British Minister stresses Importance of Reconciliation

Mark Field, in Daily Mirror,  where the title is “Why does reconciliation in Sri Lanka matter to the UK?”

Next year Sri Lanka will have enjoyed 10 uninterrupted years free from the misery of armed conflict. Whatever your view on how Sri Lanka has progressed since, that very fact alone is one to cherish. I know how deep the scars from decades of conflict run. When I visited last year I heard first-hand from the families of disappeared persons. It was a stark reminder of how much all communities in Sri Lanka have suffered.

I was delighted to be coming back to Sri Lanka. This will be my second in 12 months as Minister for Asia and the Pacific, and it would be all too easy to simply look forward to England’s tour of Sri Lanka, and what a timely celebration that series will be of the enormous goodwill in the UK for Sri Lanka, its people and its culture.   But I want to use this opportunity to take a hard look at the distance Sri Lanka has travelled since the war ended, and the path ahead. In my conversations with the government I will be commending the progress made on the commitments it made to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2015 and 2017, while urging greater and faster progress where they have not been met.   

First, it is important to recognize the positives. The UK did just this at the September session of the UNHRC in Geneva, along with the co-sponsors of Resolution 34/1, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) has begun its work. We stand with everyone able to show the courage and determination to advance the Office’s work, and I am looking forward to meeting some of the Commissioners while I am in Colombo.

There has also been progress on returning private land in the north to its owners, with further commitments to return more land that today is still occupied by the military. The UK has been supporting this effort. In Muhumalai, in the Kilinochchi district, I heard last year from families benefiting from land returns and the work of the HALO trust, a UK-funded de-mining charity. Just this August we announced a further £1.4 million to support further de-mining and resettlement; a tangible demonstration of our continued commitment to supporting the people of Sri Lanka. 

There is an ongoing process to consider reform to important provisions of the Constitution, including devolution of political authority

But I must be candid with you: the pace of progress on a number of key issues remains much slower than we had hoped for. I know, not least from the UK’s experience in Northern Ireland, that it is not easy dealing with the legacy of conflict between communities. Time helps, but time alone does not heal all wounds. And as time passes, lack of progress in delivering key steps can undermine communities’ confidence in reconciliation efforts. It can lessen the positive impact of good work that is done too.

So what will I be focusing on specifically when in Colombo this week?   

Finding the truth is fundamental. The experience of countries that have recovered – or are recovering – from conflict around the world is that this is essential to restoring real confidence among communities, between citizens and the armed forces, and between voters and governments. To this end, I would like to see much more progress on national accountability and truth-seeking mechanisms that Sri Lanka committed to in 2015.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act is something I am regularly asked about by the diaspora and others here in the UK. We would like to see it replaced, as part of wider security sector reform, with a new Counter-Terrorism Act which meets international standards. I am glad that the UK has been able to share its experiences in this area.   There is also an ongoing process to consider reform to important provisions of the Constitution, including devolution of political authority. I hope that a way forward can be found on this central issue.

Some ask why any of this should matter to the UK. There are also those who like to represent the Geneva resolution in particular as interference by the international community in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs. This is unfortunate and unfair. The UK, along with many other friends of Sri Lanka, continues to warmly endorse the government’s principled decision to co-sponsor a resolution that provides a valuable framework for peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Progress here will help us discuss much more: from post-Brexit trade, education, to the Commonwealth, security in the Indian Ocean, and tackling serious organised crime.

Next March the UNHRC will assess the progress Sri Lanka has made. In Colombo I will be urging the government to drive forward its reconciliation efforts with a clear plan for delivery, and offering the UK’s steadfast support for their efforts.

Sri Lanka still has an historic opportunity to take the steps necessary to build enduring stability and prosperity. I firmly believe this is the future that the vast majority of Sri Lankans want, whether they be at home or overseas, and we all have a part to play in achieving that shared goal.


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4 responses to “British Minister stresses Importance of Reconciliation

  1. Dickie Bird

    This is another hypocrite.
    The reality underlying this alleged considerate bunkum is the Voter’s vote.
    British shed crocodile tears for the vote, santhosams and free bees.
    We have had enough of British tongue in cheek talk and past atrocities for which they have never apologised. These trips must be very fruitful to him personally.
    They never wanted to step in to settle the for 30+ years where unconditional approval was given to use the British soil.
    Have the Minister for the Middle East ever visited Afganistan/Iraq/Libya and met the families of the disappeared or members of families of victims who were killed in indiscriminate bombings? Why do we have to hear of such tongue in cheek kindness? Where was this Minister for Asia during the War years? Had he not read indiscriminate suicide bombings? British must realise they are not our rulers anymore & keep their filthy PAWS out of SL.
    Bitish Minister must MIND HIS OWN BUSINESS CLOSER TO THEIR Chillcot report. wHERE IS IT NOW? In the cold storage? Why was the British public denied seeing the Democratic ARROGANCE of the democratically elected THEN Prime Minister?
    This is British Democratic HYPOCRISY at its best just for the Tamil vote.

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  3. Dugald Gonsal

    56 years ago I left the country in which I was born (Ceylon) aged 27, having spent time as a volunteer in the Army and been deployed as a soldier to undertake many “tasks” including “standing-in” for striking Customs Officers, working as “Dockers”, etc., and deployed as a soldier to deal with serious unrest due to “language/race” problems in places like Batticoloa, etc. I have never ever returned!

    My decision to leave the country permanently, with my very young family, and breaking ties with many generations of relatives and friends to come to the United Kingdom to live was not easy, and fraught with many uncertainties arising directly out of the attitudes encouraged surreptitiously by the government of SWRD Bandaranaike, and some of his followers, towards people from my community (Burghers).

    Strangely, I have many Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher friends who express feelings not dissimilar to those I have expressed below.

    SWRD Bandaranaike lived within walking distance from where my family lived and some members of his family were “known” to my father.

    I did meet the ******* three times. The second occasion was when he visited my old school as guest of honour on prize-giving day. What he said to me and my three sixth-form colleagues – one Sinhalese, two Tamil and me a Burgher stands out in my mind as if it was yesterday.

    My Sinhalese colleague asked him how long it would be before Sinhala became the National Language after his party won the election: without any hesitation he said “by 6 p.m. on the day the election was declared” in his favour. When my colleague then asked him what provisions he would make for the Burghers he snarled “..they can Burgher-off” .

    I reckon that Bandaranaike got off lightly for what he did to me and my family by being assassinated. I aim to put that right, by hoping to go to Hell when I leave this place, because that is where SWRDB is, and I have unfinished business to sort out with him.

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