Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 12th December 2023

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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We all take these issues very seriously. I was in Sri Lanka just a few weeks ago, and I was able to raise the need for progress on human rights, on reconciliation and, indeed, on accountability with the President of Sri Lanka during my visit.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to assure the House that the FCDO is actively considering the evidence for sanctioning those credibly accused of war crimes who are active participants in Sri Lankan high society, and that she will pass that evidence on to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in line with resolution 30/1?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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I commend my hon. Friend for his active and championing work as chair of the APPG. He is right, and we absolutely recognise the concerns of the Sri Lankan public, and indeed victim groups, about the creation of a credible domestic accountability process. We continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to address those concerns. As I said, I raised them when I was there. I was also able to discuss human rights and justice issues with members of civil society, Tamil representatives and the governor of the Northern Province when I visited Jaffna.

Sri Lankan Tamils and Human Rights

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) on securing this debate. It is great to see so many members of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, which I am proud to chair, participating in today’s debate. I also received the Sri Lankan ambassador’s briefing in advance of the debate, along with an invitation to meet. Given that his predecessor frequently referred to me and members of the APPG as “white tigers”, I think I will be washing my hair that day.

The case has already been compellingly put by colleagues. To reiterate some of the harrowing facts: in 2009, for example, tens of thousands of Tamils perished in the Mullivaikkal genocide, with many still unaccounted for. The Sri Lankan Government’s continued denial of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide necessitates international intervention. We have already heard from other Members about militarisation, arbitrary arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, rising anti-Tamil nationalism and the absence of long-term solutions.

Even in the years preceding 2009, all the promises made by the Sri Lankan Government under human rights resolutions failed to come to anything. Militarisation is an area where the UK could go further. Militarisation remains pervasive, with 16 out of the 20 military divisions on the island in the north and east, otherwise known as Tamil areas. Demilitarisation is crucial to securing and fostering a sustainable and lasting peace. The referral to the International Monetary Fund for a bail-out after Sri Lanka’s economy crashed could not be linked to human rights, but it could put conditions on Government spending. One thing we should push for in the IMF bail-out is a reduction in military spending. That must be a condition of that money.

There have also been calls for a consistent, long-term solution. I would like to ask the Minister for an update on the mechanism that was secured at the last UN Human Rights Council: resolution 30/1, which for the first time allowed the international community to collect new information. I know that the UK pushed hard for that resolution, and I welcome the FCDO’s efforts in securing it, although it is up next year, as we have heard. Will the Minister provide an update on what further action he anticipates that the UK can take when we have had the opportunity to review that new information?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)
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A number of councillors—Councillor Param Nandha and Councillor Jay Ganesh—and Nick Rogers of the London Assembly have pushed local authorities to celebrate Tamil Heritage Month next month. This will allow children to celebrate speaking Tamil, the oldest language still in use—there will be Tamil songs, dances, poetry and so on—but part of their heritage is this awful chapter. My hon. Friend talked about these resolutions, as did the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who opened the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that rather than waiting for a third resolution, the first of which was backed by Sri Lanka, we can actually take some action, rather than having to keep renewing and taking no action?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, my predecessor as chair of the all-party group, for that intervention. He is absolutely right.

The last action that the Government must urgently consider is sanctions, especially against those credibly accused of war crimes, particularly General Silva, but many others as well. It has been said already that we are lagging behind the US and Canada, which have already implemented such sanctions. It is time the UK followed suit and imposed them without any further delay.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the end of the war, I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurances that the UK will continue to stand in solidarity with the Tamil community in demanding justice and accountability. The diplomatic efforts and the internal efforts in Sri Lanka have not brought about meaningful change or any lasting peace. The Tamil community’s quest for justice and peace must not be deterred. It is time for us to follow the international community, impose sanctions and continue to lead the way in standing up for the rights of Tamil people.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)
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I, too, thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for securing this debate and join other hon. Members in raising the plight of the Tamil people over many, many years.

Like others, I have been involved in these debates in the House all too frequently. I have tracked this issue in some detail over the last 26 years, as my constituents in Kingston and Surbiton who are British Tamils, and indeed others around south-west London, have come to me with their concerns about what is happening to their families and communities. It has been a very painful episode and, frankly, the situation is now worse than I can ever remember.

The economic crisis in Sri Lanka, with the corruption of the Government there, has just made things even worse for the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities on the island. However, the Tamil people, particularly in the north-east of Sri Lanka, are suffering under the militarisation from land grabs and from arbitrary detentions and arrests. There have been a whole series of injustices and human rights abuses, which this House is right to focus on.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point that we need to highlight. It is not just the Tamil community but many minority groups on the island who face human rights abuses. He mentioned the Muslim community. During the pandemic, they were subject to forced cremations in Sri Lanka. I just wanted to make it clear to the Government, through this intervention, that it is not just the Tamil community but many minority groups that are suffering as a result of the regime in Sri Lanka.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey
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That is right, and that point exposes the regime and all its frankly undemocratic and outrageous behaviour.

I join other colleagues in saying that the UK Government can do more than they have done so far. They can follow the US and Canada in sanctioning individuals. People have quite rightly mentioned General Silva, but there is also General Jayasuriya and others who were involved in the last few months of the war in 2009 and quite clearly committed war crimes.

Beyond that, I would like the Government to use the IMF process to try to exert some leverage, as others have said, or the work of the UN Human Rights Council. We could also use trade deals. When I was Minister of State for Trade Policy, I urged the European Union, because we were then in the EU, not to give back what were called GSP+ or “generalised scheme of preferences plus” concessions. We won that argument in the trade council in Brussels and those concessions were not given back to Sri Lanka. Regrettably, they were given back in 2016 and now, after Brexit, Sri Lanka benefits from trade and tariff concessions given by this Government. I do not see why it should do so. We ought to demand the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Sri Lanka, security sector reforms and proper accountability before the Colombo Government receive such benefits.

