Our work in 2015 and future plans
APPG for Tamils Annual Dinner
This annual dinner 2015 was jointly organised with the British Tamils Forum to thank the political leadership in the UK for their support for the Tamil Community and for recognising the suffering of our kin and kith in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Ahead of the general election in May 2015, this was an opportunity for political and community leaders and the media to engage with the British Tamil Community on policies that matter to us in this country. We requested the UK government to take effective measures to address the issues affecting the Tamil people, including:
- Justice for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity – To consider all options available to demand the Sri Lankan Government to cooperate with OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka and through a UN supported resolution to set up an international tribunal to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and the intent of Genocide during the conflict, like those established for Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
- Political solution to address the root cause to the conflict – To conduct an internationally monitored referendum amongst the Tamil people living in the island and the Tamil Diaspora, consisting those displaced due to the war, to express their democratic wish to exercise their Right to Self Determination.
- The UK government to take the lead in exerting pressure on the Sri Lankan regime – by enforcing targeted sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes on Sri Lankan military personnel and politicians accused of complicity in the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Regardless of any changes in political leadership or regime in Sri Lanka, the accountability process should continue until justice is delivered to the victims of these genocidal crimes committed against Tamils.
Westminster Hall Debate on 28th January – ‘Tamil People in Sri Lanka’
On 28th of January 2015 Lee Scott led a Westminster Hall debate on ‘Tamil People in Sri Lanka’ after the new government was elected in Colombo and the OSIL report was due to be published on Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council.
Lee Scott said, “The timing of the debate is opportune, because the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), is in Sri Lanka as we speak. He arrived this morning and is staying until Friday. Perhaps some of what we discuss will be relayed to the new Sri Lankan Government.”
The Minister for Europe, Mr David Lidington responded on behalf of the government. A number of cross party members spoke and intervened in the debate. A transcript can be found at:
APPGT AGM 2015
On 24 June 2015 we held our first meeting. We agreed our terms of reference. James Berry was elected Chair, Siobhan McDonagh was elected Senior Vice Chair, Joan Ryan, Wes Streeting and Richard Harrington were elected Vice Chairs, Tom Brake was elected Secretary and Jim Dowd Treasurer. We agreed our terms of reference, which are attached for convenience.
Richard Harrington had to resign his membership upon appointment as Minister for Syrian Refugees. At our next meeting I will propose that Paul Scully be appointed a Vice Chair of the APPGt.
Visit of Chief Minister of the Northern Province
On 16 July 2015 the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, Justice C.V.Wigneswaran, visited the APPGt in Parliament. He was met by members of the APPGt and the BTF. He provided a briefing paper and focused his remarks on further political and economic devolution in the Northern Province, securing a proper accountability mechanism for human rights abuses and rebuilding the North and the East.
On 9 September 2015 Michael Cockle and Tom Matlock from the FCO’s Sri Lanka desk, briefed APPGt members, members of the BTF and representatives of Tamil human rights groups. The briefing focused on what the FCO’s aims were in the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The FCO has asked to meet with us again in the New Year (date to be confirmed).
Westminster Hall Debate on 15th September 2015
On 15 September James Berry led a Westminster Hall debate, “This House has considered Tamil people’s rights in Sri Lanka” in advance of the OHCHR’s report into human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Minister Hugo Swire responded. A number of APPGt members spoke or intervened in the debate. A transcript can be found at:
On 28 September 2015The OHCHR published a damning report cataloguing human rights abuses by both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war. The report and the Sri Lankan government’s response can be found at:
Visits to UNHRC
The UNHRC’s 30th Session took place between 14 September and 2 October 2015. Wes Streeting, James Berry and Tania Mathias went separately to Geneva to speak with various countries’ delegations and human rights groups about the draft resolution on Sri Lanka and seek to have it strengthened.
Although the wording of the agreed resolution was less forceful than many of us would have wished, the FCO representative in Geneva and the representatives of other countries made it clear that unless a resolution was agreed with the Sri Lankan government, it was very unlikely indeed to be carried at a vote. The final resolution agreed on 28 September 2015 can be found at: ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/d_res_dec/A_HRC_30_L29.docx
On 20 October 2015 I asked an oral question about the resolution at FCO questions.
Visit of Gary Anandasangaree MP
On 18 November 2015, recently elected Canadian MP of Tamil origin, Gary Anandasangaree MP, came to visit Parliament to understand how our APPG works, since he is considering setting one up in the Canadian Parliament. Gary suggested that we work together on some joint projects once the Canadian APPGt equivalent is established and I promised to discuss this with our Executive.
Work on submission to Sri Lankan government
The Sri Lankan government stated, following the agreement of the UNCHR resolution that it would consult with Tamil people and victims on the form of the proposed justice mechanism. Our BTF colleagues are aware of no such consultation so I propose that we, as an APPG, send submissions to the Sri Lankan government along with a document from the BTF. I will circulate the APPGt submissions in draft form to the Executive for their suggestions and agreement.
Letters & Responses
I’m sure that members of APPGt have been writing to Ministers about Tamil related subjects. I wrote to Hugo Swire in advance of the UNHRC session. I submitted a written question on asylum seekers, the answer to which can be found here.
Proposed future work for discussion in 2016
- Finalising and sending our submissions on the form of justice mechanism
- Preparing a report on the implementation of the UNHRC resolution one year on (i.e. for publication in advance of the June September 2016 UNHRC session)
- Continuing to pressure the Home Office not to change its country guidance with respect to Sri Lanka for asylum seekers until there is credible evidence to merit a change
- Planning a Thai Pongal festival event in Parliament for January 2017
- Arranging a meeting with a representative from DfiD for early 2016