FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Australian Tamils appalled at Rajapakse's attendance at Games ceremony

The Australian Tamil Congress is appalled at the decision to invite Sri Lanka's president to attend the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony.

The Sri Lankan government is accused of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity in its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have called for independent investigations, Sri Lanka has remained defiant, including by refusing visas to a panel experts from the United Nations.

"The Commonwealth members should exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government, as they did with Zimbabwe and Fiji," says Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress.

"Sri Lanka is an embarrassment to the Commonwealth. It has an atrocious human rights record and latest constitutional amendment which removed the term limits for a sitting president shows that it is only becoming less democratic," she added.

Sri Lanka lost its bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. It also recently lost its bid to Australia to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting.

Sri Lanka is now competing with Australia to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Mr Rajapaksa's home town, Hambantota.

Media contact:

Dr Sam Pari – 0433 428 967

Brisbane Tamil Story - ABC TV

Brisbane Tamil Story - ABC TV, 3 Sept 2010, 1.30PM

Editorial in Australian media hits nail on head

On first running for president of Sri Lanka in 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged to abolish the ”executive presidency” because of the excessive powers that had grown around the position to a dangerous degree since the island nation replaced its British-model constitution nearly 40 years ago.

That was then. Since taking office, Rajapaksa has grown to like wielding those powers. Now, buoyed by last year’s bloody victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers and a landslide re-election in January – partly achieved by widespread abuse of those powers, according to impartial observers – the President is taking ever more discretion unto himself.

Last week, after securing the support of a few loose backbenchers to build a two-thirds majority in parliament, Rajapaksa’s government passed an amendment to the constitution removing the article that limits a president to two six-year terms. A second amendment reduces, perhaps removes effectively, a previous limit on the powers of the president to appoint and dismiss members of the supposedly independent commissions that supervise elections, the police, the central bank and the public service and inquire into human rights abuses and corruption. The aim, says the Sri Lankan foreign minister, is not to politicise these institutions but to ”ensure better governance, that effective people are appointed”. But of course!

The whole process of constitutional amendment took only two weeks from the government securing the necessary majority and tabling the legislation. The main opposition parties either boycotted the vote or opposed the amendments. Jehan Perera, the respected head of Sri Lanka’s National Peace Council, contrasted this rush with ”countries with stable and successful political systems [that] have engaged in mass education and public consultations for a considerable period of time prior to changing the constitution”.

Rajapaksa joins Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as the most recent example of incumbent presidents removing constitutional restrictions against running indefinitely. Both are demagogic politicians with a high degree of current popularity. Yet the sad precedent is that as popularity ebbs, such presidents become increasingly authoritarian and corrupt as they enjoy power and fear to step down.

Already Rajapaksa has gone a long way down that path. The end of the war against the Tamils has not led to the lifting of emergency powers. Death squads still do their work around Colombo against critical journalists and human rights activists. A government minister led protests against the UN investigation of abuses. Three of the president’s brothers occupy powerful government positions. We can expect more desperate Tamils fleeing by boat, and more political refugees of all ethnicities coming by regular transport.

Sri Lanka slides towards autocracy

Sri Lanka’s parliament has approved a raft of changes to its constitution, giving more power to the President and prompting concerns of a slide towards autocracy.

The changes will allow President Mahinda Rajapaksa to seek a third term and remove some of the checks on executive power. The President comfortably secured the two-thirds majority of Parliamentary votes needed to pass the changes on Wednesday. The main opposition United National Party boycotted the vote, with one MP calling it the “death of democracy” for Sri Lanka.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Gordon Weiss, a former senior UN official in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Government puppet mounts scare campaign

The Australian Tamil Congress urges the Australian media to rely on verifiable information from credible sources when dealing with sensitive issues. The article titled "Half of Sri Lankan arrivals have ties to Tigers" which appeared in The Australian on 14 July 2010 relies heavily on Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe, a self proclaimed defence analyst whom investigation reveals is only a Masters Student.

His inflammatory claims are not sourced but he has the gall to claim that credible and researched positions such as that of the UNHCR are "ridiculous". His posturing clearly outlines his ulterior motive of a smear campaign targeting the Tamil people. His reference to Sri Lankan Government claims that asylum seekers have Tiger connections cannot be relied upon. The Sri Lankan government, now facing a potential war crimes investigation has systemically sought to label Tamils as Tigers or potential terrorists in order to justify their collective punishment of a persecuted minority.

A similar campaign against Tamil asylum seekers in Canada was waged by the now discredited academic, Rohan Gunaratne. The Canadian media reported last week these claims had been proven to be fabricated -

Clearly this agenda of labelling is being spread to Australia.

"Why would one publish an article from a self anointed defence analyst with obvious vested interests in spreading rumour and mistruths about the Tamils?" asks Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress.

Media contact:

Dr Sam Pari – 0433 428 967

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