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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.

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.

Published in CANBERRA TIMES AND THE AGE 12 December 2012

Spare a thought for the Salvation Army and other non government organizations in the run up to Xmas as they try and raise funds to give the least advantaged in our community something to ease the pain, bring some joy or just provide the basics over the ‘festive season’. It is difficult getting people to put their hands in their pockets at the best of times but this year the economic pinch is being felt far more widely than it was last year.

The Salvos have come to epitomise organisational generosity at the grass roots. They mix it in pubs looking for the spare dollar to spend on the broken lives and desperate people. I remember with great affection and respect their presence amongst the troops when needed. They have a special if not iconic place within Australia.

Therefore it is difficult to understand why, through their presence, they have chosen to provide legitimacy to the running of the government’s, chose your name – transit camp, detention facility, prison or concentration camp.

The welfare of detainees in detention facilities has been the concern of various refugee and human rights groups and individuals. The Salvation Army has not been noted for its involvement, and yet on 10 September 2012, the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, announced that the Salvation Army would provide support services for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, including case management, community liaison programs and activities. The West Australian newspaper said, on 14 November, that the Salvation Army would receive $22 million for its work on Nauru, presumably covering a twelve month period.

On the 30 October the Salvation Army defended conditions for asylum seekers on Nauru and, stung by continuing criticism of its role on the island, issued a news and media release, on 6 November, in which it answered questions it alleged had been directed at the organization. In the preamble to these questions, Major Moulds, Territorial Director Social Mission and Resources, said, “We have not yet been able to deliver everything we had planned, but we are working towards offering a wide range of educational and recreational opportunities. We are advocating for better facilities and we have seen the plans developed for them. We agree this is not an ideal situation, but every day we are with the people, doing what we can to make things more bearable.”

He denied that the Salvation Army was monitoring and denying internet access to some detainees. This issue was raised again on 6 December by the Refugee Action Collective. The charge is denied but even if the Salvation Army is acting only in a manner designed to ensure equity of use for all, it has set itself up as the gate keeper and in a venue which generates considerable tension it must expect that management of any resource, but particularly one of such sensitivity, can only be expected to bring the opprobrium of inmates upon it.

Finally Major Moulds says, “…there are people who are seeking to attack the policy of the government by attacking The Salvation Army for its involvement in caring for asylum seekers transferred to offshore processing centre’s. They see this as a way to further their agenda against the government policy of offshore processing, and the truth is of little consequence to them.” Besides having the ring of George Pell’s rhetoric in defending the Catholic Church, Major Moulds misses the point. Like it or not, whether they are aware of it or not, the presence of The Salvation Army working along-side government in the indefinite detention of asylum seekers lends the government’s policies legitimacy. So in attacking the presence of the Salvation Army and its role on Nauru critics are attacking both the government and the Salvation Army for lack of judgment.

Institutions which sought to nurture and succor children of The Stolen Generation, nonetheless became tainted with the evilness of the policy and were caught, to greater or lesser extent, in the allegations and substance of the abuses which occurred. The same is equally true of the institutions associated with Child Migrants from Malta and England at the end of WWII.

Following one of the rare outside visits to Nauru, the head of Amnesty International in Australia, Graham Thom said on 21 November that he had grave concerns for the mental health of the 387 asylum seekers on the island.

The Salvation Army is a member of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) which together with 260 other organizations paid for an advertisement in The Australian newspaper on 8 September, 2011, calling on the government to undertake onshore processing of asylum seekers. On 22 November ACOSS said Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers had reached a new low with the decision to ban asylum seekers found to be refugees from access to support services and the right to work.

On 14 December, following a visit to Nauru, the United Nations High Commission (UNHCR) for Refugees strongly condemned the detention facilities for asylum seekers on Nauru and the absence of due process in dealing with claims for asylum. The UNHCR said Australia could be in breach of international obligations.

Why would the Salvation Army want to be party to a flouting of international law? Why hasn’t the Salvation Army born similar witness to the conditions on Nauru? It most certainly did not remain mute about what it witnessed in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Why, on this issue, does the Salvation Army appear to have lost its moral compass?

A Salvation Army publication, “Refugees and Asylum Seekers: What you need to know”, says in part, “Issues of border security and eradication of people smuggling are important, but need to be separated from the fair and compassionate treatment of asylum seekers…The current practice of detaining asylum seekers who arrive by boat on excised territory severely restricts their access to basic rights and services, including legal representation, education, translators, and advocacy and health services. This approach impacts on the mental, physical and emotional health of asylum seekers and lacks compassion and dignity.”As if to underline the level of their denial, The Salvation Army, has advertised this month for a gym worker to provide fitness services to asylum seekers on Nauru.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator.

