said, “The United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Nations should find a different host for CHOGM 2013 as Colombo has failed to uphold the Commonwealth values.”
Senior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi, delivering her keynote address in the absence of William Hague who is on official engagements abroad said, “The United Kingdom (UK) Government hasn’t taken a decision on the level of representation at the GHOGM” scheduled to be held in Colombo later this year.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey called for “independent international investigation” into alleged war crimes committed by both parties.
The GTF said that the statements by the British government officials showed a significant shift from the government position so far. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and Shadow Foreign Office Minister Kerry McCarthy also attended the event.
Alexander and McCarthy also called for a full independent international investigation and review of participation in CHOGM.
Peter Kellner, Chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society emphasised that if Sri Lanka failed to satisfy the basic Commonwealth values, then Commonwealth Nations agreeing to hold the event in Colombo will be a disaster. Frances Harrison, Former BBC Foreign Affairs Correspondent and author of “Still Counting The Dead”, talked about the moving story of a woman gang raped by Sri Lankan security forces.
Speaking at the Conference Gordon Weiss, the former UN Spokesperson in Sri Lanka, particularly during the last three years of the war, said that what happened in Sri Lanka cannot be allowed to happen again and questioned the motives of the international community why they are not doing enough to bring to bear pressure upon the Government of Sri Lanka.
TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran said the official position of the TNA is that the truth must be ascertained through an independent international investigation, which should also inquire into the on-going acts of persecution against the Tamil People even four years after the end of the war.
“Sadly, locally, the country has no capacity to hold any credible investigation, particularly now, with the breakdown of the independence of the judiciary. The government has also now plainly demonstrated what they are in fact capable of. A military tribunal established to inquire into these violations has concluded – hold your breath – that no violations occurred, and worse, that no person has disappeared in Sri Lanka,” he said.
GTF said that many Tamil, Sinhala and English media organizations covered the event in full, including two major television networks of India, namely NDTV and Headlines Today and BBC Radio also covered the event.
International delegates including UK Parliamentarians who spoke at the GTF conference:
Deputy Prime Minister of GB and Leader of LibDem Party – Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP
Secretary of State for Energy – Rt. Hon. Edward Davey MP
Senior Minister of State for FCO – Rt. Hon. Baroness Warsi (Member of the Lords)
Opposition Leader and Leader of Labour Party – Rt. Hon. Ed Miliband MP
Shadow Foreign Secretary – Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander MP
Rt. Hon. David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary of GB (By video)
Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Hon. Kerry McCarthy – Shadow Minister (Sri Lanka)
Chairman of All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils – Hon. Lee Scott MP
Vice Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils – Hon. Siobhain McDonagh MP
Treasurer of All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils – Hon. Robert Halfman MP
LibDem Party President and APPG-T former Treasurer – Rt. Hon. Simon Hughes MP
Hon. Gareth Thomas MP – Former Minister
Comrade Yasmin Sooka – Member of the UN Panel of Experts and TRC Chairperson
Mr Erik Solheim – OECD Chairman, Peace Negotiator in the SL conflict and Former Cabinet Minister of Norwegian Govt
Mr Peter Kellner – Chairman of Royal Commonwealth Society
Prof William Schabas – World renowned Prof in International Law and Specialist in War Crimes Prosecution
Mr David Mepham – UK Director HRW – They will release their report on Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka
Ms Yolanda Foster – Amnesty International – Amnesty International will be releasing their report under Item 4 of the UNHRC at this event.
Prof Joshua Castellino – Head of Legal Faculty (Middlesex University)
Prof Elvira Dominguez Redondo – International Law
ANC International Relations Manager – Cde (Ms) Naomi Ribbon Mosholi
Mr R. Sampanthan MP – Leader of Tamil National Alliance (TNA)
Mr M. A. Sumanthiran MP – Human Rights Lawyer and TNA Member of Parliament
Mr Abdul Kader – Former Deputy General Secretary of Teachers Union in Sri Lanka
Mrs R. Iqbal – Human Rights Activist who previewed a Documentary on Women’s Plight since end of war in the Vanni, North of Sri Lanka.
Prof (Dr) Father S. J. Emmanuel – GTF President
Danny Sriskandarajah – Former Acting President of RCS and now the Secretary General of the CIVICUS
Mr Callum McCrae who previewed the documentary – No Fire Zone
Gordon Weiss – Former UN Spokesperson and author of the book “CAGE”
Ms Frances Harrison – Former BBC Journalist and author of the book
“Still Counting the Dead”
(Courtesy The Sunday Leader)