UK Parliament Report Slams Lanka, Says HR Situation Hasn't Improved

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  • 7/27/2019 UK Parliament Report Slams Lanka, Says HR Situation Hasn't Improved


    UK parliament report slams Lanka, says HR

    situation hasn't improvedFriday, October 18, 2013

    The British House of


    The British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has in a very critical report,noted that there is scant evidence of progress in political and human rights in SriLanka.Made up of House of Commons legislators, the report notes that as Prime MinisterDavid Cameron remains committed to attend the Commonwealth Heads ofGovernment Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, he should obtain assurances from theSri Lankan Government that people who approach him to talk about human rights

    while he is in Sri Lanka to attend the summit do not face reprisals or harassment bysecurity forces.

    The Committee recorded evidence from human rights groups including AmnestyInternational and also obtained written statements from the British Foreign Officebefore compiling the report.The Committee wants the British Foreign Office, in its response to the report, statewhether it still holds the view that there is no substantiated evidence of torture ormaltreatment of people who have been returned by UK immigration authorities to SriLanka.(Colombo Gazette)

    Report on Sri LankaThe Government is clear that it has serious reservations about the state of humanrights in Sri Lanka. In the 2012 Human Rights and Democracy Report, the FCO listsas its concerns:

    Restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion
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    Attacks on, and intimidation of, journalists, legal professionals, human rightsdefenders and others

    Lack of progress on post-conflict reconciliation and the absence of anindependent, thorough and credible investigation into allegations of violationsof international humanitarian and human rights law by both sides during the

    military conflict

    Sri Lankas decision to reject a large number of recommendations at the UNHuman Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in November 2012.

    A number of these concerns were echoed in written submissions to our inquiry fromRedress and Amnesty International.


    14. The Government has come under pressure to show its disapproval of the morerepressive actions of the Sri Lankan government by declining to attend theCommonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Colombo in November2013. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announced in September 2011that he would not attend the Colombo CHOGM unless he saw evidence of progress inhuman rights conditions in Sri Lanka. We recommended in our report on the Role andFuture of the Commonwealth, published in November 2012, that the Prime Ministershould publicly state his unwillingness to attend [CHOGM] unless he receivesconvincing and independently-verified evidence of substantial and sustainableimprovements in human and political rights in Sri Lanka.

    15. There is scant evidence of progress in political and human rights in Sri Lanka.Amnesty International told us in May that we continue to witness a deterioration ofhuman rights in Sri Lanka, including attacks on the judiciary and broader civil society.On 31 August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a

    statement following a seven-day mission to Sri Lanka, listing serious concerns aboutthe treatment of human rights defenders and the curtailment or denial of personalfreedoms, all of which suggested that the country was heading in an increasinglyauthoritarian direction. She also reported that Sri Lankans who had spoken to herduring the visit had been harassed and intimidated by security forces. The FCOs 2012

    Human Rights and Democracy Report (published in April 2013) spoke of a number ofnegative developments in the country, where the human rights situation was alreadyof serious concern. Nonetheless, the Foreign Secretary wrote to the CommitteeChair on 3 May to say that he and the Prime Minister would attend the CommonwealthHeads of Government Meeting in Colombo in November. He said that we will do sobecause of the importance of the Commonwealth to the United Kingdom and to othermembers and he stressed that the UK would use the occasion to highlight the needfor effective commitment to the shared values and human rights for which theCommonwealth stands.

  • 7/27/2019 UK Parliament Report Slams Lanka, Says HR Situation Hasn't Improved


    16. We asked witnesses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for theirviews on the Governments decision to attend. Kate Allen, Director of AmnestyInternational (UK), said that we very much regret that decision, and David Mepham,UK Director of Human Rights Watch, regretted that the Government had decided toattend at prime ministerial level. However, neither argued specifically in favour of a

    boycott: given that the decision had been taken to hold the CHOGM in Colombo, MsAllen argued that we need to be using all mechanisms between now and that meetingto put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government in terms of its human rights record,and she recommended that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister should meetrepresentatives of NGOs and civil society in Sri Lanka and travel to the north of thecountry. Mr Mepham expressed similar views. We note that the Prime Minister remainscommitted to attending the CHOGM. However, we recommend that the Prime Ministershould obtain assurances from the Sri Lankan Government that people who approachhim to talk about human rights while he is in Sri Lanka to attend the CHOGM do notface reprisals or harassment by security forces.

    17. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Governments decision, we do not believethat continuing discussion on whether or not the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretaryshould attend the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo would necessarily be productive. Nor dowe believe that the question of the venue should be reopened at this late stage: as theForeign Secretary said in his letter of 3 May to the Committee Chair, there has beenno widespread support for a change in location of CHOGM, and there is concern thatthe Commonwealth itself should not be damaged, weakened or undermined bydivisions over the location of the Heads of Government meeting.

    18. What concerns us now is how the Government has come to find itself in thisposition, and whether the FCO played its hand poorly, both in the discussions whichled to the decision that Sri Lanka would be the hosts in 2013 and subsequently. Wetherefore wrote to the Foreign Secretary in May 2013, asking specific questions aboutthose discussions and the FCOs policy at the time. He replied on 30 May, observingthat:

    The Commonwealth Secretariat was responsible for identifying the venuefor each CHOGM, and it was for Commonwealth Heads of Government toagree to either support or oppose the proposals;

    The UK had made it clear to the Commonwealth Secretary-General bothprior to and during the 2009 CHOGM in Port of Spain that the UK would beunable to support Sri Lankas bid to host the 2011 CHOGM; and

    The decision to hold CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 had been taken at thePort of Spain CHOGM in 2009, as part of a package which allocated the2011 CHOGM to Australia and the 2015 CHOGM to Mauritius. It was notconditional on specified improvements in the standards of human rights in

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    Sri Lanka.From this letter, it became evident that the FCO had objected to Sri Lankasoffer to host the 2011 CHOGM, which was subsequently offered to Australia,but not its offer to host the 2013 CHOGM.

