Campaigners urge Rolls-Royce deal not to influence UK’s diplomatic position over human rights in Sri Lanka
Rolls-Royce is expected to provide the engines for a multi-billion dollar refitting of SriLankan Airlines planes – but this must not influence the UK’s diplomatic position over human rights in the south Asian country, campaigners say.
The deal has emerged at a time of mounting controversy over Sri Lanka’s hosting of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November, despite allegations that it is intensifying a crackdown on critics and increasing human rights abuses.
The British government has remained tight lipped over whether David Cameron will follow the lead of the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, who is poised to boycott the summit unless he sees progress from Sri Lanka in addressing human rights concerns.
With the UK yet to decide whether to attend, Sri Lankan media have now linked the UK’s attitude to the summit to a decision by the Sri Lankan government to opt for a $2.5bn (£1.6bn) contract for the supply of Airbus aircraft, which will all be fitted with British-made Rolls-Royce engines.
“The wheels turn for Sri Lanka at CMAG: But there is a price to pay” ran the headline in Colombo’s Sunday Times newspaper in the wake of news that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the body’s human rights watchdog, was recommending no action on the summit following its meeting in London last Friday.
Quoting “diplomatic sources in London”, the report said that David Cameron’s Government was “weighing in favour of trade as part of its foreign policy pursuits”.
“Such a major trade deal was given the green light when the [Sri Lankan] cabinet met for its weekly meeting on April 19,” it said, referring to the aviation contract.
Amnesty International, which published a report on Tuesday accusing Sri Lanka of intensifying a crackdown on dissent, urged the Commonwealth not to hold its summit there unless the human rights situation improves, and said that the deal should not influence the British government’s deliberations.
“This must not detract from raising human rights issues. It must not be a condition on Britain remaining silent,” said Amnesty’s UK head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth.
Hogarth said that the British government had placed a lot of emphasis on what he described as commercial diplomacy. “On a lot of overseas missions, trade was regarded as something to be prioritised. Understandably, a government’s role is to promote a vibrant economy, but that must not come at a cost for human rights.”
Brad Adams, of Human Rights Watch, said: “The UN estimates that 40,000 civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan army. Although the British economy is in trouble, it would be a serious outrage and betrayal of basic principles to sell the attendance of the Queen or prime minister at CHOGM for the purchase of some Rolls-Royce engines. These decisions should be made independently and on the merits.”
SriLankan Airlines is set to retire its fleet of long-haul aircraft, reportedly replacing it with six Airbus A330-300 aircraft, at a cost of over $234m each, with Rolls-Royce Trent engines, and four Airbus A 350-900 with Rolls-Royce XWB engines, at a cost of over $283m each.
“The aircraft would be acquired over the next seven years,” a Sri Lankan government official told the French press agency, AFP.
Rolls-Royce said that it was not making any comment on reports of the deal.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said that a decision had yet to be made on whether the UK would attend the summit, and if it did, who would attend.
“The decision to hold the meeting in Sri Lanka was taken by the Commonwealth as a whole in 2009 and reaffirmed in 2011. We respect the collective will of the Commonwealth,” he said, adding that the meeting was an opportunity to put the spotlight on Sri Lanka, human rights concerns and efforts to improve peace and security.
Asked to what extent trade ties with Sri Lanka, such as the aviation deal, were a factor, he said: “Obviously, you have to separate the bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka from CHOGM. They are aligned but our decision on CHOGM will be a result ultimately of what our objectives are for that meeting. Our relationship with Sri Lanka is not defined by one meeting”
The opposition has stepped up pressure on the government to state how it would approach the controversy surrounding CHOGM. Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP and member of the Foreign Affairs select committee, said that holding CHOGM in Sri Lanka sent the wrong signal on the country’s human rights situation, which she described as “appalling”.
On the question of trade ties as a factor in the UK government’s deliberations, she said: “People shouldn’t be forced to give up values on the trade altar. Trade is important in terms of jobs in this country. It’s always a difficult issue for people to speak about but I would say that it really should not be used as a bargaining tool.”
