Evidence of Sri Lankan government war crimes during the civil war in 2009 continues to grow. An initial UN report in April held that there were credible reports that should be further investigated. But Sri Lanka has refused to address these claims or allow an independent investigation.
In October, the Australian government welcomed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Perth for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). At the same time, the International Commission of Jurists revealed it had passed on new evidence of war crimes to the Australian Federal Police, and called for Rajapaksa to be investigated.
The Sri Lankan government’s civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers, ended in 2009. The Australian government stood by as Rajapaksa hemmed 200,000 Tamil civilians into the Jaffna Peninsula and proceeded with a ruthless bombing campaign.
While Gillard “raised concerns” about the Sri Lankan conflict at CHOGM, she declared her confidence in the Sri Lankan government’s “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission”. Amnesty International says this is, “fundamentally flawed and provides no accountability for atrocities”. Even the Canadian government is more vocal, saying it will boycott when Sri Lanka hosts the next CHOGM in 2014.
Australia is deeply interested in maintaining its ties with President Rajapaksa. As the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter noted, “there are 38 Australian companies which have operations on the island, equating to tens of millions of dollars worth of investments”.
A 2009 US Senate report noted that, “Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.”
The persecution of Tamils continues. Despite the release of over 280,000 from detention camps, they remain subject to constant military control, denial of political freedoms and freedom of movement.
According to Tamil National Alliance MP Sumanthiran, “there is one member of the armed forces for approximately every ten civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula”. Sixty five thousand remain displaced, with thousands prevented from returning to their homes.
The Australian government has played a disgraceful role throughout the Tamil genocide. It should be no surprise that it wants to deport Tamil refugees back to Sri Lanka, and leave others languishing in detention centres.
But their persecution remains very real—as does the need to welcome them here as refugees.
By Feiyi Zhang