Media Release – 26 April 2013
Malcolm Fraser reiterates call for Australia to reconsider attendance at CHOGM in Sri Lanka
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, the Australian Greens and the Australian Tamil Congress have joined over 2700 individuals to request that Prime Minister Julia Gillard reconsiders attending the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka.
This call comes as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meets in London today (26 April).
A variety of international human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Elders are calling for a shift in the venue for this year’s CHOGM.
The petition (http://chn.ge/ZtzGS1) appeals to the Prime Minister to follow the example of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and announce that she will not attend CHOGM if there is no progress in Sri Lanka's human rights.
It has been launched by the Australian Tamil Congress and is part of a wider global campaign to stop Sri Lanka from hosting CHOGM.
ATC Chair Dr Raj Rajeswaran says, "The CMAG meeting is a watershed moment for the Commonwealth's relevance and commitment to its core principles of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, rule of law, judicial independence and good governance. Australia should review its unconditional support for CHOGM in Sri Lanka and use its position as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth to place Sri Lanka formally on the agenda at the CMAG meeting today"
Greens Senator Rhiannon said "It is time Australia shows leadership on Sri Lanka, instead of being best friends in order to manage Tamils fleeing torture, rape and discrimination, arbitrary arrests at the hands of the brutal Rajapakse regime.
"It is wrong that a country that stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity is allowed to build international legitimacy by using international bodies such as CHOGM,” Senator Rhiannon said.
For media comment please call: Dr Rajeswaran 1300 660 629 Lee Rhiannon 0487 350 880
Link to petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/prime-minister-reconsider-chogm-2013-in-sri-lanka
Mr. Bala Vigneswaran, Australian Tamil Congress – 0404 404 777
Australian Tamil Congress proudly launches the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice's petition for Commonwealth Summit in Australia- Reconsider attending CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka.
Several eminent persons, human rights advocates, NGOs have already made statements why they believe Sri lanka should not host CHOGM 2013. Australia has pledged it's unconditional support.
The petition has been endorsed by:
* Professor Raj Rajeswaran, Chairman, Australian Tamil Congress
* Lee Rhiannon, Senator, The Australian Greens
* David Shoebridge, Member of the NSW Legislative Council, The Greens
* Bruce Haigh, Former Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Sri Lanka
* Professor Jake Lynch, Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Sydney
* Professor Damien Kingsbury, Director, Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
* Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees AM, Director, Sydney Peace Foundation
* Antony Loewenstein, Independent journalist and author
We thank The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice http://srilankacampaign.org for this initiative.
Australian Tamil Congress cautiously welcomes the adoption of a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that expressed growing international concern over Sri Lanka’s failure to address serious allegations of human rights violations occurred in 2009. The Council also expressed concerns regarding the ongoing human rights abuses including enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture, threats to judicial independence and rule of law, religious discrimination, and intimidation of civil society activists and journalists.
The US initiated resolution, the second on Sri Lanka within a span of one year, had 41 sponsors including Australia and it passed with 25 votes in favour, 13 against and 8 abstentions.
The UNHRC resolution endorsed the recently released report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that castigated Sri Lanka for its failure to implement last year’s resolution and recommended that an international investigation be established for alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. But, HRC failed to set up an investigation mechanism during the recent session, and instead, called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an independent and credible investigation. Given Sri Lanka’s institutionalized and well-entrenched impunity, the recent dismantling of the last remnants of judicial independence by the impeachment of its Chief Justice and the well proven fact that the Government of Sri Lanka is incapable and unwilling to carry out an impartial inquiry, it is deeply disappointing that the International Community has chosen to give Sri Lanka one more year to investigate itself.
On the positive side, the resolution places Sri Lanka under close international scrutiny and the country has been asked to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and its own Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission. Sri Lanka has also been urged to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the relevant UN special procedures mandate holders. Further, the resolution requests the Office of the High commissioner to present an update to the Human Rights Council in September 2013 and a comprehensive report followed by discussion on the implementation of the resolution during the March 2014 session.
