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There have also been allegations of genocide or the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the Vanni by the Sri Lankan Government. Our high commission in Colombo has discussed these allegations with NGOs, international organisations and the diplomatic community in Colombo. We should not lose sight of the fact that the LTTE also has a role to play. Most of the IDPs are caught in areas still held by the LTTE. In a joint statement on 26 September, my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown and the then Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik), called on both parties to respect their international obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians affected by the conflict and to enable free access for humanitarian agencies and the free movement of civilians.

I have already mentioned that Sri Lanka faces a substantial terrorist threat, but respect for human rights is crucial to counter terrorism effectively. The human rights situation in Sri Lanka is of enormous concern. Disappearances and killings of civilians continue; there are reports of widespread intimidation of the media; child soldiers continue to be used by paramilitary groups; and a culture of ethnic discrimination persists. Prosecutions for such abuses are rare, which is enormously to be regretted.

Human rights groups have alleged Government involvement in human rights abuses as well. Central to the allegations of Government collusion in human rights abuses is the weakness of the rule of law and the failure to investigate and prosecute those thought to be responsible for the worst abuses. That feeds a culture of impunity, which is one of the real obstacles to peace in Sri Lanka. There has, for example, still been no arrest of anyone for the murder of 17 “Action Contre La Faim” aid workers in 2006.

The Government of Sri Lanka are also linked to human rights abuses through the actions of Government-aligned paramilitaries, including the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, which broke away from the LTTE in 2006. The TMVP’s human rights abuses, including child recruitment, mirror those of the LTTE. In our contacts with the Government and TMVP politicians, we have regularly raised critical human rights issues, such as the need to release child soldiers and the need for the TMVP to disarm. There has been recent progress on both those issues and our lobbying has contributed to an agreement being made in early December between the TMVP, UNICEF and the Government to work towards the release of all TMVP child soldiers within three months. Following our lobbying, the TMVP recently made a public commitment to disarm as soon as the threat from the LTTE was removed. I welcome those positive signs of the TMVP’s commitment to democracy but, bluntly, much more remains to be done. We will continue to urge the Government and paramilitaries to take further steps.

Although the LTTE and paramilitary groups share responsibility for the poor human right situation, the Government of Sri Lanka have primary responsibility for ensuring the human rights of its citizens. When my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown visited the country in July, he encouraged the Government to do more to protect the human rights of those affected by the conflict. Our high commission in Colombo regularly repeats that message at the highest levels.

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It is understandable that the Tamil community in this country are concerned about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and we have heard that point made very forcefully by hon. Members this evening. I want to assure them that we attach importance to listening to all views from the Sri Lankan diaspora, and I encourage all members of the community who wish to offer humanitarian support to Tamils to channel it through the humanitarian agencies as the most effective way to make a contribution.

I am conscious that members of the Tamil community in the UK are concerned about proscription of the LTTE—an issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). I have already outlined the LTTE’s record as a terrorist organisation and I have to say that until it renounces terrorist activities in word and deed, there is little prospect of the proscription being lifted.

I hope that it is clear that the Government share the concerns expressed this evening. We are doing everything
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possible to ease the humanitarian situation and to push for a political solution. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, Central again on raising these crucial issues in this evening’s debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before we rise for Christmas, may I say how pleasant it is to hear so many kind words and good wishes expressed in the Chamber? In turn, may I wish every single Member of Parliament, every single member of staff and all their families a very merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year.

Question put and agreed to.

6.31 pm

House adjourned.

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