    19. The Foreign Secretary also stated, in his letter of 30 May, that the Commonwealthis a consensus-based organisation. We therefore asked Baroness Warsi, as SeniorMinister of State at the FCO, why the UK had not objected in 2009 to the decision thatSri Lanka would host the 2013 CHOGM. She replied that my understanding is that wedid raise those concerns, but the appetite at the Commonwealth meeting was not suchthat it would prevent Sri Lanka from holding the Heads of Government meeting. Whenwe pointed out that decisions in Commonwealth meetings were taken by consensus,she replied that yes they are, but not unanimously. Pressed further, she explainedthat you can have consensus without everyone around the table having completelyagreed to the situation.

    20. On the information available to us, the policy followed by the FCO duringdiscussions at the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Port ofSpain on venues for future Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings seems tohave been inconsistent. The FCO objected to a proposal that Sri Lanka might host the2011 CHOGM on human rights grounds but did not obstruct a proposal that it might doso in 2013; nor did it insist that Sri Lankas right to host in 2013 should be conditionalon improvements in human rights. That approach now appears timid. The UK couldand should have taken a more principled stand in 2009, and should have taken a morerobust stand after the 2011 CHOGM in the light of the continuing serious human rights

    abuses in Sri Lanka.


    21. Our report last year on the FCOs human rights work considered allegations oftorture within Sri Lanka, specifically of Sri Lankan Tamils who had been returned fromthe UK following an unsuccessful application for asylum. Under Article 3 of the UNConvention Against Torture, signed by the UK in 1985, no state party shall expel,return (refouler) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantialgrounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. If thishad indeed been the case in relation to people returned by the UK to Sri Lanka, therewould be grounds for arguing that the UK had acted in breach of its obligations underthe UN Convention Against Torture.

    22. Last year the Government acknowledged to us that maltreatment and torturehappen in Sri Lanka, and this years Human Rights and Democracy Report notes thatreports of torture in the country continue. The Government has until recentlymaintained that it had no substantiated evidence that people returned by the UKimmigration authorities to Sri Lanka had been maltreated. In a recent Country Policy

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    Bulletin on Sri Lanka, the UK Border Agency analysed allegations by a number of non-government organisations of specific instances of torture, and it dismissed them for avariety of reasons, concluding that no change in policy was warranted. It reiteratedthat each case was considered on its merits and that it did not believe that Tamils ingeneral were at risk on return to Sri Lanka. This view has been supported in a recentdetermination by the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). We note

    from a response by the UK Border Agency in February 2013 to a Freedom ofInformation request by Freedom from Torture that 15 Sri Lankan nationals weregranted refugee status in the UK between May 2009 and September 2012 havingbeen removed from the UK on a previous occasion. While this indicates clearly thatthe Sri Lankans concerned were deemed to be at risk if returned a second time to SriLanka, it does not prove conclusively that they would have been at risk when firstreturned (possibly several years previously), or that they had suffered torture in theintervening period.

    23. Unlike the 2011 Human Rights and Democracy report, the 2012 Report does not

    mention allegations of torture of migrants returned to Sri Lanka from the UK, and itdoes not re-iterate the Governments view that there is no substantiated evidence oftorture of such people. David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, told usthat he believed that this was significant and that it showed that the Governmentcannot stand by its view and had now recognised that the evidence put forward byHuman Rights watch and others was credible. When we asked Baroness Warsiwhether it was still the Governments position that there were no substantiatedallegations, she declined to give a direct answer. We find it unsatisfactory that theGovernment should now be silent on a matter of such significance. We recommendthat the FCO, in its response to this report, state whether it still holds the view that

    there is no substantiated evidence of torture or maltreatment of people who have beenreturned by UK immigration authorities to Sri Lanka.Assessment of risk

    24. Scrutiny of individual asylum decisions by the UK Border Agency, and of asylumpolicy, is not a matter for this Committee. Our locus is the role of the FCO which,alongside non-governmental organisations, the UN High Commission for Refugeesand news media, provides the Country of Origin Information Service (part of the UKBorder Agency until the UKBAs absorption into the Home Office earlier this year) withinformation on potential risk to people returned from the UK. That information is

    collated and used to guide case officers considering asylum claims. The FCO told uslast year that it was rigorous in its evaluation of sources when offering advice on thehuman rights risks to the UK Border Agency.

    25. During the course of our inquiry, the Upper Tribunal (Asylum and ImmigrationChamber) issued a long-awaited determination on three appeals by Sri Lankans, oneagainst refusal of leave to enter the UK and two against decisions to remove to SriLanka. The Tribunal found in favour of two out of the three appeals, and it alsoconcluded that there had been a significant change in the Sri Lankan Governments

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    approach, which now possessed sophisticated, extensive intelligence as to those whoare seeking to destabilise the unitary state, within the diaspora and in Sri Lanka itself.The Tribunal found that this had implications for risk to those returned from the UK,and it drew up new guidance on at risk categories for return to Sri Lanka. Thedetermination itself replaces all previous Sri Lanka country case law in the UK, and theHome Office has now published a revised Operational Guidance Note, in line with the

    Tribunals determination.

    26. It is a matter of concern to us that the UK Border Agencys assessment ofrisk to Sri Lankans on being returned from the UK to Sri Lanka, which will havebeen partly based upon informa...