The statements made by key US officials following the adoption of the resolution, including from the Secretary of State John Kerry, are very encouraging. They clearly indicate that the UNHRC resolution was intended to send a clear message to Sri Lanka that continued refusal to comply with this resolution will not be tolerated by member states and will inevitably lead to the next step of setting up an international commission of inquiry.
Australian Tamils are gratified and would like to thank our government for sponsoring this important UNHRC resolution. We are particularly grateful for the Parliamentarians who took extra interest in ensuring that Australia did not fail to sponsor.
A motion in support of the UNHRC resolution was passed in the Senate last week with the support of both the government and the opposition, showing cross-party support for human rights, accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We also thank Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon for tabling the Senate resolution, and the Greens for their principled position on calling for stronger international action and an independent investigation.
Dr Raj Rajeswaran
Australian Tamil Congress
Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) is deeply disturbed by the contents of a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which recounts 75 statements from Tamil victims who say they were raped and tortured by soldiers, police and other pro-government para-military after being told “We will teach you a lesson”. Thirty-one of the victims allege they were raped after the cessation of Sri Lanka's long-running civil war in May 2009.
“Rape and other sexual violence of detained men and women by the security forces during and after the cessation of the armed conflict strongly suggests that sexual abuse has been a key element of the use of torture and ill-treatment against Tamils,to break their resolve through the deprivation of their dignity” stated ATC spokesperson Varuni Bala.
She further stated that one of Australia’s recommendations to Sri Lanka during October 2012 UNHRC Universal Periodic Review was “to reduce and eliminate all cases of abuse, torture and mistreatment by police and security forces”, a recommendation rejected by Sri Lanka.
Now with the ongoing UNHRC session in Geneva, it is an opportune moment for Australia to work with US, UK , Canada, the European Union and other countries in formulating a strong resolution that is to call for the setting up an international mechanism to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during and after the end of the war, added Varuni Bala..
Australian Tamil Community also calls upon the Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon Bob Carr to refer Sri Lanka to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), whose mandate includes the disciplining of countries that violate the association’s basic principles. In the absence of tangible progress in human rights, accountability and rule of law since the UNHRC session in March 2012, Australia should review its level of participation and support for the next CHOGM summit in Sri Lanka, stressed Varuni Bala.
Media Contact: Varuni Bala, Australian Tamil Congress 1300 660 629
(7 March in Melbourne | 8 March in Sydney)
The civil war in Sri Lanka came to an end in 2009, but human rights concerns linger and debate continues to rage about the current situation. Human Rights Watch recently said “Justice and accountability for abuses, an end to torture in detention, and ending constraints on basic liberties continue to prove elusive for the Tamil population.” On the other hand, Australian politicians would have us believe it is safe to return Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without processing their claims.
The Human Rights Law Centre invites you to participate in what is sure to be an in depth, robust and enlightening discussion about accountability for war crimes and the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
|Frances Harrison, a former BBC foreign correspondent who covered the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war and has recently published a book of eye witness accounts from the end of the war, Still Counting the Dead.|
Dr Sam Pari, National Spokesperson of the Australian Tamil Congress. Sam possesses vast experience as a volunteer worker in the post-tsunami regions of North-East Sri Lanka, and has represented the Tamil community at numerous human rights, political and academic forums and in the media.
Bruce Haigh, political commentator and a former Australian diplomat, who was Deputy High Commissioner at the Australian High Commission in Colombo in the 1990s, and a former member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. (Participating in the Sydney event only.)
Gordon Weiss, a seasoned journalist and international aid worker. He was the UN spokesperson on Sri Lanka during the last phase and aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Drawing on his experiences, his book The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers, examines atrocities perpetrated during the last months of the war in Sri Lanka. (Participating in the Melbourne event only.)
The discussion will be facilitated by the host of SBS’ Dateline, Mark Davis, one of Australia’s foremost video journalists and winner of five Walkley Awards.
Kindly hosted by:
6:30pm, Thursday 7 March 2013
Report to reception at Level 50, Bourke Place, 600 Bourke St
6:30pm, Friday 8 March 2013
Report to reception at Level 61, Governor Phillip Tower, 1 Farrer Place