A Backbench Business Committee debate on the UK response to the human rights and economic situation in Sri Lanka took place on Wednesday (9) in the House of Commons chamber.
UK MPs called for Sri Lanka to cut down on its military spending to overcome the economic crisis.
UK MP Elliot Colburn noted that for Sri Lanka to be rescued, it needs to reduce its military spending, which stands at $1.86 billion per annum.
“All of Sri Lanka’s projections for emerging out of the economic crisis are predicated on the country retaining its generalised scheme of preferences and trade concession. That annual trade concession is worth more than $500 million and has boosted Sri Lanka’s exports to EU member states over the years,” said the MP adding that however, Sri Lanka has failed to meet the key labour and human rights requirements for receiving that preferential treatment, and the EU recently issued a warning that it is set to lose its concession if it continues to ignore its obligations.
“As a key stakeholder at the IMF, the UK Government should propose conditions on any IMF financial assistance for Sri Lanka during the current economic crisis, including that Sri Lanka should carry out a strategic defence and security review to reduce its military spending, remove the military from engaging in commercial activities, meet the criteria for GSP+, and re-engage with the UNHRC process. I appreciate that the IMF does not have powers to impose such conditions on its own, but the UK, as penholder, can have significant influence in the discussions before any bail-out is agreed,” he told the House of Commons on Wednesday (9).
UK MP John McDonnell said in addition to human rights abuses, the level of corruption in Sri Lanka is also cause for concern.
“One way we have been able to expose and tackle that corruption is through elements of the excellent media in Sri Lanka, but over the past 12 months—over a longer period too, but intensively over the past 12 months—we have seen harassment of journalists and the closure of the free media that exists,” he said adding that one condition that should be attached to any form of aid that goes into Sri Lanka—or any relationship that the UK may have in the future—is that corruption is tackled as a result of a free media unharassed by Government.
UK MP Theresa Villiers highlighted that the Rajapaksa regime wrecked the economy and, as yet, there seems little visible progress under its successor.
“The oppressive security apparatus of the Sri Lankan state is still being used to exert control over the country’s citizens. People are still arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, despite the promise made by the Sri Lankan Government in resolution 30/1 seven years ago to repeal it,” she told the House of Commons.