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Global Tamil Forum urges UN Human Rights Council to adopt new resolution reflecting High Commissioner Zeid’s call to closely monitor Sri Lankan compliance with the resolution of 2015

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) welcomes High Commissioner Zeid’s report on Sri Lanka released on 3 March in Geneva. We commend the High Commissioner and his office for their forthright and thorough assessment, and concur with their observation that ‘stronger, tangible results needed to be forthcoming without further delay to prevent any further dissipation of hard-earned trust.’

While acknowledging the Sri Lankan Government’s constructive engagement with United Nations’ human rights mechanisms; visible progress on constitutional reform process; positive developments on the broader human rights agenda; and commendable efforts on consultations towards establishing transitional justice measures, the report was emphatic that the ‘fulfilment of transitional justice commitments has been worryingly slow and the structures set up and measures taken were inadequate to ensure real progress.’

The report was categorical that the Government has not moved fast enough with tangible measures – viz. restitution of the land held by the military; resettlement of internally displaced persons; repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act; effective conclusion of the cases of the remaining security detainees; formulating effective victims and witness protection arrangements; and stopping security force surveillance, harassment and torture – that would immensely help build confidence among victims and the Tamil community.

The report analysed a number of emblematic cases involving security forces covering a period of over ten years with no decisive progress to-date and reiterated High Commissioner’s view that ‘international participation in accountability mechanisms remains a necessary guarantee for the independence, credibility and impartiality of the process and an integral part of the commitments of the Government under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1.’ It is in this light that we are dismayed and reject the statements from the Sri Lankan leaders, including a recent statement from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that argue participation of international judges would require constitutional amendments with approval from country wide referendum.

The High Commissioner’s assertion that unclear and often contradictory messages delivered on transitional justice mechanisms by the President, the Prime Minister, and various members of the cabinet, as a factor contributing towards contradictions in policy development and public messaging around transitional justice and reconciliation, need to be acted upon with utmost seriousness by the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government.

GTF calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to make every effort to implement all of the recommendations presented in the High Commissioner’s report, which include: ‘present a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice, with a time-bound plan’; ‘invite Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to establish a full-fledged country presence’; ‘adopt legislation establishing a hybrid court, which should include international judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators’; and ‘operationalise the Office of Missing Persons Act and provide the Office of the Missing Persons with sufficient resources and technical means’

The High Commissioner’s recommendations to the member states ‘urge the Human Rights Council to continue its close engagement to monitor developments in Sri Lanka’, ‘investigate and prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations under universal jurisdiction wherever possible’ and ‘ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement in the case of Tamils who have suffered torture and human rights violations’. These recommendations are timely and need to be heeded.

In a press release by the OHCHR, High Commissioner Zeid said, “This critical opportunity in Sri Lankan history cannot be missed. I urge the Government and people of Sri Lanka to prioritize justice alongside reconciliation to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with, never to recur.” GTF calls on the Government to do just that by publicising and acting on a comprehensive reform and transitional justice plan.

Trevor Grant gave strong voice for the rights of refugees, advocated against torture, and exposed the injustice meted out to Tamils in Sri Lanka- ATC

The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) mourns the passing of Trevor Grant, a veteran sports journalist and ardent human rights advocate, after succumbing to a two-year battle with cancer last Sunday. After retiring in 2009 from 40 years of active journalism, Grant took up the cause of refugees who arrived on the shores of Australia by boats fleeing tyrannical governments around the world. His particular interest in the plight of Tamil refugees escaping war-torn Sri Lanka inspired him to be a compassionate speaker, writer and radio broadcaster on matters of discriminatory practices and torture that prevailed in the country.

A fearless personality to the end, Grant was honest in his condemnation of brutal regimes that inflicted immense suffering on its citizens, uncompromisingly radical in standing up for justice, and gave his all for the upliftment and human rights of the oppressed.

His passionate campaign against the indefinite detention of refugees by ASIO on grounds of national security, and relentless opposition to the incarceration of asylum-seekers in offshore detention centres is well known.

The ATC is grateful for his unique contribution to the rights and wellbeing of the Tamil refugees in Australia, and for bringing awareness of the long fought just cause of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.  At the loss of this true friend of Tamils, we extend our deepest sympathies to all his loved ones.

Australian Tamil Congress

 

In Solidarity with People of Tamil Nadu

n Solidarity with the people of Tamil Nadu

Dear Fellow Tamils

As most of you are aware, Chennai has been devastated by the worst torrential rains in history and flash-floods have caused hundreds of deaths and untold misery to millions of people in several parts of Tamil Nadu.

While more rain is expected over the week, thousands of people still remain stranded. And despite the best efforts of the TN Government and NGOs, many are left without basic supplies of food, drinking water, clothes, blankets, etc.

Even as we pray for an end to this unforseen natural calamity, we believe we should do the least we can to bring some immediate relief to the affected.  

For decades the people of Tamil Nadu had continued to rise in support of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and many of our people have taken refuge in Tamil Nadu for so long. It is now our chance to help them in whatever measure we can.

The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) urges all Australian Tamils to be generous enough to donate and show our solidarity with our Tamil Nadu brethren at a time of their dire need.

Please use the below link to donate immediately to this urgent relief fund. ATC will donate the funds to Gandhiya Makkal Iyakkam* in Chennai who is already involved in coordinating the relief work. We will provide the donors with feedback as we receive.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Please click here to donate and show our solidarity.

With great expectations,

Executive Committee
Australian Tamil Congress

*Gandhiya Makkal Iyakkam is a non-governmental organisation, whose President - Thamilaruvi Maniyan - had visited Australia a few times before. 

Speech in Australian Parliament by Michelle Rowland MP

MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
 
RECONCILIATION IN SRI LANKA
 
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
 
THURSDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2015
 
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
 
I rise today to reaffirm my heartfelt support for the determined efforts of the international community and the many people of goodwill in Sri Lanka to usher in an era of progress and reconciliation in that country. Since I was elected, in 2010, I have been on the record advocating for the cause of human rights for all Sri Lankans, as well as for the need for strong action to account for the terrible consequences of that nation's decades-long civil war, from all sides of that bloody conflict.
 
The recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council has given voice to this objective through a landmark resolution that underlines the critical importance of truth and accountability for everyone affected by the 25-year armed conflict. The resolution follows the release of the report on the war by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which details credible allegations of serious and gross human rights violations by all parties to the conflict, and calls for the establishment of a hybrid justice process, with representatives from both Sri Lanka and the international community, to investigate and deal with these allegations. Both the report and the resolution present a unique and historic opportunity for Sri Lanka to address some of the most troubling chapters of its past and provide an important foundation for a just and lasting peace in a nation that for too long has seen war and discord rob it of its industry and its development, and far too many of its sons and daughters.
 
Now that a framework has been established to provide basic rights of equality and justice to all Sri Lankans, the work of implementing it and constructing a durable peace must commence. We know that a difficult road lies ahead. Indeed, to state the task is to underline the enormity of the challenge.
 
Behind the nation's tensions lies a centuries-old stalemate, entrenched by intense feelings of mistrust and hostility and the most profound allegiance to cultural identity. Yet, the widespread endorsement of the UN documents throughout all sectors of the Sri Lankan community reflects a shared yearning for reconciliation and a new beginning. Indeed, in this year alone the people of Sri Lanka have twice voted to make a decisive break with the past and embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. They have courageously chosen dialogue over division, healing over hatred, and have charted a course towards peace and prosperity for its people.
 
While much work remains to be done, the new Sri Lankan government's decision to co-sponsor the UN resolution signals its commitment to launch a brighter future for its people. It sends an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such terrible human suffering that they will be held accountable for their crimes.
My electorate of Greenway comprises nearly 5 per cent of the entire Sri Lankan population in Australia, and I have seen first-hand the devastating effect this conflict has wrought. I know constituents who have grown up in a web of fear and animosity, through no fault of their own. They have been left forever scarred by unwarranted violence and persecution, in a physical as well as psychological sense. Their parents and loved ones have suffered and died tragically as a direct result of the conflict. There are also those who were forced to remain behind, facing an uncertain future.
In Australia, these people found a life of peace and security that they would never have been able to lead previously. In turn, they have contributed greatly to the prosperity of our community and our nation as a whole. As a nation that shares a deep and long-standing bond with the people of Sri Lanka, we owe it to them to seize this unprecedented opportunity.
 
I note that Australia, rightly, was a co-sponsor of the UN resolution on this issue, something for which I advocated in this place. However, I strongly believe we must use all our influence to back up those words with deeds. In this chamber we represent a wide array of views yet we are all united in our commitment to stand with people who yearn for the same freedoms, values and opportunities that we as a society cherish.
 
We must therefore become true partners in progress with the people of Sri Lanka and actively work for a day when all its citizens, including minorities, can participate in a robust democracy where divergent viewpoints invoke passionate debate and, yes, disagreement, but where these clashes are played out in the theatre of parliament rather than in the futile theatre of war; a day when the families of the some 150,000 people who remain unaccounted for are given closure through an impartial process; a day when war savaged areas are transformed into vibrant towns and cities booming with jobs, investment and a prosperous citizenry; a day when every person forced to flee the land of their birth can finally return if they so choose, imbued with a sense of belonging and acceptance. Indeed, fostering the human capital of Sri Lanka, with all its diversity and skills, will be essential for its social and economic develop. We must work for a day when every Sri Lankan child can look forward to a future where they are free to pursue their dreams and explore their potential.
 
Finally, I very much look forward to being received by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Canberra next week, and to developing a strong relationship to further these very ends.
 

ATC welcomes the OHCHR report and calling on its full implementation by the UNHRC

Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) welcomes the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report that strongly indicated war crimes and crimes against humanity were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict and recommended the establishment of an internationalised Special Court for criminal prosecution.

The violations revealed in the report, characterised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid, as “among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”, makes a harrowing reading, presenting evidence of horrific level of abuses suffered by the Tamil civillians at the hands of the Sri Lankan soldiers, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, denial of humanitarian assistance, ill treatment of IDPs, torture and sexual violence.

ATC is in full agreement with the report, which stated, “A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises,“ and supports the establishment of a “hybrid” Special Court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators.

We are grateful to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (both past and present), his staff and all who contributed for the important work that went into producing this report.  Undoubtedly, this whole exercise, the three UNHRC resolutions passed between 2012 and 2014 and the OHCHR investigation and report, restores confidence in the UN system as a whole to the Tamil community.

 

It is important that we acknowledge and pay tribute to the survivors who bravely came forward to share their stories and relive their horrific experiences, despite the fear and uncertainty they face, without which this report would not have been a reality.

 

ATC calls the member states of the UNHRC to adopt a resolution that captures all the recommendations of the OHCHR report, including estabalishing a Special Court, and call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fully cooperate.  As stated by Prince Zeid, “this Council (UNHRC) owes it to Sri Lankans – and to its own credibility – to ensure an accountability process that produces results, decisively moves beyond the failures of the past, and brings the deep institutional changes needed to guarantee non-recurrence.”

 

On our part, ATC  acknowledges the violations and abuses suffered by all communities, and heeds Price Zeid’s call and view the report as “an opportunity to change discourse from one of absolute denial to one of acknowledgment and constructive engagement to bring about change.”

 

 

 

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