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Statement to the Peoples Tribunal on Sri Lanka delivered in Bremen on 9 December 2013

Genocide against Tamils – Australian involvement.

Bruce Haigh, former Australian diplomat

Australian Complicity

I was posted to Sri Lanka in 1994. It was evident to me from early in my posting that reporting on the civil war in Sri Lanka by the Australian High Commission (AHC) was unbalanced. Western embassies, particularly those of the US and UK, labelled members of the LTTE as terrorists. This had the effect of demonising all Tamils associated with the struggle and of casting the Sri Lankan government as a victim. The government portrayed itself as under siege.

An opportunity arose to change the nature of reporting to Australia. I took that opportunity. The High Commissioner disagreed. He was very close to the President and members of his cabinet, to the point where he had been asked to provide special briefings. His reporting deliberately misrepresented the natures of the civil war and the state of the Sri Lankan economy. Although retired he maintains links to members of the present Sri Lankan government (SLG).

This dispute, in which the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs backed the biased but contested line of reporting, saw me resign in disgust from the Department. The nature of the reporting by the AHC in Colombo remains unchanged to this day and is a major contributing factor toward the Australian Government continuing to uncritically back the cruel and corrupt Rajapaksa regime.

From 1995 – 2000 I was a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal, with the legal and administrative powers of a Magistrate. During that time members of the LTTE were accepted as refugees by the Tribunal and were given protection visas and allowed to settle in Australia. Around 2006 the policies began to change and after 2009 members of the LTTE were no longer accepted as refugees by Australia. Fifty or more Tamils from Sri Lanka are currently being held in detention indefinitely on the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), despite having been found to be refugees. The only possible source of ASIO’s adverse intelligence is the government of Sri Lanka. ASIO has no independent capacity to gather such information in Sri Lanka. The adverse security findings are likely to be part of a deal with the SLG in obtaining their assistance to stop Tamils coming to Australia by boat.

To further assist these aims Australian Federal Police officers based in the AHC, liaise with their SLG counterparts and conduct training programs. Along with the Australian defence attaché they also liaise with members of the Sri Lankan defence force to try and stop boats with Tamil refugees leaving for Australia. At the end of 2013 the Australian Government donated two naval patrol boats to assist with the above mentioned agenda. Tamils apprehended on boats are placed in detention. The gift of these vessels directly assists the SLG carry out its policy of genocide against members of the Tamil population.

In response to pressure from the US, Australia banned fundraising for the LTTE. From around 2006 the AFP and ASIO conducted a policy of harassment against some members of the Tamil community living in Australia. Further US pressure saw the Australian Government attempt to ban the LTTE in 2006; however the necessary agreement could not be obtained from all Australian States – a requirement of the constitution.

The Australian Prime Minister has defended and praised the Rajapaksa regime. Whilst at CHOGM he went jogging with the President’s son and the head of the Sri Lankan defence force. At a meeting with the press he said “torture occasionally occurs in difficult circumstances”. Australia hosts eight US listening, surveillance and communication bases in Australia. Information from one or more of these bases may have been given to the SLG to assist in the prosecution of the war, making Australia complicit in war crimes and genocide.

Australia has a record of being complicit in genocide in East Timor, committed by the Indonesian Government, prior to independence and to ongoing genocide in West Papua, also being committed by Indonesia.