Australia should defend judicial independence and human rights in Sri Lanka by supporting calls to relocate CHOGM

In November 2013, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is due to be held in Sri Lanka. Ignoring international calls for the venue to be changed, including from the Canadian Government, Australia has indicated it will attend the meeting. Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, said it was not in Australia’s long term interest to overlook serious human rights concerns in Sri Lanka for political expediency.

“President Rajapaksa’s administration in Sri Lanka has flouted the rule of law, attacked the independence of the judiciary and failed to take action to bring perpetrators of war crimes to account. Australia should not turn a blind eye to this kind of behaviour,” Mr de Kretser said.

This year President Rajapaksa’s government impeached its Chief Justice in contravention of the rulings of Sri Lankan courts that declared the move unconstitutional.  Journalists, human rights defenders and critics of the government continue to be subjected to threats and physical attacks.

“Not only has Sri Lanka failed to provide accountability for war crimes committed against its own people, but it has attacked the very institutions that might provide that accountability,” said Mr de Kretser.

The United Nations estimates that up to 40,000 civilians may have died in the final stages of the civil war that ended in 2009 and cites credible evidence of war crimes committed by both government forces and the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE or Tamil Tigers).  Despite this the Sri Lankan government has continuously failed to provide proper accountability for alleged war crimes.

Australia is currently a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which is entrusted to assess violations of Commonwealth values such as democracy, freedom and the rule of law, and to recommend appropriate action. Despite this, Australia has remained silent on the impeachment of the Chief Justice.

“Australia’s silence stands in stark contrast to the principled statements of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations. If Australia wants to be taken seriously in its important international roles, it needs to find its voice on human rights matters,” said Mr de Kretser.

The Human Rights Law Centre is hosting a panel discussion tonight in Sydney about accountability for war crimes and the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The event features former BBC reporter Frances Harrison, former Deputy High Commissioner at the Australian High Commission in Colombo Bruce Haigh, Tamil Congress spokesperson Dr Sam Pari, and former UN spokesperson Gordon Weiss. The discussion will be facilitated by Mark Davis from SBS’s Dateline.

For more details, click here.