Published in CRIKEY 2 December 2012, THE CANBERRA TIMES 7 December 2012

Who would have thought that in the space of seventeen years Australia could have gone from being a leading champion in the world wide fight to end the racial discrimination of Apartheid to siding with the corrupt and venal government of Sri Lanka in the genocide of Tamils.

Australia has former Prime Minister John Howard to thank, with the raw racism and political expediency embodied in, ‘we will decide who comes here’, the policy of turning back the boats, mandatory detention and temporary protection visas, all directed against asylum seekers. Unfortunately Labor Prime Ministers, Rudd and Gillard embraced, at first the essence and now the substance of his policies.

Acting on the word of the victorious Sinhalese government, which has shown no inclination to seek reconciliation with the vanquished Tamil minority at the end of a twenty eight year old civil war, the Australian government is sending back to Sri Lanka asylum seekers identified without any assessment of their claims to be refugees. They are being termed economic opportunists, apparently on the basis of the town, village or area that they come from in Sri Lanka. Over the past few days former members of the LTTE have been returned.

Assuming, for one moment, that asylum seekers from Sri Lanka are ‘economic refugees’, there must be something dreadfully wrong with their economic circumstances to drive them onto boats for a lengthy and perilous sea journey to Australia. The alleged siren calls of avaricious people smugglers cuts no ice with those familiar with their circumstances except some federal politicians and public servants.

A survey conducted by Essential Research on 3 December, found that only 5% of respondents believed Gillard principled on the issue of asylum seekers and 8% with respect to Abbott. On the other hand 39% saw Gillard as playing politics and 42% saw Abbott as similarly engaged.

The fact is that asylum seekers arriving from Sri Lanka by boat are not economic refugees; if they are Tamil they are fleeing the country because they are members of an oppressed minority and if they are Sinhalese they are fleeing because they have run afoul of an oppressive state. Over 40 Sri Lankan journalists have been killed in the last ten years for seeking to expose issues of corruption in government and the unlawful abduction and killing of Tamils and other opponents of the regime. Sri Lanka is at the bottom of the international pile when it comes to press freedom and the rights of minorities.

The crushing of the Tamil separatists was bank rolled by the Chinese, who have built a large naval base on the west coast of Sri Lanka with the capacity to threaten sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. They are in the process of turning Sri Lanka into a vassal state and lining pockets along the way to do so. Sri Lanka would be bankrupt were it not for the Chinese, who have as their price internal stability. A program to eliminate the Tamils will not bring that about.

Australia has become complicit in the genocide of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. Asylum seekers that arrive in Australia are being given no opportunity to make a statement of claims. Acting on the advice of the Sri Lankan Government, they are being returned to Sri Lanka on the basis that they have no claims. Any claim they make is regarded as spurious. On Friday, 30 November, 50 were woken at 3am at the Northern Immigration Centre (NIDC) in Darwin, taken to an ‘interview session’, where their claims were rejected, and then put on a charter flight back to Sri Lanka. Their bags had been packed in their absence. On arrival all were detained and sent to Negombo Prison, where returnees are regularly mistreated and beaten. Another 500 men are awaiting return at NIDC.

On Friday the deportation of another 56 men was halted by Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition and Dr Bala Vigneswaran of the Australian Tamil Congress, who sought and gained an urgent injunction of the High Court. The matter will be heard on Thursday, where the Minister will be required to demonstrate the processes employed to screen the applicants.

Six hundred Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been removed from Australia since August. Refugee advocates refer to what is occurring to the asylum seekers as refoulement.

Refoulement is against Australian and International Law. It occurs when a State or Organisation returns an asylum seeker or refugee to a place, “…where his (sic) life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

The avoidance of refoulemont is a basic tenant of Refugee Law. Australian lawyers and people of conscience should be up in arms. How low have political imperatives driven both major parties as they scrabble for votes at the bottom of the barrel?

The issue for Australians to ponder is this, the object of cruel political expediency may be people without citizenship at the moment, but how long will it be before some amongst us might be declared a threat to state security and targeted and persecuted for perceived political gain. Given what is occurring at the moment it is not much of a jump.

The Sri Lankan Cricket Team will be touring Australia from 6 December to 28 January. The season kicks off in Canberra and includes tests in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney, plus one day games. There was a time when Australia boycotted sport, in particular cricket with countries that abused human rights, including South Africa and Zimbabwe. Why are we playing cricket with Sri Lanka?

Bruce Haigh is a former diplomat and political commentator. He served in Sri Lanka and was a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal.