Written answers

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Department of Foreign Affairs

Human Rights Issues

5:00 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Question 11: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to recent evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka presented by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43264/10]

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Question 23: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to claims that international journalists are being refused permission to travel north of the country in Sri Lanka to attend public hearings of the commission looking into the country's civil war and if he, in conjunction with his EU counterparts, will raise this matter with the Sri Lankan Government. [43315/10]

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Question 26: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to recent evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka presented by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43099/10]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 23 and 26 together.

The political and human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains a serious cause of concern. The response of the Sri Lankan Government falls short of addressing the outstanding issues or the legitimate calls from the international community and respected human rights organisations for action. The Sri Lankan Government needs to initiate a sustainable peace and reconciliation process which addresses all outstanding issues including the rights of the Tamil population. The international community also has a role to play in supporting and monitoring the process.

In August this year, the Member States of the European Union, including Ireland, suspended special duty-free access given to Sri Lankan exports under the Generalised System of Preferences. The suspension came after the Sri Lankan authorities failed to deliver a written undertaking on three human rights conventions dealing with torture, children's rights and civil and political rights. The estimated cost of the suspension to Sri Lanka is €360 million a year.

While the Sri Lankan Government established a 'Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission' in May 2010, there has been broad international agreement that this inquiry fails to meet the needs of the victims of the conflict. A number of shortcomings have been highlighted including the Commission's restricted mandate which prevents it from investigating war crimes allegations, particularly those committed by the Sri Lankan army. There are also concerns regarding its lack of independence and the absence of provisions to protect witnesses who may wish to testify. The result is that many groups, including international human rights organisations, have refused to co-operate with the Commission.

Despite the end of the war, foreign media still require permission from the Sri Lankan Government to report from former battle zones. The failure to grant access to foreign media seeking to cover the Commission hearings held outside of Colombo further call into question its credibility. If the Sri Lankan Government is genuine in its intent to further peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and to address the outstanding issues of the Tamil population, it is vital that the Commission is completely open and transparent.

The Permanent People's Tribunal is an independent international opinion tribunal which held a discussion on Sri Lanka in Dublin in January 2010. The Tribunal was an NGO-led exercise in which many leading international human rights activists participated. After considering the evidence presented, including testimony from witnesses and victims, the panel concluded that the Sri Lankan Government and military were guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war. The conclusions drawn supported the widely held view that serious breaches of international humanitarian law occurred during and after the final stages of the civil war.

While in general I support the recommendations made by the Tribunal, I was disappointed that the Tribunal considered only the actions of the Sri Lankan Government and military and did not also examine the actions of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam forces, leaving its work open to criticism by the Government of Sri Lanka and others as biased.

A key recommendation made by the Tribunal was the call for an UN-led inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the war. Other recommendations included the need for Internally Displaced Persons and detainees to be allowed to return to their homes without delay.

Regrettably, intensive efforts by the European Union last year to secure the agreement of the UN Human Rights Council for the establishment of an international inquiry were unsuccessful. However, I remain firmly of the view that an impartial inquiry of this kind could contribute to national peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

More recently, a panel of experts was established by the UN Secretary-General to investigate the reports of violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka. While weaker than a full commission of inquiry, I believe its work can form an important element in the overall response of the international community to Sri Lanka's post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction needs.

Disappointingly, the Government of Sri Lanka has reacted with hostility to the appointment of the panel of experts, describing it as an unwarranted and unnecessary interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation. Once again, I take this opportunity to call on the Sri Lankan Government to co-operate fully with the UN investigation.

I will continue to follow the situation carefully and work to ensure that Sri Lanka remains a priority at European Union level.

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