Prof. Jake Lynch, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, in an opinion column in the ABC website, called for cancellation of the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM), pointing to ‘serious allegations of violations of international human rights law’ in Sri Lanka “including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief,” which prompted UNHCR voting to send its own investigators to Sri Lanka.
Diplomacy should send a clear signal to Sri Lanka that it is on the wrong track, after Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which government forces are accused of killing tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, Lynch wrote.
Lynch criticized Australian diplomacy for sending wrong signals, and adds, “Carr visited Colombo in December and pronounced it safe for the return of Tamil asylum seekers – flatly contradicting every independent assessment.”
On Sri Lanka’s path towards autocracy, Lynch points out that “[t]he Commonwealth summit would be hosted by president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been removing political and judicial constraints on his ability to wield despotic power. Two of his brothers also hold cabinet posts. The constitutional limit restricting presidents to two terms in office was removed, and the High Court chief justice was dismissed, after she stood up to him.”
Lynch asks “why has Canberra never backed demands for an independent international investigation of the alleged killing of civilians? Why has it not added its voice to calls for CHOGM to be moved?”
The answer may lie not in Sri Lanka at all but in one of the grimmest places in Australia: the MITA Detention Centre in Melbourne, Lynch answers:
There, a group of 30 asylum seekers, most Sri Lankan Tamils, are on hunger strike because, they say in a statement by the Tamil Refugee Council:
We left Sri Lanka because we fear to die. We came to Australia to live, not die. But death would be better than the life we have. Their refugee claims have been granted, but they cannot leave detention – after three or four years in most cases – because of adverse security assessments by ASIO. The implication is that they are associated with the Tamil Tigers.
Not only is it fanciful to suppose that – even if they were – they would pose any threat to Australians, it is also difficult to imagine how such assessments could be made without collaboration with the Sri Lankan authorities: a source that is inevitably biased, because party to an unresolved conflict, and tainted by credible allegations of torture and abuse.
Is Australian diplomacy being distorted to avoid upsetting Colombo, for fear of an increase in the passage of boats carrying desperate people to our shores?, Lynch asks.
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