U.K. Will Support War Crimes Investigation - Foreign Minister

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Friday, May 15th, 2009
Bill Rammell

U.K. Foreign Minister Bill Rammell

The United Kingdom will support an "early investigation into all incidents that may have resulted in civilian casualties, particularly the reported shelling of hospitals, to determine whether war crimes have been committed," declared British Foreign Minister Bill Rammell, speaking in Parliament, Thursday.

"Democratic states are held to a higher standard of responsibility than other organisations," Mr. Rammell continued. "The Sri Lankan government, as we have repeatedly urged them, must respond to that point."

Human Rights Watch last week published a list of thirty reported air and artillery strikes against hospitals allegedly carried out by the Sri Lankan government. Previously, Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse went on record telling Sky News that the government considers hospitals a "legitimate military target."

"No hospitals should operate in that area," Mr. Rajapakse said in the video interview.

Minister Rammell also lashed out against the LTTE for holding civilians against their will and using them as human shields. "It shoots at civilians who try to escape, forcibly recruits those able to fight, including children, and uses others as labour to construct earthwork defences."

He said that although the U.K. government "rightly and utterly" condemns those practices, "they do not in any way, shape or form excuse any failings by the Sri Lankan government," and once again reiterate his government's call for the LTTE to allow "civilians - those same Tamils whom it claims to represent - to leave the conflict area."

The United States, France and Austria on Wednesday pioneered a U.N. Security Council Statement chastising both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, a move that was followed by a press statement from President Barack Obama, who asked that the LTTE surrender and that the government stop shelling civilian areas.

However, Mr. Rammell acknowledged on Thursday that all the international pressure has had scant little effect on the military drive by the Sri Lankan government. "The reality is that, despite our best efforts, the conflict is still going on," he allowed. "I say that to describe the scale of the challenge that we face, but in no way do I mean that we will stop our unstinting efforts to try to bring the conflict to a conclusion."

The Foreign Minister also reiterated the U.K.'s call for U.N. and NGO access to the 190,000 Tamil refugees being held against their will in internment camps, as well as for acess to the screening process by which the government is trying to root out potential LTTE militants and terrorists hiding amongst the IDPs. 

Calling on the government once more to provide free access for international media to the conflict area and persons affected by the violence, Minister Rammell declared that "what is needed is greater access and transparency, not less."

See Full Debate in British Parliament Hansard