MPs pull out of Sri Lanka trip over UN inquiry

Sharon Hodgson MP. Credit: Gary Lee /UPPA/Photoshot
Sharon Hodgson MP. Credit: Gary Lee /UPPA/Photoshot
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MP Sharon Hodgson has spoken about her decision to withdraw from a controversial trip to Sri Lanka.

The representative for Washington and Sunderland West was due to travel to the country on an all-costs-covered visit, supported by the Foundation of Goodness, founded by cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan.

The bowler is an ethnic Tamil and has come under fire for his support of the Sri Lankan Government, which last week said it would refuse to co-operate with a United Nations inquiry into alleged war crimes and continued human rights abuse.

A group of Labour and Tory MPs and their partners were due to fly out to Sri Lanka to meet senior Government ministers and officials, including President Mahinda Rajapasksa, who is accused of being responsible for war crimes.

However, the Labour members – Mrs Hodgson and Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn, who represents the Boldons – withdrew from the trip after an intervention by a senior Labour front-bencher, who said the visit would be too controversial in light of the UN inquiry.

It has been said the group had been planning to travel without informing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka.

A Labour Party spokesperson initially denied any knowledge of the proposed trip, but Mrs Hodgson confirmed she had been due to visit but cancelled on hearing the country’s government was refusing to co-operate with the UN inquiry.

She said: “I was due to visit Sri Lanka with a legitimate, Tamil-led non-government organisation working to rebuild villages in the north of the island after the civil war.

“I have a long-standing interest in seeking justice for those who have been the victim of war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and was a co-signatory to a letter in 2010 calling for an independent, international inquiry into them.

“I was, therefore, delighted when the UN resolved to do just that last month. However, when comments from the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister earlier this week were brought to my attention, indicating that the Government would refuse to co-operate with such an inquiry, I took advice from colleagues and decided to withdraw from the delegation.”