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In other words, the world has to use the strongest possible threats of future financial and legal sanctions on the leaders of both sides unless they step back from the brink.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Do the financial sanctions to which the hon. Gentleman is referring include the possibility of the UK voting against the $1.9 billion loan proposal for Sri Lanka that is currently in front of the International Monetary Fund?

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my next paragraph. I want to seek an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in her response, that the Government will oppose any proposal for that $1.9 billion loan that is put to the IMF—I do not believe that it has formally been put to it yet. It would be quite wrong to make such a loan at the moment. The IMF should seek the guarantees that we are all seeking, that our reasonable humanitarian demands be met.

Mr. Dismore: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that so far, the Sri Lankan Government have proved themselves utterly impervious to whatever representations and arguments are advanced to them? Indeed, they go out of their way to insult and libel those who criticise them. Does he also agree that one of the most important
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things for the civilians who are able to get out is that they are kept in decent, humane conditions, not in appalling conditions in what can only be described as concentration camps, which the Sri Lankan Government will not allow them to leave?

Mr. Davey: I agree on both points. The Sri Lankan Government have sought to curb free speech among democratically elected politicians in this House by harassing us and calling us white Tigers. They have also harassed councillors and political activists for speaking out in favour not of one side but of the human rights of all Sri Lankan civilians. That is not acceptable.

I hope that the whole House shares our view that the time has come for total clarity from the international community about the personal and political implications for all the leaders if they do not stop the fighting. That is why our motion asks our Government to

It is those words that make our motion much stronger than the Government’s amendment. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is making it clear to the Sri Lankan Government, at least in private, and to any representatives of the LTTE whom he meets, that if the fighting continues and the feared bloodbath occurs, leaders on both sides risk being personally prosecuted for war crimes.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): As well as trying to secure an end to the fighting, surely the priority must be to alleviate some of the worst suffering. Some 100,000 people have managed to escape the fighting into camps in the past week, but perhaps 50,000 remain. Is it not incumbent on the Sri Lankan Government to allow all the international agencies into the relevant areas to offer whatever assistance they can, which is vitally needed at the present time?

Mr. Davey: Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I shall come to the camps of internally displaced people towards the end of my remarks, but I wish first to continue to discuss how we can get a ceasefire, which is the immediate problem. With that ceasefire, we could get more humanitarian assistance for those who are suffering.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I know that my hon. Friend has been reflecting on whether the term “genocide” should be applied to this situation. Has he come to any conclusion about that?

Mr. Davey: Not yet, but I shall wish to ask the Minister a few questions about that, because I know that it concerns many Members.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: I shall let the right hon. Lady in, as she has worked very hard on this issue.

Joan Ryan: I appreciate that. I simply wanted to reiterate that no one here—none of us who has worked on the issue—supports violence or fighting. I know that that is the hon. Gentleman’s view. We want a permanent ceasefire. The previous ceasefire led to negotiations and it is important to recognise that the LTTE did not walk
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away from them, thus ending the ceasefire. I believe that we can get negotiations that include everybody who needs to be involved and commit ourselves, as the Foreign Secretary has done, to a political solution. There is no military solution to the problem—it must be political. That must involve everybody. The Government of Sri Lanka have shown no commitment to a ceasefire, yet the LTTE have called for one on numerous occasions.

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Lady is right. When Prime Minister Wickremanayake was in power in Colombo in 2002, he ensured that the ceasefire agreement was concluded. A massive change occurred only when he was voted out of office—by only 200,000 votes; many Tamil people did not vote—and President Rajapakse’s party came to power. Many Sinhalese, including many Sinhalese politicians, want to pursue the path of peace. No one in the House is taking sides. I believe that we are united in opposition to human rights abuses and violence, whoever perpetrates them.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con) rose—

Mr. Davey: I will give way, but then I shall make some progress. I give others who want to intervene that warning now.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman hinted at the view that the Sri Lankan Government and other forces in Sri Lanka are promulgating: that somehow Britain is trying to tell them how to run the country. I believe that there is unanimity in the House that our role in any dispute in which we are not a direct partner is to uphold international human rights standards. That is the duty of any democratically elected politician; it is at the heart of the motion and the amendment.

Mr. Davey: I agree with the hon. Lady.

Mr. Scott: As the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said, the Sri Lankan Government do not seem to be listening to anybody. Although we hope that the Foreign Secretary and France’s Foreign Secretary achieve a ceasefire, if they do not and the Sri Lankan Government continue not to listen, has not the time come for a suspension from the Commonwealth until they listen?

Mr. Davey: We need to consider all those sorts of sanctions. President Rajapakse, his brother and his Cabinet appear to be unwilling to listen. As I have said, they need to understand that there are consequences if a so-called Government behave in that way.

I wanted to discuss the United Nations because I have been saddened by the failure to achieve a resolution and demand for a ceasefire at the UN. In public and in private, I have urged our Government to push hard for one. We have had a friendly debate, and the Prime Minister has argued forcefully with me that the danger of a veto by at least one of the permanent five members of the Security Council—I assume Russia—means that he will not pursue such a strategy. However, I wonder,
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given the stark reality in Sri Lanka, whether Russia or China might be persuaded at least to abstain. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) may be able to enlighten the House, given that he was recently at the United Nations, about the possibility of that. It would be fantastic because individual countries threatening future sanctions could, through a United Nations Security Council resolution, turn into the powerful voice of the world speaking as one.

Des Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, although, given that he invited the intervention, I suppose he needed to give way.

I join other hon. Members in complimenting the hon. Gentleman on his introduction to the debate and on the fact that we are holding it. I hope to catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye and make a short contribution later.

The hon. Gentleman is right that I was in the United Nations building recently. I engaged with many people, and told some that I would respect their privacy, so I will not talk about them. However, on the hon. Gentleman’s precise point, I was in the presence of our ambassador to the United Nations and members of the UK mission with ambassadors of at least one of those countries to which he referred, if I can put it that way.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that, from extensive recent experience of diplomacy in conflict and post-conflict situations, I am satisfied that our people in New York could not do any more to generate the flexibility that we need from those who are not like-minded with us on the issue to get it before the Security Council in some fashion or another, if he understands what all that means.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s dilemma in wanting to intervene briefly but finding it very difficult to do so because the matter is so complicated, but let me tell the House that there is already a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches and a number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. One hon. Member’s intervention can cost another hon. Member a speech. I do not want to curtail debate in any way, but I just hope that all hon. Members will remember that. If the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to catch my eye later, perhaps he would be better off making his remarks then, rather than proceeding now.

Mr. Davey: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be third time lucky.

Just four years ago—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to reply to this point in his remarks—the United Nations committed itself to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect. We have to start making that mean something. In this case it surely means that the United Nations would have international legitimacy in acting. However, if this case is another example of where the United Nations does not act, I fear that it will add to a history that is not good for its credibility. I am not suggesting that we may see a failure that is comparable to what happened in Rwanda, but we could get close.

If genocide is not already occurring, as many allege that it is, there must be a fear that it could occur. I understand that the legal definition of the crime of
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genocide contained in articles 2 and 3 of the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide is very tight. Many mass killings that have taken place round the world, and which we condemn in the strongest terms, would not fit that definition of the crime of genocide. Yet Professor Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the university of Illinois, believes that there may already be a case, and he has some credibility, because he won two orders from the World Court using the genocide convention in relation to the former Yugoslavia. I would therefore like the Minister to tell the House whether the Foreign Office has sought or is prepared to seek legal opinion on whether what is happening constitutes genocide. It is incumbent on us as a signatory to the convention to do that at least.

I do not think that the wider international community has made its voice heard nearly loudly enough on the issue, or that it has used all the tools to get the ceasefire. The Commonwealth, which was mentioned earlier, has been too quiet. We are told that it is working “below the radar”. I only hope that it is being as direct as it needs to be. I also hope that the Commonwealth does not come to regret not opting for the route of public pressure. As for the Indian Government, their recent change of heart is welcome. It is good that they now appear to be asking the Sri Lankan Government to hold off, but that has come rather late and does not have a lot of credibility for many Tamils in Britain and around the world. I would therefore like to hear from the Minister what else the Government are planning to do to persuade other Governments to join the Europeans and the Americans in urgently building a bigger and far more determined international coalition to stop the bloodshed.

We also need to remember in this debate that many people outside the immediate conflict zone are suffering greatly. Indeed, within the Vanni region there are a large number of camps established by the Sri Lankan military to hold civilians escaping the fighting and others displaced by the months—indeed, years—of conflict. Some estimates suggest that internally displaced people in the Vanni region alone number more than 180,000. We hear that the Foreign Secretary is today visiting one of the so-called welfare villages near the town of Vavuniya. I hope he is asking some tough questions about what is happening in those camps, because there is credible evidence that the rights of Tamil civilians in them are being seriously restricted.