One issue that I want to raise in this debate, which is not discussed enough in the context of Sri Lanka, is the role of China. The geopolitics of Sri Lanka needs to be looked at, and that includes the growing role of China and of course the influence of India. The UK, the European Union, north America and elsewhere have been remiss in engaging in the debate about Sri Lanka from that geopolitical stance and we see what has happened because of the vacuum that has been left.

We have seen China invest over almost the last two decades in Hambantota port in the south of the island. Yes, that has trade advantages for China, and many other countries use that port, but it is no doubt a significant strategic investment by China, not just for trade purposes but potentially for military purposes, given the significance of the port in controlling the sea lanes and shipping routes to the south.

China has a 99-year lease on the port and is indebted to the Sri Lankan Government, in what is sometimes called “debt-trap diplomacy”. Through the debt, China influences the Sri Lankan economy and politics. It is using that influence more and more, for instance through the second big port development, which is actually bigger than a port; it is a city. Called Port City Colombo, it is located on hundreds of acres of land reclaimed from the sea in Colombo. Again, China is taking a long-term lease on that, and what is essentially a Chinese Government-owned company is developing it.

One surely should be asking about the ability of the UK, the EU, North America and our Indian allies to respond to that. It is quite a serious geopolitical development. The human rights of the Tamil people, who are the subject of this debate, are disregarded by the Chinese, who are interfering in Sri Lankan politics. If we are going to support those Tamil people and all the people on the island of Sri Lanka, we must ask some tough questions about how we respond to the hard and soft power being exercised by the Chinese Government.

We have been too naive for far too long. If we are serious about wanting to influence what is happening on the island of Sri Lanka, we need to get serious about our diplomacy in Delhi and Beijing. In his reply, will the Minister say a little about the Government’s thinking in that area? Is he prepared to meet cross-party MPs— I urge the Foreign Secretary to do the same—to discuss the matter, some of which I realise may be sensitive?

In my intervention on the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, I mentioned the Foreign Secretary’s activities prior to his appointment. I am sure he acted with integrity, but the Minister must realise that people outside this place, listening in—the British Tamil community, the diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka—want to know what the British Foreign Secretary is going to think, say and do about the situation in Sri Lanka, whether with respect to India, China or the Colombo Government. In January, the Foreign Secretary visited Port City Colombo, trying to get investment and supporting the Chinese investment there. It is therefore a legitimate question for this House to ask.

I am sure there are answers, and I am sure we can be transparent about those. However, if we are to play a role as the UK, and if this Parliament is to play its role in influencing the Government, we need to understand that, given China’s centrality to the future of Sri Lanka and, I would argue, to improving justice and human rights for the Tamil people.

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Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He knows that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on sanctions from the Front Bench—no Minister would do that—but we note the strength of feeling expressed by colleagues this afternoon.

We are concerned about the ongoing land disputes, the continued harassment and surveillance of civil society, and limitations on freedom of expression, assembly and association. We will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to adhere to their human rights obligations and fulfil their commitments on transitional justice and legislative reform, and to take steps to build trust in their institutions.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I understand the Minister’s point about not commenting on sanctions from the Front Bench, but could I urge him once again to communicate the strength of feeling in this debate back to the FCDO? We have been asking for this for many years now.

On the point about the ICC, it is independent, but private individuals are taking forward independent referrals to the ICC against certain members of Sri Lankan military society. Although the UK Government are not engaged in that process, will the Minister review whether the FCDO could, at the UN, encourage the information being collected as part of the recent human rights resolution to be passed on to those who are trying to bring forward that prosecution?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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I know that the Minister of State for the Indo-Pacific will hear that plea in due course and give it her consideration.

I will wrap up, because I want to leave two minutes for the conclusion. The UK Government will remain leaders on the international stage, working with civil society and the UN to deliver meaningful human rights improvements for Tamils and all Sri Lankans. In response to the question posed by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on the role of the Foreign Secretary, let us be very clear that as Prime Minister, Lord Cameron led the way in ensuring that the UK spearheaded international efforts to seek improved human rights justice and accountability for sanctions. No one should doubt that our China policy is very clear-sighted, and any mature consideration of the facts will lead one to believe that the Foreign Secretary brings tremendous experience, credibility and integrity to his role.

Ahmadi Muslims: Pakistan

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Wednesday 6th September 2023

(6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the treatment of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank the House for granting us the chance to debate this matter today. The debate is a very heavily subscribed, so I will try to be as fair as can to colleagues by rustling through my speech so that everyone can have their say.

We meet at a very pertinent time, because tomorrow marks 49 years since the Pakistani constitution was amended to declare that Ahmadis are not Muslims. As I will set out later in my remarks, that was just one step in the ongoing discrimination against and persecution of the Ahmadi population in Pakistan—a process that seems to have only picked up pace rather than slowed. As the Minister will be aware, the issue is incredibly important to constituents of mine. The UK has always been a welcoming home for the Ahmadi community, many of whom have settled in my Carshalton and Wallington constituency because of its proximity to the Baitul Futuh mosque in the constituency of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community—[Interruption.] The mosque is in Wimbledon—I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). I thank all for attending today and look forward to hearing the response from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The change in the constitution marked by tomorrow’s anniversary was followed 10 years later by the so-called anti-Ahmadi laws, which were enacted in 1984. The ordinances made it a criminal offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or practise Islam. Alarmingly, such changes to the law have not slowed or abated; in fact, in the last decade, anti-Ahmadi changes to the law have only picked up pace. For example, in January 2015, the Government introduced a national action plan as a tool to crack down on terrorism, but a number of human rights organisations have noted that the plan has been misused to target religious communities, especially Ahmadiyya Muslims, simply for practising their faith.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate and thank him for allowing me to intervene. I have often spoken up about the human rights of minorities, and freedom of religious belief is something that we should strongly protect across the globe. Does he agree that standing by while people are being discriminated against because of their religion, ethnicity or background is simply not on? Is he also concerned, like me, about the potential spillover effect to the United Kingdom of Ahmadi Muslim persecution?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. In fact, later in my speech I will speak about just that subject. I am grateful to him for his intervention.

