Written by Staff Writer
19 Nov, 2013 | 10:50 am
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a statement in the House of Commons on November 18 2013 on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, responded on behalf of the Official Opposition.
Let me turn to the Commonwealth – and then to the issues in Sri Lanka itself.
The Commonwealth is a unique organisation representing 53 countries, a third of the world’s population and a fifth of the global economy, It is united by history, by relationships and by the values of the new Commonwealth Charter which we agreed two years ago in Perth.
Britain is a leading member.
Mr.Speaker, the last Government agreed in late 2009 to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Meeting in Sri Lanka.
That was not my decision.
But I was determined that I would use the presence of the Commonwealth and my own visit to shine a global spotlight on the situation there and that is exactly what I did.
I became the first foreign leader to visit the north since independence in 1948 and by taking the media with me, gave the local population the chance to be heard by an international audience.
I met the new provincial Chief Minister from the Tamil National Alliance, who was elected in a vote that only happened because of the spotlight of the Commonwealth Meeting.
I took our journalists to meet the incredibly brave Tamil journalists at the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna – many of whom have seen their colleagues killed, and themselves been beaten and intimidated.
I met and heard from displaced people desperately wanting to return to their homes and their livelihoods.
And as part of our support for reconciliation efforts across the country, I announced an additional £2.1 million to support demining work in parts of the North.
When I met with President Rajapaksa, I pressed for credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes.
And I made clear to him that if these investigations are not begun properly by March, then I will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council, to work with the UN Human Rights Commissioner and call for an international inquiry.
Mr Speaker, no one wants to return to the days of the Tamil Tigers and the disgusting and brutal things that they did.
And we should show proper respect for the fact that Sri Lanka suffered almost 3 decades of bloody conflict and that recovery and reconciliation take time.
But I made clear to President Rajapaksa, that he now has a real opportunity, through magnanimity and reform, to build a successful, inclusive and prosperous future for his country, working in partnership with the newly elected Chief Minister of the Northern Province.
I very much hope that he seizes it.
Sri Lanka has suffered an appalling civil war, and then of course suffered again from the 2004 tsunami.
But it is an extraordinary and beautiful country with enormous potential.
Achieving that potential is all about reconciliation. It’s about bringing justice and closure and healing to this country, which now has the chance, if it takes it, of a much brighter future.
That will only happen by dealing with these issues and not ignoring them.
Mr Speaker, I had a choice at this Summit.
To stay away and allow President Rajapaksa to set the agenda he wanted or to go and shape the agenda by advancing our interests with our Commonwealth partners and shining a spotlight on the international concerns about Sri Lanka.
I chose to go and stand up for our values and to do all I could to advance them.
That was the right decision for Sri Lanka, for the Commonwealth and for Britain.
Ed Miliband’s response
Responding to David Cameron’s statement Ed Miliband asked that “what happened in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war betrayed those values”
In 2009 Labour opposed Sri Lanka being allowed to host the CHOGM (Commonwealth heads of government meeting) summit in 2011.
In 2011, at that year’s CHOGM, Cameron could have built a consensus to stop the 2013 summit going to Sri Lanka.
Cameron said at the time there would be consequences if Sri Lanka’s human rights record did not improve. What were the consequences?
Did Cameron discuss with other leaders stopping President Rajapaksa being chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years?
David Cameron’s response to Miliband
Labour approved of holding the summit in Sri Lanka. So criticising me over this breaks new records for opportunism and double speak.
Miliband would know that the Commonwealth is a consensus organisation. Once something has been agreed, it is very hard to over-turn it.
SOURCE: UK Parliament
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