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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.”

 

 

 

Australian Tamil Congress Welcomes Australia’s Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) on behalf of Australian Tamils congratulates the Australian Government for the generous action taken to address the Syrian refugee crisis.

ATC also acknowledges that with over half of the refugees fleeing Syria are children, the Syrian crisis is the biggest humanitarian emergency currently faced by the world.

We as proud citizens , sincerely applaud the Australian Government’s decision to settle a generous number of Syrian refugees in Australia. The response comes at a crucial time when UNHCR and the countries affected by the influx of the refugees are stretched to their capacity to deal with this refugee crisis.

The Australian Government and people of Australia have set a precedent for dealing with the unprecedented level of humanitarian crisis.

Tribute to Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser

A Global Good Samaritan Passes Away -

On this day we have lost an elder statesman, a strong advocate for human rights, and an ardent campaigner for the rights of the refugees worldwide. Malcolm Fraser was more than a politician. Anyone who had interacted with him lately will know what a candid, astute and accommodating personality he was. Australian Tamil Congress is saddened by the sudden demise of a visionary, who yearned for a world free of war, discord and differences.

Although a conservative party politician, he was a liberal democrat in real life. As a seasoned legislator he handled the ‘Big Issues’; in retirement he led the call for public debate on many humanitarian issues that even religious leaders were hesitant to give voice for.

At a seminar titled Human Rights as Foreign Policy’ held in Melbourne in August 2010, some of our members had a chance to meet him for the first time. Their experience was that this tall, distinguished and ostensibly aggressive former politician of aristocratic stature, is deep inside a considerate and compassionate personality. Having realised that some strangers are waiting to have a word with him long after the event, Mr Fraser kindly obliged: “You must be Tamils; what can I do for you?” he asked. It was very late in the night when he happily lent his ears, counselling his young admirers for nearly 15 minutes. “You should tell the individual stories of the people who are fleeing and their personal circumstances. By doing so we might be able to change the maligned image of the asylum seekers in the Australian public”, he advised.

In recent years he has been quite vocal in criticising Australia’s, what he called, ‘inhumane policies’. “Every Australian carries some part of the guilt for asylum-seeker policies that are inhumane and brutal. … … Both Liberal and Labor, have sought to demonise boat people and make Australians fear them”he wrote in an article to the Sydney Morning Herald. “If you lived in a country governed by a tyrannical regime, and your parents had been killed, and family members had been brutalised and put in prison without trial or in some cases shot without trial, what would you then do? You could not go to the government and ask for papers. That would immediately get you into trouble. So people travel without papers, something recognised in the 1954 Refugee Convention, to which Australia was one of the first signatories,” he pointed out candidly.

In March 2014, Mr Fraser made time to meet with a visiting Tamil Parliamentarian to update him on human rights issues and the impending US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC session that month. Later, he co-signed an appeal to the Government with six other Australian Eminent Persons, seeking Australia’s support for a UN human rights enquiry into the war in Sri Lanka.

From Vietnam to South Africa to Zimbabwe and lately Sri Lanka, Mr Fraser was a voice of reason and human dignity. In the late 1970’s, he helped tens of thousands of Vietnamese fleeing the war to resettle in Australia. As prime minister he supported the Commonwealth’s efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and later as Co-chair of the Eminent Persons Group, he lobbied the US Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa. Just as he supported the freedom struggle for Zimbabwe, he spoke out categorically against the systemic excesses of Mugabe’s present day dictatorial regime. His concerns for Sri Lanka were so great that even in his last major TV interview he called for “more effective action from the Commonwealth” to properly examine and expose the grave and serious human rights abuses that have occurred in the country; this he hoped will lead to true reconciliation and prosperity in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Mr Fraser had a particular desire to rejuvenate the Commonwealth as an active instrument for the advancement of mankind.  In a separate article to The Age titled Why the Commonwealth must regain its ethical zeal’, he urged the organisation to be a force for good again: “At this last (CHOGM 2014) meeting in Sri Lanka, only 26 heads of government attended. Canada stood by its principles; the Canadian Prime Minister refused to attend. The Australian government refused to criticise Sri Lanka, believing that its co-operation was necessary in stemming the flow of refugees to Australia. What would stem the flow are changes in the attitude of the Sri Lankan government so that there would be no need to flee the terror that government policy still inflicts in the minds and hearts of many Sri Lankans”.   He wrote boldly: “The Commonwealth has failed to take a responsible position. It has failed to live by its principles. It has failed to understand that ethics is a significant part of good governance”.

From introducing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, to promoting multiculturalism, to his last major interview in which he talked about ‘what a great Australia would look like’, Mr Fraser’s ideologies have been a challenge to the conscience of parliamentarians of all political persuasions, locally and overseas.

He strived to drive the message that politicians have a duty to protect strangers and noncitizens beyond their country’s borders – putting human values first.

He defended the weak and the powerless against the blind and selfish power-seekers.

He strenuously advocated the integration of human rights values into the state's foreign policy, as opposed to be a mean-spirited rich country in a global democracy.

The Tamil people of Sri Lanka can truly say that they had a genuine friend in him, who gave voice for justice, truth and humanity from a faraway land.  ATC and the Tamil community of Australia remember with sincere gratitude this compassionate and caring Australian.

He was indeed a Global Good Samaritan.

Our deepest sympathies to his wife Tamie and children.

‘May he find eternal life.’

 

Reginald Jeganathan

Chairman

20 March 2015

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