In 2017, just two years after the national action plan, the Koran publications Act was introduced, which prevented Ahmadis from publishing the holy Koran. What followed was a litany of blatant amendments to existing laws, or the introduction of new ones, that leave no question whatsoever as to their intention: not only to discriminate against Ahmadis but ultimately to persecute them in society, both symbolically and physically. That was seen just five years ago in a judgment of the Islamabad High Court that called for the nation’s Ahmadis to be identifiable by adding Qadiani or Mirzai to the end of their names, or by their attire. It also called for them to be identified when applying for key roles in the civil service, education, armed forces or the judiciary—all purely to prevent anyone who is Ahmadi from holding such key posts in their country.

Those are just some of the many recent legal changes that seek to affect every layer of Pakistan’s political and civil society, further pushing out and ostracising Ahmadis, whether that is through the insistence of the Khatme Nabuwwat—the finality of the prophethood clause, which is against Ahmadi belief or teachings—or through even more stringent changes to blasphemy laws, including in the digital space. These state-led anti-Ahmadi legal changes are having real impacts across Pakistan. The numbers speak for themselves. I thank the many human rights and civil society organisations that have been in touch with us ahead of this debate for shining a light and maintaining these figures.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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The hon. Member is making an excellent and moving speech, and I am learning a lot about the situation in Pakistan. He mentioned civil society groups. Does he agree with me that our diaspora groups need praising? It was a proud moment in your constituency, Mr Sharma, when the Ahmadiyya mosque in Southall was opened in 2020. However, we should not be complacent, and it is disturbing to know that in 2016 anti-Ahmadi leaflets were found in Stockwell, and in 2019 Channel 44 was fined £75,000 by Ofcom for Urdu-language hate speech. Would the hon. Member agree with me that we should never be complacent and should look at including the Ahmadi community in hate crime strategies in this country too?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Member, and, extending her praise to civil society groups, I would like to break with convention and thank those who are in the Public Gallery.

I will go over some of the figures. Since 1984—that is less than 40 years ago—277 Ahmadi Muslims have been murdered. Over 220 mosques have either been demolished, sealed, set on fire or banned from being constructed. Eighty burials have been denied in common cemeteries and more than 430 graves have been desecrated. That shows the reality of what is essentially state-sanctioned, supported and encouraged discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis. It has led to emboldened harassment, attacks and even the murder of Ahmadis, as well as the denial of their rights—rights that many of us take for granted.

As I have already noted, since 1984 many have tragically been murdered simply because of their faith, with the deadliest attack on the community happening in May 2010, when the Taliban attacked worshippers during Friday prayers at two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, killing 86 people. One of the latest incidents was the murder of the 75-year-old Dr Rashid Ahmed in February 2023 in Gujarat, which was part of what a number of international agencies have identified as the ongoing, concentrated targeting of Ahmadis.

There is also the attack on the right to worship. Within this House and this nation, there are many people of many different faiths, and many with no faith, and they are free to choose where, how and what to believe. However, in Pakistan, 18 Ahmadiyya mosques have had minarets demolished since 2023 alone. Mosques across Pakistan have been sealed, and minarets have been demolished by police, despite there being no legal justification for such an attack. Alongside that, the right to practice their faith is under increasing attack, leaving Ahmadis isolated and in fear of their lives. The state’s insistence on shutting down any public demonstration of Ahmadiyya faith is seen through Ahmadis being prohibited from building new mosques, meeting, or holding other religious gatherings, such as for Eid.

Jake Berry Portrait Sir Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. The point he raises about the persecution of Ahmadis is absolutely appalling. It is not just about the Government of Pakistan; it also has real effects here in the UK. I have been contacted by members of the community across Rossendale and Darwen, and in east Lancashire more generally, including by Mohammed Shafiq, the head of external affairs for the Bait ul Rasheed mosque in Blackburn. The issue he raises about the ongoing prevention of freedom of worship is that persecution of an appalling nature is not only happening in Pakistan—I have been told by members of the community that similar ideas are being imported to the UK. Although it is very good to have a Minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office responding to the debate, this is also an issue for Great Britain and for our fantastic Ahmadi community here in the United Kingdom.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that this issue has real implications in the UK through the importation of that hatred and rhetoric on to our shores. I will come on to that in more detail later.

As well as the ban on the publication of religious texts, cyber laws have also massively impacted the Ahmadis’ ability to learn and practise their faith, with social media sites and websites in Pakistan being banned and shut down and websites in the UK, USA and Canada being targeted via the Pakistani state in an attempt to enact Pakistan’s cyber laws.

It is not just in life that Ahmadis are targeted. Since 2021, within the last two years, more than 420 graves have been desecrated and attacked—destroyed and defaced just because they bear Koranic inscriptions. Even the grave of Pakistan’s Nobel laureate, Professor Abdus Salam, has been desecrated to remove the word “Muslim” from the epitaph, such is the state’s tacit—or at least implied—approval.

As for what the British Government have done, I want to thank the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for its engagement with the APPG when we reach out—I am sure the chair will want to go into more detail on that. I thank the Minister for being willing to meet and listen to concerns, and for reaffirming in a recent written question the UK Government’s commitment to freedom of religion and belief. I am glad that Ministers will continue to raise the issue at the highest level. It is vital that the British Government continue that work through all possible channels—with their Pakistani counterparts as well as with international partners at national and NGO level, to press not just for the relaxation of anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and legislation but its full removal from penal codes and blasphemy laws. Only then can we hope to stave off the wave of anti-Ahmadi hatred.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Is the right to the free exercise of religion not fundamental to the United Nations charter? Should we not therefore hold countries to account to protect against action by the state and the condoning of lack of enforcement? After all, there are refugee conventions as well. Should we not hold countries to account for that rather, rather than having their Governments fail to satisfy the needs of their people and therefore look for scapegoats, as has happened so often in history?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the right hon. Member for that intervention, and I absolutely agree with him. I look forward to hearing more about that later in the debate. He makes the point very well indeed.

It is clear that there are still huge issues for ordinary Ahmadi Muslims. What are the Government doing and what is the FCDO doing in partnership with the Home Office, as has been mentioned, to better protect and assist Ahmadis who are fleeing persecution and violence? As I have already noted, Carshalton and Wallington is home to many Ahmadi Muslims, as is the London borough of Merton next door.

In summing up, I want to underline why I believe the Government are right to pursue recourse for the Ahmadi community. They should go much further because the Pakistani Government and the widespread anti-Ahmadi violence is giving oxygen to those in other countries far beyond Pakistan’s own borders. The authorities’ fervent discrimination encourages anti-Ahmadi sentiment elsewhere and, as has already been said in interventions, here in the United Kingdom. In 2023 alone, we have already seen anti-Ahmadi extremism take root in other countries. In January in Burkina Faso, nine Ahmadi Muslims were brutally killed one by one after being taken from a mosque near Dori and asked to renounce their faith. They were shot dead when they refused.

In March in Bangladesh, an anti-Ahmadi extremist mob attacked the Ahmadi Muslim annual convention. The fanatics torched the homes of Ahmadi Muslims in Ahmednagar. One Ahmadi, Jahid Hasan, was killed during the attack and over 70 were injured. In Algeria, too, Ahmadis are facing ongoing discrimination. They are being denied the right to practise their faith and being targeted by the authorities. There is at least one Ahmadi prisoner of conscience serving a three-year prison sentence for practising his Ahmadi beliefs.

Alarmingly, such extremism has also reached the United Kingdom. One incredibly shocking incident took place in Glasgow in March 2016 when a shopkeeper, Asad Shah, was murdered—stabbed to death—simply because of his faith. The murderer was said to be inspired by Mumtaz Qadri of Pakistan, the bodyguard who murdered Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who supported a review of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. As one Ahmadi human rights group notes, that is an incredibly worrisome reminder of the effect of anti-Ahmadi feelings being left unchecked across borders.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. I am proud to represent a vibrant Ahmadi community group in Huddersfield. In fact, many of my constituents would be shocked to hear of the persecution and discrimination that the Ahmadis face not only in the UK but around the world, because locally they see them being involved in so many positive community projects: love for all, hatred for none. I fully support my hon. Friend’s request for the Foreign Office and the Home Office to continue to raise this unacceptable persecution, and I hope that we can all continue to work across the parties to support our vibrant Ahmadi community.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend. I had the pleasure of attending the UK’s annual convention, Jalsa Salana, over the summer recess. I know that many colleagues have attended that fantastic event before and have always found the Ahmadi community to be incredibly welcoming. It speaks well of my hon. Friend to raise that point.

I will sum up as I am conscious of time and I want to allow colleagues to speak. The FCDO needs to up the ante in the ongoing dialogue with the Pakistani Government, and to encourage them to fully remove all anti-Ahmadi laws from their constitution and their penal code. Any continuance of state-sanctioned persecution—official or otherwise—will only continue to stir anti-Ahmadi hatred and extremism, which has unfortunately taken root not only in Pakistan but elsewhere. It is not too late to strike at those roots. To do that, international pressure is paramount. I hope that the FCDO will continue to play a central role in applying that pressure, working with other nations, for the many Ahmadis whom I am proud to call constituents, for the many we are proud to have here in the United Kingdom, and for the countless number still in Pakistan who live under constant fear of persecution.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I thank the Minister and the noble Lord Ahmad for that reply. I thank colleagues for turning out in such good numbers today. I thank the community for appearing to support us today. I hope that the Minister will continue to do all that he can, so that we can truly achieve the Ahmadiyya motto: “Love for all, hatred for none.”

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the treatment of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan.

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 13th December 2022

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I can inform the hon. Lady that I had a meeting with my Yemeni counterpart at COP27 in Egypt. I know that the plight of the Yemeni people is close to the hearts of many Members of the House. It remains a focus of the UK Government. We call on all sides involved in the conflict, especially the Houthis, to abide by the ceasefire agreement, but of course Saudi Arabia has, as all countries have, a legitimate right to self-defence.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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T3. Carshalton and Wallington is home to many Ahmadiyya Muslims, who remain concerned about the continued persecution, especially by the Pakistani Government, of the Ahmadiyya community. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to raise the matter with the Government of Pakistan? [R]

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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My hon. Friend has a long track record of pursuing these important matters. We are raising this matter with the Government of Pakistan, and we will make sure he hears the outcome of those representations in due course.

Sri Lanka

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Wednesday 9th November 2022

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House is concerned by reports of increased militarisation and human rights violations in Sri Lanka, particularly during the country’s current economic crisis; calls upon the Government, as a key stakeholder of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to propose conditionalities on any IMF financial assistance for Sri Lanka during the current economic crisis, including that Sri Lanka carries out a Strategic Defence and Security Review to reduce its military spending and remove the military from engaging in commercial activities, that Sri Lanka meets the criteria required for Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus, and that Sri Lanka re-engages with the United Nations Human Rights Council process and fully implements resolution 30/1; and calls upon the Government to implement targeted sanctions against individuals who are credibly accused of committing war crimes during the Sri Lankan Civil War.

