UK Politics,  Uncategorized

Will the Defence Secretary’s links with Sri Lanka compromise British calls for an enquiry?

Cross-posted from James Bloodworth at Obliged to Offend

On the back of the Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, the UK Government has renewed its calls for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes in the country.

Anyone watching the program, broadcast on Tuesday evening, could not but be appalled by the footage of summary executions and unarmed Tamil civilians being shelled during the final days of the conflict in Sri Lanka two years ago.

South African law professor, Christof Heyns, who the UN has been consulting on matters of extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka, has said “What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order, definitive war crimes.”

In London, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt has issued a statement warning the Sri Lankan Government that if it does not respond to calls for an inquiry “we will support the international community in revisiting all options available to press the Sri Lankan Government to fulfil its obligations.”

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who won a second term in January last year following the military victory over the separatists, has repeatedly denied any involvement in or knowledge of human rights abuses.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox met with President Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan leadership in London last year, soon after the atrocities are alleged to have taken place. According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence, Fox assured the Sri Lankan delegation that “the role of the international community at this stage [is] not to keep raising question[s], but to see how best to help in bringing the communities in Sri Lanka together.”

Fox also visited President Rajapaksa three times in 2009. His visit in March of that year, paid for by the Sri Lankan Government, came amid reports of the killings of up to 2,000 Tamil civilians in Vanni, as documented by Human Rights Watch, and weeks after the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had condemned Sri Lanka’s systematic shelling of civilian safe zones and medical facilities.

Furthermore, a week after his visit in November of that year, paid for by the Sri Lankan Development Trust, Fox said in a speech to parliament that:

“As members of the European Union, we have to be careful not to lecture too much or give too few incentives in a country that is beginning to move very much in the right direction.”

There was no mention in the speech of the fact that he was at the Sri Lankan President’s party convention the week before.

In all Liam Fox travelled to Sri Lanka three times in 2009 to meet the country’s President in a personal capacity. Fox also received a £50,000 donation from a UK Defence Industry owner selling arms to Sri Lanka on the 26th of January 2010.

Are British calls for an inquiry into alleged atrocities not undermined by a Defence Secretary with a history of freelancing and “private” meetings with the Sri Lankan President?