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said: “We have repeatedly said that, whilst the Sri Lankan government fails to meet its international obligations, the British government must use the prospect of the forthcoming Commonwealth meeting in Colombo to pressure them to do so.
“The prime minister must urgently raise with the Sri Lankan government the need for a full, independent, international investigation into the allegations of war crimes committed by all parties. Withholding his attendance at the conference until progress has been made is one of the tools at the Prime Ministers disposal.”
Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner, this week defended plans for the summit and blasted Amnesty for producing a report he dubbed a “fascinating piece of fiction” based on third party news reports and website.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday: “I’m sorry to say that as usual, Amnesty International has carried out its usual propaganda exercise of misinformation and hearsay.
“We are a sovereign country just as Britain is… after we achieved peace in the country, we have a wonderful opportunity to reconcile.
“We have absolutely nothing to hide.
“That’s why we particularly welcome everyone, 54 heads of state, to come to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and see for themselves.”
Theresa May’s bid to stop poor UK residents bringing in non-EU spouses would have barred my accountant, doctor and dentist
My parents came to this country with nothing but some Shirley Bassey records and a pair of flip-flops. My dad (not a closet gay man), harboured a secret desire to meet the singer and mum never felt comfortable in anything else. But the reason they came to England, like so many other immigrants, was not for the weather or the pasties, but for a better life. They wanted their children to be better educated, richer and more successful than they were.
I wouldn’t have become a standup comedian if my parents had not been allowed to come to this country in 1970 – Pakistan is not famous for nurturing its comedians, especially not crude big-mouthed female ones. This country has given me the freedom to express myself and so I have been able to contribute to the UK economically, culturally and artistically by doing comedy about my upbringing and annoying parents – which gives audiences a different perspective. If we didn’t have comedians from varied backgrounds all you’d hear is routines about catchment areas and Waitrose.
Before I became a comedian I was a teacher for years in deprived areas such as Tower Hamlets and Dagenham. Most of the children I taught had parents who were immigrants. One of the schools I taught in had a boy known as Dizzee Rascal. He was raised by his single parent Ghanaian mother, and has gone on to contribute massively to music and popular culture, a source of inspiration to young people in this country.
My parents never intended to come to England and sit around doing nothing except watch Mind your Language and eat basmati rice. They wanted to be well respected and successful. They worked hard. My mother trained here and has been a teacher for 20 years. A lot of teachers born in this country wouldn’t stay in the profession for that long.
Under Theresa May’s new rules, immigrants will have to earn £18,600 or more to bring in a non-EU spouse, rising to £27,200 for three children. May is clearly implying that poor people can’t and don’t contribute to society. Not true. Most poor people hate being poor and want to get out of their situation, work hard, gain respect, and become successful. I was brought up with the Asian work ethic. It involved lots of studying and my parents shouting: “Don’t ever bring shame on this family by coming home with Bs and Cs!” And if it was legal for me to run a factory aged 12, they would have made me do it. WeThere was no such thing as nine to five in our house. It was work, 24 hours a day, every day, and we never went on holiday. My dad used to say: “We didn’t come to this country to go to Butlins – we came here to work.”
All my parents’ relatives came here with nothing, with nowhere to live, let alone an £18,600 salary. Today most of them are millionaire businessmen in Birmingham and have contributed hugely to the economy by supplying kebabs to drunken people in the city centre on a Saturday night.
Everyone knows someone who is not just a doctor but an “Asian doctor”. My accountant is Pakistani, my doctor Sri Lankan, my mechanic Jamaican and my dentist Indian. I can’t live without any of them and none of them would have been allowed in under May’s new rule. The most important man in my life is Mr Patel, who owns my corner shop. He’s open all hours and never judges me when I walk in at 2pm in my pyjamas looking for milk and biscuits.
It is a minority who marry people already living here to come and do nothing. And a lot of people go on holiday, meet someone and fall in love. People meet on the internet, some travel a lot with work and are likely to meet someone from abroad. There was a time when people would ask: “Do I love this person? Does he love me? Does he like Justin Bieber as much as I do? Is he good in bed? Will my mum like him?”
All this is to be replaced with the Theresa May test – “How much is your Isa worth?”
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