Australia has one last opportunity to publicly support a US-led initiative at the United Nations to end impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the final phases of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009.
As Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, arrives in Geneva on Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council will debate a resolution to establish an inquiry into these past injustices. It is hoped that the resolution will pass later this week.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said it was critical that Australia support the resolution.
“The resolution is an important step towards accountability for war crimes and towards healing past injustices. It will also establish necessary monitoring of the serious ongoing human rights situation in Sri Lanka,” said Ms Howie.
Despite the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to impunity, the Australian government has so far declined to support the resolution.
“It’s pretty obvious that Australia's silence in this debate is motivated by our government’s obsession with ‘stopping the boats’ and its reliance on Sri Lanka to help prevent people from seeking Australia’s protection,” said Ms Howie.
Australia risks becoming increasingly isolated on this topic by mimicking tactics normally associated with countries such as China and Venezuela.
“We are out of sync with our usual allies. The US and the UK are taking a stand in support of justice for some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity in our region and Australia is missing in action. It’s not only unprincipled and craven but is also short-sighted,” said Ms Howie.
Ms Howie said reconciliation and peace are impossible goals without accountability.
“Australia should be working to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Sri Lanka and address the root causes of why people leave. Without reconciliation and peace, Sri Lankans will continue to flee to find safety and security,” said Ms Howie
Meanwhile, a group of eminent persons including former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, former NSW Attorney-General, John Dowd, former Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, and Geoffrey Robinson QC, have signed an open letter to Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, urging him to back the resolution.
For media inquiries call Emily Howie in Geneva on +41 764 055 413 or email on Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org or Tom Clarke in Melbourne on 0422 545 763.