Last night, I was e-mailed by one of my Surbiton constituents, Mrs. Dashora, who fled here in 1983. She told me that three of her family members had recently gone to a camp near Vavuniya, and that they had reported to her that the situation was, if anything, worse. There was little food, and there were severe restrictions behind barbed wire, with families separated and no contact with the outside world except for those who had some sort of telephone.

We understand that the Sri Lankan army is trying to screen the displaced people in the camps, to weed out any Tamil Tigers, but the stories that we are getting about that screening—and, indeed, the evidence from Tamil refugees who have come to this country following previous outbreaks of violence—fill me with alarm. That is why our motion says that

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People might wonder why Tamils feel as they do about these army camps; it is because of the history of such camps for displaced people in previous outbreaks of fighting. The Sri Lankan army has promised to resettle all displaced people, but that simply has not happened in the past. Thousands of Tamils were kept in camps such as these for years and prevented from returning to their villages because the army had designated 30 per cent. of the Jaffna peninsula and coastline a militarily sensitive zone. We must press for international oversight of all these camps.

I have not spent much time today detailing the history, attributing blame, setting out a long-term solution to the conflict or second-guessing what will happen after either the bloodbath that we fear or the ceasefire we crave. But I will make one personal and one political point on these matters before concluding. Personally, I have developed some great friendships in the Tamil community in my constituency. That has not been difficult; Tamil people are among the kindest and most cultured people I have ever met. It has also been necessary for me to get to know many Tamils, because they have needed my help, primarily with the Home Office. Through that work, I have heard some horrific stories of torture and of gross violations of human rights. Such people included Tamils who never supported, and never wanted to support, the LTTE, until the LTTE became, in the eyes of the majority of Tamils, the only real voice left to the Tamil people.

So I accept that, over the past 12 years, I have heard most about this conflict from one side. Yet I and other colleagues in the House have always focused, straight and true, on the human rights of every Sri Lankan citizen. I am not, as was discussed earlier, a white Tiger. It just seems to me that many ordinary Tamil people have suffered appallingly over the decades at the hands of some Sinhala politicians who have opted for the nationalist, ethnic path all too readily.

This brings me to my political point on what must happen now. President Rajapakse must propose, for discussion with the Tamils, a constitutional programme including devolved autonomy, protection of minority rights and economic development for the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, at the very least. Why? Because his military solution is not a solution. Only negotiations and peaceful politics can produce a solution. Defeating the Tigers in the coastal strip round Mullaitivu will not solve the dispute. A bloodbath would only sow the seeds of bitter hatred and violent struggle for many more years to come.

In moving the motion tonight, let me be clear about why the ceasefire is so important. Yes, it is about stopping the killing now, but it is also an essential ingredient for getting the permanent and just peace that all sides must surely want. Without the ceasefire, this struggle might continue through 25 more years of killing.

4.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

I can assure the House that the Government have tabled this amendment simply in order to set out the full scale of international concern and action.

I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have worked tirelessly on behalf of their constituents to draw attention to the truly appalling humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, and I shall endeavour to be as concise as possible, as I am keen to hear their contributions to today’s debate.

We value the Tamil community and the important contribution that it makes to British society. The demonstrations here in London and elsewhere across the world show the understandable depth of feeling in a community where, as we have heard, many have seen their friends and relatives killed or injured in the conflict, or remain concerned about the safety of their loved ones.

The conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers—is, as we know, in its 26th year. Definitive figures are not available, but that conflict shocks us all in that it is widely believed to have claimed more than 70,000 lives. Even more shocking is the fact that the United Nations estimates that, since January, 400 civilians have died every single week.

As is the nature of long-running wars, the weight of suffering is felt most acutely by civilians—men, women and children who did not and do not choose to go to war, and certainly have no wish to die. For every one of those 70,000 lives lost, the lives of many others have been shattered. This is the human cost of that conflict.

Even today, about 50,000 civilians remain trapped between rebel Tamil forces on one side and the Government forces on the other. They are caught in a conflict zone of just 5 square miles, with nowhere to hide. No army could possibly wage a war in that small an area, containing that many civilians, without causing many deaths.

The LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and do everything possible to protect civilian lives. So we call on the Sri Lankan Government to call a ceasefire and on the LTTE forces to allow civilians to leave the no-fire zone.

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