A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Prime Minister's decision to attend Commonwealth Summit vindicated
18/11/2013 17:22:00

 
 

Many of my constituents, particularly though not exclusively those from Croydon's Tamil community, were concerned about the Prime Minister's decision to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka, given the human rights record of the Sri Lankan Government. I can understand that concern, but in the event he was true to his word: he promised that he would visit the north of the country and that he would use the visit to hold the Sri Lankan Government to account and that is exactly what he did.

Here's what he had to say to the House of Commons today:

The last Government agreed, late in 2009, to hold the 2013 Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka. That was not my decision, but I was determined to use the presence of the Commonwealth and my own visit to shine a global spotlight on the situation there and that is exactly what I did. I became the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since independence in 1948 and, by taking the media with me, I gave the local population the chance to be heard by an international audience.

I met the new provincial Chief Minister from the Tamil National Alliance, who was elected in a vote that happened only because of the spotlight of the Commonwealth meeting. I took our journalists to meet the incredibly brave Tamil journalists at the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna, many of whom have seen their colleagues killed and who have themselves been beaten and intimidated. I met and heard from displaced people desperately wanting to return to their homes and their livelihoods. And as part of our support for reconciliation efforts across the country, I announced an additional £2.1 million to support de-mining work in parts of the north, including the locations of some of the most chilling scenes from Channel 4’s “No Fire Zone” documentary.

When I met President Rajapaksa, I pressed for credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes and I made it clear to him that, if those investigations were not begun properly by March, I would use our position on the United Nations Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commissioner and call for an international inquiry. No one wants to return to the days of the Tamil Tigers and the disgusting and brutal things that they did. We should also show proper respect for the fact that Sri Lanka suffered almost three decades of bloody civil conflict and that recovery and reconciliation take time. But I made it clear to President Rajapaksa that he now has a real opportunity, through magnanimity and reform, to build a successful, inclusive and prosperous future for his country, working in partnership with the newly elected Chief Minister of the Northern Province. I very much hope that he seizes that opportunity.

Sri Lanka has suffered an appalling civil war - and then of course suffered all over again from the 2004 tsunami; but it is an extraordinary and beautiful country with enormous potential. Achieving that potential is all about reconciliation. It is about bringing justice, closure and healing to the country, which now has the chance, if it takes it, of a much brighter future. That will happen only by dealing with these issues and not ignoring them.

I had a choice at this summit: to stay away and allow President Rajapaksa to set the agenda he wanted; or to go and shape the agenda by advancing our interests with our Commonwealth partners and shining a spotlight on the international concerns about Sri Lanka. I chose to go and stand up for our values and to do all I could to advance them. I believe that that was the right decision for Sri Lanka, for the Commonwealth and for Britain".

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Gavin Barwell, 133 Wickham Road, CR0 8TE, Tel  020 8663 8741      © Gavin Barwell  2017       Promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of Gavin Barwell, both at 36 Brighton Road, Purley, CR8 2LG