Published in THE DRUM 16 May 2013, THE CANBERRA TIMES 19 MAY 2013
In the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, Bob Carr has declared Sri Lanka an ideal democracy. He has declared their institutions sound, and scoffed at the idea of corruption within the ranks of the Rajapaksa Government.
He has declared the police, army and navy to be clear of charges of detaining and torturing members of the Tamil minority. He believes that the Sinhalese majority are free of triumphalism and ethnic abuse of Tamils, amounting to state sponsored genocide, following a bloody civil war that occurred because of the very attitudes and practices being deployed against Tamils today.
And why has Carr adopted such a serendipitous attitude to Sri Lanka? It’s called boats, where the curtailment of asylum seekers arriving off Australian shores over-rides human rights and all other considerations of compassion and common sense. In order that the bi-partisan policy of turning back, preventing or in some other way stopping the boats from sullying our shores, Carr must declare that everything is honky dory in Sri Lanka and that anyone getting in a boat, risking their lives and spending money they don’t have must be economic refugees; and a range of acolytes seeking government preferment puppet his response.
It is not as if advice is lacking as to the real state of affairs in Sri Lanka and to the treatment of Tamils. Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s panel of experts into allegations of war crimes committed at the end of the civil war in 2009, told the ABC’s Fran Kelly on 29 April, that targeted attacks against Tamils were still being committed by Sinhalese authorities. She noted that whilst both sides had committed war crimes at the end of the war, the UN expert panel had concluded that government forces were responsible for the bulk of murders through the indiscriminate killing of civilians, which left an estimated 40,000 men, women and children dead.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, told ABC Radio National, on 4 May the same thing, emphasising the ongoing nature of persecution of Tamils. He also noted Carr’s poor commitment to human rights. Human Rights Watch delivered a similar report in February and Amnesty International in a report, “Sri Lanka’s assault on Dissent”, has said that Tamils continue to be persecuted by government forces and notes that Rajapaksa is consolidating his hold on power by repression of critics often through resort to unauthorised detention and violence.
As a result of the Sri Lankan government’s failure to investigate war crimes and because of its participation in ongoing repression of Tamils, the Canadian Government has said it will boycott this year’s CHOGM to be held in Sri Lanka. Should this meeting go ahead Sri Lanka will head the Commonwealth for the next two years. This is despite the fact that the Rajapaska regime undermines, on a daily basis, the values and principles of the Commonwealth.
Carr has rubbished the stand taken by Canada. The Queen has advised that she will not be attending; no doubt seeking to avoid the controversy that will inevitably surround the meeting should it go ahead. By accepting the mantle as head of the Commonwealth, Sri Lanka could well bring about its demise. Sri Lanka has a human rights record as bad as South Africa under Apartheid. It would have been unthinkable for South Arica to have hosted a CHOGM, so why is Sri Lanka being shoe horned into the job? In fact, so gravely were South Africa’s human rights abuses viewed that the Commonwealth instituted sanctions, followed not long after by the UN.
In February of this year Britain’s High Court ordered the Border Agency to stop the removal of Tamils refused asylum until an assessment was completed about the risk they faced if returned to Sri Lanka.
Which of course begs the question, if the High Court had concerns about levels of risk, why were Tamils asylum seekers being returned?
As part of the same serendipitous equation, ASIO, has made decisions on a number of Tamils granted refugee status by Australian reviewers, that they pose a security threat and should not be released from detention.
ASIO does not have an independent capacity to gather information on the ground about persons of interest. They must rely on a friendly or co-operative government to provide them with police clearances and checks. We could not do that with Apartheid South Africa, although ASIO did maintain unofficial contact with the ruthless South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS), and contact with countries behind The Iron Curtin, during the Cold War, for purposes of obtaining security clearances, did not happen.
For ASIO to continue its campaign against persons linked to the LTTE it must go along with the fiction that Sri Lanka is a neat and tidy democracy and is not conducting a post war vendetta against the Tamils and the military wing in that dispute, the LTTE.
In all conscience Australia must also boycott CHOGM.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, former diplomat and member of the RRT.