I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for making time for this important debate. I thank in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), as well as the dozens of other colleagues who sponsored the application for this debate. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils and as a Member of Parliament representing thousands of Tamil constituents in Carshalton and Wallington. I thank those constituents who reached out to me to talk more about the situation in Sri Lanka, as well as the various community groups we have heard from in the APPG since the Parliament was reformed in 2019.

It has been more than 13 years since the civil war came to an end, and the origins of that conflict stretch back several decades. It resulted in well over 100,000 deaths from all sides. However, it was the final months of the conflict in 2009 that saw things take a particularly bloody turn for the worse. During that period, the Sri Lankan military deliberately targeted thousands of civilian lives, committing grotesque genocidal acts, war crimes and crimes against humanity, largely against the Tamil population of the island.

The culmination of these atrocities was the Mullivaikkal massacre. In 2009, a strip of land in Mullivaikkal was designated as a so-called no fire zone. These were designated areas where civilians were told to gather to avoid being harmed. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. Sri Lankan Government forces entrapped tens of thousands of civilians in the zone and committed heinous war crimes. After providing an initial death toll of 40,000, the United Nations found evidence suggesting that as many as 70,000 were killed. Local census records indicate that at least 146,679 people are still unaccounted for and are presumed to have been killed. By examining different sources, including the United Nations, census figures and World Bank data, the International Truth and Justice Project has found that the highest estimate of those killed during that final phase could be as large as 169,796. Most of those deaths were as a result of the Sri Lankan Government forces shelling civilian buildings, including hospitals. There were also reports of civilian bunkers being targeted with grenades, people being run over by military vehicles and surrendering civilians being stripped naked and executed.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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I commend the hon. Member on his brave and accurate speech. Would he agree with me that all the things he has cited about the bombing of hospitals, the bombing of people on the beach and the targeting of Tamils fits the definition of genocide?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my constituency neighbour for that intervention, and I absolutely agree with her. One of the shocking things we have heard—she will know this as a member of the APPG—is that those credibly accused of committing these war crimes have been, have recently been or still are serving at the top level of Sri Lankan society. That is absolutely shocking, but I will come on to some more of that in my speech.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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I thank and congratulate the hon. Member for securing this important debate, because many of my constituents are extremely concerned about the safety and wellbeing of their loved ones, given the reports of increased militarisation and human rights violations, particularly when the country is going through a severe economic crisis. Does he agree that, as friends of Sri Lanka, we all have a duty to stand by that country in its time of need and impress upon its new Government the need to promote peace, justice and a brighter future for all, regardless of people’s background, colour or creed?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree. I am very glad that the Government have decided to support the motion today, so that we can get to work on bringing everyone back around the table, because we have seen so little progress on implementing UN resolutions so far. There is a lot of hopelessness out there, particularly among the Tamil community, that any progress will be made. We need to get on top of this and use our position as a friend of Sri Lanka to do just that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention.

If I may, I will talk a little bit more about some of the violence and atrocities used during the end of the conflict. Rape and sexual violence against Tamil women and, in some reports, against Tamil men during the final stages of the armed conflict and in its aftermath are also considered to be greatly under-reported. That is according to an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into Sri Lanka. Several witnesses have spoken about women being taken away towards the jungle by soldiers, allegedly for sexual abuse, as they crossed over into Government-controlled territory.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch reported on one woman’s experience. She said:

“The army made us strip completely in front of the children. All the women were made to walk around the soldiers in a circle. The soldiers were laughing at us. All the women were then raped in front of everyone. My daughter and I were raped in front of her children. I was raped in front of my grandchildren. After about two hours, the soldiers asked a naked boy and girl, who didn’t know each other, to hug each other at gunpoint. As they hugged due to fear, they were shot in front of our eyes.”

These atrocities did not take place during a medieval skirmish hundreds of years ago; they took place in a Commonwealth country in 2009. Many of my constituents and those of other Members in this place have suffered to this day because of the crimes that they saw or were subjected to. The physical and mental scars are still there. Thirteen years later, these families are still waiting for peace, justice, truth and accountability.

I am pleased that last month the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 51/L1 on Sri Lanka, which will extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve evidence that may be used in future war crimes trials. The Sri Lankan Government have rejected this resolution, as they have previously, instead claiming confidence in their domestic mechanisms, which 13 years on from the end of the war are yet to produce any results for the victims of the atrocities. The new resolution certainly is a step in the right direction to achieving justice and accountability, but—with respect—we have had resolutions before. International action at the Human Rights Council on its own is not enough. The resolution falls short of providing a mechanism to truly investigate war crimes and pursue criminal accountability.

Specific resources need to be raised to build cases against those who are accused of war crimes and to prosecute them. Criminal accountability should be pursued by referral to the International Criminal Court. Those who commit war crimes should not enjoy immunity because the state in question is unwilling or unable to prosecute them. Furthermore, the UK should follow other allies around the world, particularly the United States, in introducing a targeted sanctions regime for those who are credibly accused of committing war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

That should include notable Sri Lankan individuals, such as Shavendra Silva, a current army commander. General Silva stands credibly accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phases of the conflict. The accused war criminal was head of the notorious 58 Division during the conflict. In his experience as a commander, he oversaw the unit committing grave violations of international law. Under his command, hospitals were repeatedly bombed and widespread sexual violence occurred, as well as the torture and executions of surrendering Tamils. Eyewitnesses also demonstrated that he was present at the Wadduvakkal bridge, where, according to the available evidence, he oversaw hundreds of surrendering Tamil military and political leaders and their families being subjected to summary execution and arbitrary detention, as well as enforced disappearance.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. The implementation of vague laws to facilitate arbitrary arrests and the restriction of movement on citizens is something we see in countries with poor human rights records. Such laws in Sri Lanka make it much harder for those wrongly arrested to challenge detention. Does he share my concern that access to justice is being actively hindered, which leaves activists at too great a risk?

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful for that intervention. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member, but I would add an extra layer to that. The difficulty in Sri Lanka is not just that people are being held on false pretences and false charges, but that a gravely high number of people are still missing. We do not know where they are or where they are being held, so we cannot help them. If they are still alive, there is no way to help them. That is the grave situation that islanders are facing at the moment.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended that states, including the UK, sanction Silva and other alleged perpetrators in Sri Lanka, as the United States did in 2020. Another individual worth noting is Kamal Gunaratne, who is the current Defence Secretary in Sri Lanka. In February 2009, he led the final assault from the south on the beaches at Mullivaikkal as the 53 Division commander. The assault involved repeated attacks on civilian hospitals, makeshift hospitals and food distribution points, and resulted in tens of thousands of civilian casualties. He was also in charge of displaced persons while hundreds of thousands of civilians were held in arbitrary detention after the end of the war, and he was commander of the Joseph army camp, which was notorious for torture.

By sanctioning those two individuals and many others, the UK Government would support UN and US action in demonstrating that alleged perpetrators of mass atrocities are not welcome in the UK. Members of the APPG for Tamils have raised this issue multiple times in the Chamber, as well as privately and through other channels with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, so I hope that the Minister will today provide an encouraging update on the Government’s position regarding the sanctioning of individuals credibly accused of war crimes.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the hon. Member for bringing forward this debate. I am minded of the fact that although the officers give the commands, the soldiers who carry them out are also accountable. When it comes to having their time in court, which we hope they will, does he agree that it is important to do everything to catch those soldiers as well? The generals can be caught, because they are big names, but the soldiers need to know that they cannot get away with it either.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. I hope that the UK sees that the new resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council about collecting evidence should indeed include the specific soldiers who committed those atrocities as well.

The past atrocities that occurred in Sri Lanka are only one of the reasons we are having this debate. The second part of the motion is about the current economic and political instability there. The country is suffering its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948. It defaulted on $51 billion of external debt in mid-April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9 billion bailout.

Due to a shortage of hard currency to pay for imports, there have been shortages of basic necessities, including medicines, cooking gas, fuel and food, so 3.4 million people are now in need of urgent humanitarian help on the island. UN agencies working in Sri Lanka announced yesterday that they had raised $79 million to feed those in need, but the increasing number of those in need means that another estimated $70 million is needed.

In July, the new President imposed a state of emergency after his predecessor fled the country and resigned from his post following massive anti-Government protests about the Government’s mishandling of the economy, which threw the country into further instability. The FCDO updated its travel advice over the summer to advise against all but essential travel to the island, due to the political and economic instability. The causes of Sri Lanka’s financial crisis are multifaceted.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that military spending in Sri Lanka is higher now than it was at the height of the civil war? Surely that expenditure is contributing to the debt crisis that the country is facing.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention; she has been a doughty champion in this place for the Tamil population for many years and I thank her for lending her expertise to this debate. I hope to come on to that point later.

The failure to include Tamils in economic activity, a large defence budget that supports a disproportionately large military—as my right hon. Friend mentioned—corruption and, of course, poor fiscal policies have led Sri Lanka’s economy to the brink of bankruptcy. For Sri Lanka to be rescued, it needs to reduce its military spending, which stands at $1.86 billion per annum. That makes it one of the largest militaries in the world and costs more than its health and education budgets combined.

The militarisation of the country is also firmly linked to the deteriorating human rights situation on the island. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has been used to target predominately Muslim and Tamil communities, resulting in arbitrary detention, sexual torture and enforced disappearances. In fact, Sri Lanka has the second highest number of UN-registered enforced disappearances in the world, most of whom are Tamils.

Furthermore, the Sri Lankan military is engaged in commercial activities in the north-east, including tourism, farming and fishing, which stifles the local economy and prevents Tamils from contributing to economic activity in any meaningful way. That needs to be stopped to allow for regional economic regeneration. Sri Lanka also needs to conduct a strategic defence and security review, similar to the one that the UK completed in 2021, to ensure that its military size reflects its security requirements.

All of Sri Lanka’s projections for emerging out of the economic crisis are predicated on the country retaining its generalised scheme of preferences and trade concession. That annual trade concession is worth more than $500 million and has boosted Sri Lanka’s exports to EU member states over the years. However, Sri Lanka has failed to meet the key labour and human rights requirements for receiving that preferential treatment, and the EU recently issued a warning that it is set to lose its concession if it continues to ignore its obligations.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for securing the debate and raising such important matters. Does he agree that it is vital for the UK Government to demonstrate support for Sri Lanka’s fair and just development through our trade policy with Sri Lanka and how we secure our trade agreements?

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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The hon. Member has taken my next words out of my mouth, so I am grateful for that intervention. For Sri Lanka to meet those requirements, it needs to re-engage with the UNHRC and address human rights abuses past and present. Sri Lanka is seeking its third IMF bail-out since the end of the war in 2009. Bail-out conditions set by the IMF in the past have focused on economic reform alone, and have not prevented Sri Lanka from sliding into yet another balance of payments crisis. To elevate the country out of the cyclical crisis it finds itself in, it is vital that the measures taken this time around are comprehensive and address some of the root causes of the issues that it faces.

