Published in CANBERRA TIMES and THE AGE 28 December 2012
Writing in The Weekend Australian newspaper on 15/16 December 2012, the Sri Lankan Consul-General, in Sydney, Bandula Jayasekara gives a one sided defence of the Sri Lankan persecution of dissenters, including Tamils. It is interesting that Jayasekara is being put forward as the Sri Lankan representative in Australia to defend the indefensible. It is an acknowledgement that the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, Thisara Samarasinghe has singularly failed to get his message across.
Jayasekara begins by saying, “There is a misconception among some Australians regarding the issue of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers because of a misinformation campaign carried out by parties with vested interests.” Australians are quite used to weighing the facts, they saw through the propaganda of the South African Apartheid regime, the lies over East Timor and weapons of mass destruction and it is only a matter of time before the truth will out on the treatment of Tamils and the political enemies of the corrupt Rajapaksa regime.
The Sri Lankan flag has a sword bearing a Sinhalese lion. Attempts, after Independence, to adopt a flag with neutral symbols were rejected by the Sinhalese majority. Instead two ribbons were added to represent minority Tamils and Muslins. With the advent of the civil war the Tamils adopted a Tiger as their symbol and the Sinhalese army, the lion.
Jayasekara would have us believe that Tamils fought (as terrorists) to divide Sri Lanka, what he conveniently fails to mention is that what occurred was a civil war fought because the Sinhalese refused to share power with the Tamils on the departure of the British. Tamil protest eventually turned Sinhalese exclusionary policies into genocide, which erupted in a blood bath by the Sinhalese against the Tamils in Colombo in 1983. Many fled to the north and were subsequently forced to defend themselves against the incursions and molestations of the army. The Sinhalese fear and hate the Tamils hence the belief that Tamil militants are seeking to reorganize overseas in order to conduct another civil war. It may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the Sinhalese continue to deny the right to work, along with other basic human rights to Tamils in the north. What were formally Tamil lands, are now occupied by 150,000 soldiers; one for every five Tamils trying to eke out an existence in the north. The victors of the final blood bath have not sought reconciliation with the Tamils; there has been no truth and reconciliation commission.
Jayasekara makes a series of unsubstantiated claims, which might wash in the government controlled media of Sri Lanka but will not get past first base in Australia, except ASIO which ,whilst perhaps not believing the claims, goes along with them for political reasons. He claims that (the)…”pro-LTTE lobby wants to enter Australia, having penetrated into Canada and Britain. Its long term plan is to have a voice in Australian politics, so as to lobby and tilt the balance in its favour…it believes it is important to create that base in Australia…” Jayasekara does not say what the LTTE hopes to gain by doing this.
He claims that, “As the former consul general to Toronto in Canada, I have experienced first-hand how these groups interrupted the daily lives of Canadians with their violent methods…”and they “…may breed terrorism on Australian soil.” Perhaps he might like to detail the harassment of Tamils in Australia by Sinhalese, some of them security operatives, and explain why Sinhalese interest thought it sport to hack my computer. He claim LTTE groups control people smuggling operations for profit. I would have thought that if they are operating out of Sri Lanka they would be well and truly behind bars by now, unless of course they are bribing members of the navy, army and police.
What I heard was that some of the smuggling boats are being run by interests close to the president, who are happy to take the money for asylum seekers, have their boats towed back so that they can do the trip again and fleece another group of unfortunates.
What Jaysakera does not mention is Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record, where young Tamils have been abducted off the street and murdered, and this continues. Forty Sri Lanka journalists have been murdered over the past ten years for reporting state sponsored corruption and abuse of human rights, including the violent abductions mentioned above.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs is well aware of the nature of government in Sri Lanka and all that pertains to it. However for the sake of domestic politics, i.e. turning the boats back, the Australian government has been prepared to gloss over these abuses and in its own treatment of Tamil asylum seekers has now transgressed accepted human rights. The nomination and acceptance of former Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe as Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia has helped facilitate an Australian connection to the Sri Lankan navy for purposes of controlling the flow of sea borne asylum seekers.
In September 2012, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, warned that he may refuse to attend the November 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, unless the Rajapaksa government addresses allegations of Sinhalese atrocities during the closing stages of the civil war.
In a matter on-going while the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, was in Colombo over the weekend, 15/16 December, Canadian Senator Hugh Segal and the Commonwealth Secretariat in London expressed grave concern at the impending impeachment of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Shirani Bandaranayake by parliamentarians loyal to Rajapaksa. His party enjoys a two thirds majority in Parliament through an electoral process more foul than fair.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth Legal Education Association and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association issued a statement saying in part, “By virtue of its membership of the Commonwealth, Sri Lanka is committed to the shared fundamental principles, at the core of which is a shared belief in and adherence to democratic principles including an independent judiciary.
In the end, every member state of the Commonwealth makes its own sovereign decisions, but membership in the Commonwealth is not permanent or unconditional for any member. It is tied to a basic respect for the core Commonwealth principles and values. The consistent and serious violation of these could well result in a country’s membership being questioned.”
In early December the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, said that, “Just 19 months after Bandaranayake was appointed…the fate of the 43rd Chief Justice appeared to have been sealed following a ruling she gave to a Bill introduced in Parliament by the Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapakse, one of the many presidential siblings controlling the levers of power…In early November, when 117 government parliamentarians handed over an impeachment motion against the Chief Justice to the Speaker of the legislature (Chamal Rajapaksa, another sibling), the process that followed affirmed how heavy were the odds stacked against Bandaranayake.”
The Hindu noted that such was the haste to impeach that due process and legal consistency had been given the flick and the government controlled media led by the Daily News had already judged the Chief Justice guilty.
Jayasekara seeks to deceive because, with hubris and ignorance, he thinks we know little beyond what he writes. He should take pause and think again.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Sri Lanka and on the Refugee Review Tribunal.