UN Hurts SL and UK Relationship – Lord Naseby
In Lord Naseby’s concluding remarks on Sri Lanka in the Queen’s Speech debate in House of Lords (7/1/20), he compares Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Boris Johnson – “We’ve now got two new leaders, one here in the UK with the drive, determination and commitment and you have an almost identical philosophy in the newly elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a man of proven leadership ability with an agenda to keep the peace, to keep an inclusive policy for minorities etc.
I see huge opportunities for trade – my noble friend Lord Sheikh raised some of them, I concur with those.
There is a huge opportunity but only…ONLY if the UNHRC project is wound up. I say to the house and my noble friend on the front bench – this year is the year for UK to have faith in Sri Lanka and its newly elected executive president.”
The text of the full speech is as follows;
for 23 years, I was a Member of Parliament for the marginal seat of Northampton South. What a joy it is to see the majority in that marginal seat move from 1,000 to 4,400—it quadrupled. The reason for that was not just what was done on the ground but a reflection of the British people’s faith in the determination and leadership of our Prime Minister. I pay particular tribute to him for what he has done for our country.
It is also 23 years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, on the Back Benches. In that time, I have taken an interest in south Asia and a specific interest in a country that I first worked in when I had nothing to do with politics, which was then called Ceylon. It is a great friend of this country. Thousands of its people were killed over the two world wars. It was one of the few countries to speak up in our favour over the Falklands. It faced a huge problem of a quasi 30-year war against the Tamil Tigers, which became a real war on 1 January 2009, covered by the international humanitarian law conditions, and lasted until 18 May. I have in my possession the heavily redacted reports from Colonel Gash describing what happened on the ground.
A year after that, the UN decided to set up a three-man mission to investigate. It did not take evidence on the ground in Sri Lanka but asked for submissions to be made. Those submissions have never been made public and are covered by a 30-year rule, so nobody knows what they really were. However, the UN slowly took a greater interest in what was happening in Sri Lanka and the net result was that, in March 2012, it set up a body under the UNHCR that is chaired today by the United Kingdom. Its role is to promote reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka—I make no argument about that. However, this has to happen in the context of the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
It started in March 2012 and here we are, eight years further on. Has Sri Lanka co-operated? Yes. Some 90% of the land that was used by the military during the war has been given back to the private sector. De-mining has nearly ended, with a big thank you to all involved. Around 300,000 people have been rehoused since the war. Infrastructure has been restored, and so on.
I have one further point. There are complaints about torture. I have seen the ICRC three times and asked it whether it has seen torture in Sri Lanka. Every time, the answer has been clear: no. It is fake news. Today, there is a shadow. That is the claim that the UN started with—of 40,000 killed.
I have spent 10 years looking at the reports by Gash and the Tamil university teachers, at the census and at all the coverage I could find. The net result is about 6,000 people killed, of which a quarter are Tamil Tigers. Despite all this, we now find that the UNHCR has decided that it wants to try to get war crimes pinned on the Sri Lankan army. Yet the reports of Colonel Gash made it clear that that army behaved admirably and looked after the civilians. If it had wanted to knock them off, then over 295,000 would not have been safely brought across the lines, would they? I believe that the time has come for the March review, when it takes place, to be the wind-up time for that phase of life in Sri Lanka.
We now have two new leaders: one here in the UK full of drive, determination and commitment; there is an almost identical philosophy in the newly elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a man of proven leadership and ability, with an agenda to keep the peace and have an inclusive policy for minorities, et cetera. I see huge opportunities for trade. My noble friend Lord Sheikh raised some of them and I concur. There is a huge opportunity, but only if the UNHCR project is wound up. I say to this House and to my noble friend on the Front Bench that this is the year for the UK to have faith in Sri Lanka and its newly elected executive President.