As a key stakeholder at the IMF, the UK Government should propose conditions on any IMF financial assistance for Sri Lanka during the current economic crisis, including that Sri Lanka should carry out a strategic defence and security review to reduce its military spending, remove the military from engaging in commercial activities, meet the criteria for GSP+, and re-engage with the UNHRC process. I appreciate that the IMF does not have powers to impose such conditions on its own, but the UK, as penholder, can have significant influence in the discussions before any bail-out is agreed.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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One issue that we consistently raise, in addition to human rights abuses, is the level of corruption in Sri Lanka. One way we have been able to expose and tackle that corruption is through elements of the excellent media in Sri Lanka, but over the past 12 months—over a longer period too, but intensively over the past 12 months—we have seen harassment of journalists and the closure of the free media that exists. One condition that should be attached to any form of aid that goes into Sri Lanka—or any relationship that we have in the future—is that corruption is tackled as a result of a free media unharassed by Government.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member’s point about the importance of a free press. What he describes is having an effect beyond the borders of the island. A prominent Tamil news outlet, the Tamil Guardian, has been repeatedly engaged in battles with social media companies about its content. Because of the investigations that have been taking place, the Sri Lankan Government are actively trying to force action by social media companies worldwide. In the UK, the Tamil Guardian has had its content taken offline because of complaints from the Sri Lankan state. That cannot be right.

I am conscious that I have been speaking for quite a while, so I will bring my remarks to a close so that we can hear from other Back Benchers—

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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First, though, I gladly give way.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey
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The hon. Gentleman is making a speech with which I totally agree. I just want to check something, because it is really helpful that we have all-party agreement on this. For all the reasons he set out, does he not agree that we need to review the generalised system of preferences that are given to Sri Lanka? It is not meeting the conditions that it is supposed to meet. It is time, I think, to withdraw those preferences.

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, we have set out in our motion—I am glad that it will pass unopposed—that that is what the UK Government should be doing.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister what engagement the FCDO has had with the IMF and the UNHRC on this matter. The human rights and economic situation in Sri Lanka is increasingly deteriorating. I hope that I have demonstrated succinctly why the UK needs to show international leadership on these issues, not just for our constituents who are still affected by the events that have taken place—and continue to take place—on the island, but to fulfil our international responsibility to a Commonwealth partner in dire need. I look forward to hearing Members’ contributions to the debate.

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am aware there is an important debate to follow, so I will be very brief. I again thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting us the chance to discuss this subject today, and I thank all colleagues who co-sponsored the debate or spoke in it. I urge the Government to revisit their strategies for promoting human rights on the island of Sri Lanka. Many Tamils will feel that we have been here before, and we really need to see bilateral action by the UK to secure the action, the peace, the accountability and the justice that Tamils have been waiting for.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House is concerned by reports of increased militarisation and human rights violations in Sri Lanka, particularly during the country’s current economic crisis; calls upon the Government, as a key stakeholder of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to propose conditionalities on any IMF financial assistance for Sri Lanka during the current economic crisis, including that Sri Lanka carries out a Strategic Defence and Security Review to reduce its military spending and remove the military from engaging in commercial activities, that Sri Lanka meets the criteria required for Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus, and that Sri Lanka re-engages with the United Nations Human Rights Council process and fully implements resolution 30/1; and calls upon the Government to implement targeted sanctions against individuals who are credibly accused of committing war crimes during the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Hon. Members may wish to remain in the Chamber, because I will now announce the result of the ballot held today for the election of a new Chair of the Treasury Committee—[Interruption.] Order. I do not expect to be heckled when I am making an announcement.

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 8th November 2022

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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We are indeed overwhelmingly committed to Pakistan. In 2020, our aid was £200 million and we have committed £55 million specifically for climate resilience. Lord Ahmad saw on his visit the life-saving impact that all this money achieves, including the £26.5 million towards the immediate response. The broad point is that tackling climate issues is now woven through the fabric of our policy making.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Hansard - -

16. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help address human rights concerns in Sri Lanka.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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In October, the UK and our partners within the UN Human Rights Council led a new resolution—resolution 51.1—on Sri Lanka. It renewed the international framework to report on Sri Lanka and preserve evidence of past human rights abuses to use in future accountability processes. We call on Sri Lanka to make progress on human rights, justice and accountability.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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As chair of all-party parliamentary group on Tamils, and also through hearing from Tamils in Carshalton and Wallington, I am clear that the economic situation in Sri Lanka is allowing human rights abuses against Tamils to continue. I welcome the UK’s efforts in the UN to bring about the peace, accountability and justice that the Tamils are fighting for, but what assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that any economic support given to Sri Lanka will be dependent on—and will be expected to come with—progress on implementing the UN resolutions?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The UK is working with international partners, including at the Paris Club, to facilitate economic support for Sri Lanka through an International Monetary Fund programme. The IMF does not have the ability to impose political or human rights-linked conditionality; it can only impose conditionality linked to economic policy or tackling balance of payments challenges. An IMF programme is contingent on progress on reforms, including a comprehensive anti-corruption agenda.

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are working very closely with Poland on our joint defence support, and we are working with Poland and Ukraine on helping Ukraine get NATO-standard weapons. We are also backing Poland, our Baltic state friends and others, including Moldova, particularly through NATO and the bolstering of the eastern flank. We have the NATO summit coming up next week and the UK is pushing hard for more support in the eastern area of Europe.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

6. What diplomatic steps she is taking to help address human rights concerns in Sri Lanka. [R]

Vicky Ford Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Vicky Ford)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are closely monitoring the difficult human rights situation and the lack of progress towards post-conflict accountability in Sri Lanka. It is important that the current economic situation does not distract from human rights. We urge the Sri Lankan Government to engage meaningfully with United Nations Human Rights Council resolution 46/1. We continue to raise our concerns in international forums, including by doing so at the UNHRC on 4 June.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The economic crisis on the island has indeed led to increased militarisation in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa Government are falling apart and, as we speak, a draft bail-out is being asked for from the International Monetary Fund. As chair of the all-party group on Tamils, and on behalf of Tamils in Carshalton and Wallington and around the world, may I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that the UK does what it can at the IMF to ensure that any bail-out is attached to human rights conditions, similar to the GSP Plus—generalised scheme of preferences plus—arrangement, so that Tamils can have the peace and justice they have been waiting so long for?

