Liberals release policy statement on current situation in Sri Lanka

December-17-09

OTTAWA - The Hon. Bob Rae, Foreign Affairs Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada released a policy statement today on the current situation in Sri Lanka.

“This is not a situation that can be ignored simply because the war has ended. We must continue to work together as a nation to ensure that human rights, democracy and the rule of law are upheld in Sri Lanka as they move forward to face the challenges of their society together.”

Liberal Policy Statement on Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka faces deep challenges. Now that the armed conflict within the country is over, there are still over a quarter of a million Tamils living in refugee camps. Conditions in the camps are poor, and a lack of clean water and basic hygiene pose a serious risk to the health of those being held in the camps.

The Sri Lankan economy is performing badly, with high unemployment and large public deficits. There are also worrying signs of repression and harassment of those seeking greater reconciliation between and among all the elements of Sri Lankan society and a stronger human rights regime in the country. Many of those with an independent point of view are either forced to leave the country or barred from entry.

This is a moment of decision for Sri Lankan society: either to follow a path of truth seeking and political reconciliation, or a policy of repression and isolation. Canadian policy must be based on a serious effort to encourage Sri Lanka to follow the first path. Canada has taken a long standing interest in Sri Lanka, and has contributed substantially to development assistance projects in the country.

We have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the government of Sri Lanka, at their request, on governance issues inside the country. Canada is also home to hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan emigrants, in particular a large Tamil diaspora which has come to Canada – many as refugees – in the last thirty years. Our interest is not fleeting.

The policy of the Liberal Party is based on the following key principles:

1.    Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation and a member of the United Nations. We fully respect the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. But, like Canada and the other countries of the world, Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Charter, and with that comes a need to respect international law with special attention to human rights, the rights of minorities, children, refugees, and all aspects of humanitarian law. In addition, the government of Sri Lanka has made commitments to the UN about the current humanitarian situation that it needs to uphold.

2.    The long standing armed conflict between the defence forces of the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is now over. In the aftermath of that conflict Canada has profound concerns which it will continue to raise. The first is the conduct of both parties to the conflict. There are serious allegations against both parties about breaches of humanitarian and international law in the course of the war. These have to be examined and reviewed in an independent manner. Misconduct cannot lead to impunity. Reconciliation is not possible without a willingness to confront the truth. Many countries – of which Canada is one – have understood the importance of both truth and reconciliation.

3.    Over a quarter of a million Tamil Sri Lankans are currently being held in internment camps, many of them children and orphans. These camps must be open to international humanitarian inspection, and people must be released from them, and be allowed to return home. The timetables that Sri Lanka itself proposed to the UN have, to this point, not been met.

4.    Canadian citizens of Sri Lankan origin are rightly concerned about the fate of their family members and loved ones. Canada needs to insist on comprehensive lists of those who are dead or missing, as well as those being currently held, and to encourage family unification in Canada as this is what the families seek. Canada also needs to accept its share of refugees, and to be a leader in dealing with a humanitarian crisis. Access to camps by Canadian aid and immigration officials needs to be ensured. Everything possible must be done to ensure the speedy closure of the camps, and the return of interred refugees to their homes.

5.    Canada and the UN also need to ensure that those identified by the government of Sri Lanka as members of the LTTE or as posing security risks need to be treated according to the protocols of international law. All obligations which Sri Lanka has assumed as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions with respect to combatants and their treatment must be met.

6.    The Sri Lankan government must begin the process of reconciliation and deeper political change to ensure that the full rights of all communities of the country are respected. Canada does not seek to dictate any particular constitutional course; however, an independent judiciary, effective devolution and power-sharing, and full respect for all people and groups in the country are fundamental features of democracy and human rights, and have been reinforced in recent years by a number of national agreements, international treaties and conventions to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. Canada has played, and continues to play a role in facilitating these changes.

7.    Canadian humanitarian aid should be unconditional if it is provided directly to nongovernmental organizations who can ensure its delivery to those in need. However, other forms of Canadian and international assistance, such as the IMF loan, need to be conditioned on the implementation of both the immediate needs of the population and the longer term changes that are necessary for national reconciliation.

8.    Stronger economic investment, and trade ties, with the full participation of the Sri Lankan diaspora in Canada, will become a greater possibility when Sri Lanka adopts the positive path set out above. Canada does have a responsibility to engage the Sri Lankan diaspora, and to ensure that there is a constructive dialogue that will lead to a deeper engagement.

For more information contact:

Office of Hon. John McKay PC, MP, 613-992-1447

or

Office of the Hon. Bob Rae MP, 613-992-5234