Created on Thursday, 16 February 2017 20:50
Sri Lanka still unsafe for Tamil asylum seekers to return
17 February 2017
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking at a press conference in Canberra together with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, urged asylum seekers who had fled the country to return. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe emphasized in his statement, "Come back; all is forgiven; it is quite safe in Sri Lanka; we are just starting the missing persons office.”
The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) would like to categorically state that Sri Lanka has not reached a point where every Tamil asylum seeker can just return without worrying about the consequences; indeed Sri Lanka is far from it.
Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on ‘Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’, in a report released only a month ago, recommended to the international community “to ensure that the principle of non-refoulment is upheld by not returning to Sri Lanka persons, in particular Tamils, who may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment, in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention against Torture.”
The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) remains in force, and there have been several arrests under this law in the past year. It has been reported that many people imprisoned under PTA were forced to confess under torture, and Sri Lanka has yet to come up with concrete plans to provide redress for those unjustly detained under PTA.
Nearly eight years after the end of the war, the Sri Lankan military is still occupying significant portion of the land belonging to the Tamil people and the military intelligence and interference is ever present in day to day lives of Tamils.
Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, the chairwoman of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, stated that women who were widowed during the 37-year conflict were among the victims of abuse by officials who frequently demand sexual favours just to carry out routine paperwork.
ATC acknowledges that the present Sri Lankan government has made notable reforms in governance, particularly in relation to diluting executive powers and allowing for media and civil society freedom. However, the advances on issues that are critical for the wellbeing of Tamil people – returning land occupied by the military, releasing prisoners long held in detention, tracing thousands of missing persons, and ending abuses by security forces, including torture by police – are extremely slow to non-existent.
Most Tamils fled Sri Lanka due to persecution and torture by the state. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s statement addressing such people “Come back, all is forgiven’ is grossly insensitive to say the least. ATC would like to register its strong disappointment and condemnation. Such statements only reflect that even the current government has not acknowledged injustices inflicted upon the Tamil community.
ATC earnestly calls upon the Australian Government not to take any blanket measures towards Tamil asylum seekers, but to assess each individual case carefully; in particular, those with past political involvement should be assessed with extra care before decisions are taken on outcome and possible repatriation.
1300 660 629 ( from overseas Tel: +61 2 94234741)
Notes to Editors
Created on Wednesday, 07 December 2016 20:03
7 December 2016
Australian Tamil Congress mourns the passing of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram on Monday, 5 December 2016. Tamil Nadu and its people have lost a brave and charismatic leader who charted a fearless path in politics with courage and conviction. We share the pain of the millions of her distraught admirers, who saw her as a caring politician, champion of women’s rights and an advocate of the economic emancipation of the State’s poor.
The Late Chief Minister gave voice for the suffering Tamils of neighbouring Sri Lanka and steadfastly appealed for a holistic solution for the long unresolved ethnic conflict in the country. As an astute politician and powerful state leader of influence and conviction, her demise is a great loss for all Tamils and will be felt all over India in many ways.
May she attain moksha. Om Shanti.
Created on Wednesday, 16 November 2016 21:24
Australian Tamil Congress calls for principled and humane approach to policy formulation and implementation of refugee laws
Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) expresses its strong disappointment and condemnation at the proposed lifetime ban on asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia.
There is no doubt whatsoever as to the pathetic plight and the hopelessness of the inmates in the immigration detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Now to bring this extra-ordinary measure, which will inflict an added degree of cruelty on an already broken people, all in the name of sending a strong message to people smugglers, is a clear illustration of the lack of leadership, compassion and humanity in the Australian political leadership. A notable numbers of Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka are also potential victims of this measure, and in desperate need of counselling and help.
Another troubling development for the Tamil refugees is the flawed ‘fast track’ refugee processing arrangement with no judicial oversight, disregarding any previous harm, persecution or violence inflicted with impunity by the security establishment of Sri Lanka under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which is yet to be repealed.
Though the present government of Sri Lanka has made advances in relation to diluting executive powers and allowing media and civil society freedom, it has yet to take meaningful measures to end abuses by security forces, including torture by police. An assessment by Sri Lanka’s own Human Rights Commission indicated torture is routine in Police custody; and a case is being filed in the UK by a recent returnee who was tortured in Sri Lanka on the suspicion of his past involvement in Tamil politics. These incidents illustrate that Tamil asylum seekers should not be assessed and repatriated in a blanket manner; rather each individual case must be assessed carefully. In particular, those with past political involvement should be assessed with extra care before decisions are taken on the outcomes and possible repatriation.
Australia has a proud record of supporting vulnerable people and refugees from all over the world. It is home for tens of thousands of Tamils, a significant portion of the population having arrived here as refugees. They are today proud Australians, who contribute fully to the wellbeing of this country. It is in this context that our hearts sink when policies and procedures highlighted earlier are contemplated by our political leadership. While it may be important to send a message to the ‘people smugglers’, do we want to be known in the world as a nation of compassionately impaired people?
The proposed changes to the Migration Act will discredit Australia globally. It is time that all Australians – including principled politicians across the entire political spectrum - rise to the occasion and prevent any escalating measures from being espoused or implemented.
We are certainly better than this.
Created on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 22:49
Created on Monday, 28 September 2015 12:38
The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) cautiously welcomes the draft resolution on Sri Lanka tabled at the UN Human Rights Council on 24th September, which Sri Lanka is co-sponsoring.
The text is a product of difficult consensus building including that of the Government of Sri Lanka, and reflects the sometimes competing interests of a wide range of stakeholders. ATC has consistently called for an international accountability mechanism to address the violations and abuses committed by both sides of the conflict, and though the tabled resolution falls short and is a source of concern for many in the Tamil community, we believe it provides a realistic starting point, and if faithfully implemented, can lead to a credible accountability process with substantial international involvement.
The law reform to allow for war crimes to be investigated and trialed, incorporation of Commonwealth and foreign judges in the judicial process, political settlement through effective devolution mechanism, and periodic reporting on the progress of the implementation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are a few key provisions that will be under the microscope as this resolution takes hold.
While welcoming the new Sri Lankan government’s commitments, we note that implementing the resolution and the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be the real test of progress, and not merely words. Victims of Sri Lanka’s brutality have heard far too many words, and now deserve credible actions. The draft resolution gives the Government of Sri Lanka the opportunity to achieve that goal.
ATC has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders on many issues of concern to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, which includes the Australian government, the opposition parties, NGOs, academics, legal professionls and the media, and we believe our continuous efforts have contributed to the outcomes at the UNHRC. In this regard, we are grateful to the governments of the US and the UK, all co-sponsors of the resolution, and all others who helped drive the progress on accountability. We sincerely hope that this week’s result will be a step in the right direction.
We are particularly pleased that Australia has decided to co-sponsor the UNHRC resolution, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s statement is clear testament to her willingness to constructively contribute to reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We also would like to acknowledge the statement from Shadow Ministers Tania Plibersek and Michelle Rowland welcoming the OHCHR report and the resolution. The draft resolution stresses the importance of the participation of Commonwealth and other foreign judges in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, and we believe this is an area where Australia, as a commonwealth country, can make a significant contribution.
Victims of heinous crimes committed during the civil conflict have waited for over six years for this process to reveal the truth and justice to be served. They sincerely hope that all stakeholders of this process including the international community will not let them down. ATC on its part will do all it could to ensure that this process will lead to true accountability and closure to all victims.