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for the work he does in this area. I reiterate that it is really important that the current very challenging economic situation does not distract from efforts to improve human rights. Although the articles of the IMF do allow for conditionality linked to economic policy or to tackling the balance of payments, there is no provision to impose political-linked or human rights-linked conditionality in the IMF process. Therefore, we will work with fellow members on international debt forums on a solution to the country’s debt problem, as well as continuing to lobby the Sri Lankan Government and working in other international forums on human rights.

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton
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Absolutely. We have put girls’ education at the heart of our G7 presidency and made huge strides in achieving our ambition of standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education. At the G7 summit in Cornwall, the Prime Minister secured a landmark commitment from our G7 partners to pledge at least $2.7 billion to the Global Partnership for Education ahead of the global education summit. That includes £430 million from the UK, which is an uplift of 15% on our current position as top bilateral donor, and our largest ever pledge to the GPE. That, along with our commitments to getting 40 million more girls into schools and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in the next five years, demonstrates the commitment that this Government are putting into girls’ education.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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What steps he is taking to address human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

Nigel Adams Portrait The Minister for Asia (Nigel Adams)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the UN Human Rights Council in March, we successfully led a new resolution which expresses deep concern about the situation in Sri Lanka and enhances the UN’s monitoring role. For the first time, it requests that the UN collect evidence of human rights violations, for use in future accountability processes. We continue to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka on that process.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tamils and on behalf of Tamils in Carshalton and Wallington, I thank the FCDO for its work in securing this new resolution at the UNHRC sessions. However, more can and should be done to provide accountability for the brutal war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war. What actions can my hon. Friend take to ensure that evidence collected satisfies conditions for sanctions against current Sri Lankan officials who are credibly accused of overseeing the enforced disappearance and sexual assault of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians during the conflict?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my hon. Friend will know, this Government have led international efforts over many years to promote accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka, including at the UN Human Rights Council. The new UK-led resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in March included, for the first time, a request for the UN

“to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence”

of human rights abuses and violations so that this can be used to support future accountability processes.

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 20th April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Deforestation is a key plank of our agenda for COP26, and I have raised it in Indonesia, where it is obviously a big issue, and in parts of Asia. I also raised it recently in a virtual meeting I had with Foreign Minister Araújo of Brazil, although he is no longer in place. The key will be galvanising international support to make sure that the measures those countries take are not economically damaging to them, while at the same time being environmentally sustainable for the world. We have a key plank of work that is focused on that area, and I can reassure the hon. Lady that it is a major component of our approach to COP26.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, I thank the FCDO for its work in securing the new resolution on accountability in Sri Lanka at the recent UN Human Rights Council sessions. However, from speaking to Tamils in Carshalton and Wallington and across the UK, there is obviously still more to do, so could the Minister outline what steps the UK is taking to implement the UN high commissioner’s recommendations on applying sanctions and travel embargos and filing cases against alleged war crimes under universal jurisdiction?

Wendy Morton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Wendy Morton)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. The Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, set out the UK’s serious concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka in a statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 February, and the UK has welcomed the adoption in March of a new UN Human Rights Council resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. That UK-led resolution enhances the UN’s role in monitoring the situation and collecting evidence of human rights violations that can be used in future accountability processes. Just quickly on the point about sanctions, though, it is important to recognise that it would not be appropriate to speculate on any further designation.

Sri Lanka

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Thursday 18th March 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling this debate and my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for opening it so well.

As chair of the APPG for Tamils, who are the largest ethnic minority group in Carshalton and Wallington, I am especially pleased to speak in this debate to urge the Government to do all they can to secure peace and accountability in Sri Lanka. I thank colleagues from all parties who have worked with me on the APPG this past year, and the Tamils from Carshalton and Wallington, the United Kingdom and around the world who have been in touch with us and shared their stories.

In the short time I have, which is not nearly enough to cover everything, I will try to get straight to the point. Six years ago, the UK Government paved the way in addressing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and successfully pushed for UN resolutions to pursue accountability and reconciliation on the island. The Sri Lankan Government at the time signed up to those UN resolutions, but since then Sri Lanka has sadly withdrawn its support for them, and the evidence collected by the APPG in its many evidence sessions this past year have painted a very worrying picture of the situation on the ground.

As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden outlined, recent infringements on human rights have been on the rise. Those have included the forced cremations of covid-19 victims, regardless of their religious beliefs, causing grief and anguish to Sri Lankan Christians, Muslims and others. The police criminal investigation department has been repeatedly visiting members of advocacy groups on the island who are campaigning for justice following the disappearance of their family members during the war.

The terrorism investigation department has been increasing state surveillance culture, especially in the north, Tamil-populated part of the island. The state-supported demolition of a Tamil memorial monument at Jaffna University and attempts to prevent Tamil memorial events from taking place at all have been causing anguish among the community, occupying private land in the name of security and so much more.

It is clear that there is no scope at the present time for a domestic accountability mechanism in Sri Lanka, so the UK must once again demonstrate its global leadership on this issue and support an international accountability mechanism. The initial zero draft resolution published by the UK in February and presented to the UN Human Rights Council fell well short of providing the action that was needed.

After efforts from Tamils in the UK and abroad, campaign groups and the APPG, subsequent drafts of the resolution have included a requirement to collect evidence on human rights abuses, rather than just looking at what is already there, and acknowledged for the first time that Tamils have been particularly victim to worsening human rights abuses on the island. I welcome those changes, but I urge the FCDO to listen to the calls we are making today.

So much more needs to be done, so we must act now, before the conclusion of the UNHRC session at the end of the month, to ensure that there is a true international accountability mechanism in place. Only then can we hope to bring about truth, justice, reconciliation and accountability for all in Sri Lanka, as well as for the Tamil diaspora—not just in Carshalton and Wallington, but across the world.