Sri Lanka, Human Rights and Australia

The civil war in Sri Lanka came to an end in 2009, but human rights concerns linger and debate continues to rage about the current situation. Human Rights Watch recently said “Justice and accountability for abuses, an end to torture in detention, and ending constraints on basic liberties continue to prove elusive for the Tamil population.” On the other hand, Australian politicians would have us believe it is safe to return Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without processing their claims.

In March 2013, the Human Rights Law Centre hosted two in depth, robust and enlightening discussion about accountability for war crimes and the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka.


  Frances Harrison, a former BBC foreign correspondent who covered the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war and has recently published a book of eye witness accounts from the end of the war, Still Counting the Dead.
  Dr Sam Pari, National Spokesperson of the Australian Tamil Congress. Sam possesses vast experience as a volunteer worker in the post-tsunami regions of North-East Sri Lanka, and has represented the Tamil community at numerous human rights, political and academic forums and in the media.
  Bruce Haigh, political commentator and a former Australian diplomat, who was Deputy High Commissioner at the Australian High Commission in Colombo in the 1990s, and a former member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. (Participating in the Sydney event only.)
  Gordon Weiss, a seasoned journalist and international aid worker.  He was the UN spokesperson on Sri Lanka during the last phase and aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Drawing on his experiences, his book The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers, examines atrocities perpetrated during the last months of the war in Sri Lanka. (Participating in the Melbourne event only.)

The discussions were facilitated by the host of SBS’ Dateline, Mark Davis, one of Australia's foremost video journalists and winner of five Walkley Awards.

A non-professional audio recording of the Sydney event can be downloaded here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Photos from the event can be viewed here.

The two sell-out events generated a lot of public interest, including from Sri Lankan Government officials who criticised the HRLC arguing that we had selected a biased panel. Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia wrote to us asking us for a Sri Lankan government representative to participate in the panel. We invited the High Commissioner to participate in the panel. Copies of the correspondence can be viewed here.

The International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently released reports on human rights, governance and rule of law issues in Sri Lanka which can be found here:

The event was kindly hosted by: