Monday 12 November 2012
Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has urged the Australian Government to accept the recommendation of a Parliamentary Committee that it seek to establish a human rights dialogue with Sri Lanka.
The Commission made a submission last year to an inquiry into human rights dialogues with China and Vietnam and its Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, appeared earlier this year before a public hearing conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, along with Pax Christi Queensland Coordinator, Fr Pan Jordan.
Mr Arndt said that the primary concern of its Submission to the inquiry was to encourage the expansion of the Australian Government’s human rights dialogues program with the Governments of China and Vietnam to include a dialogue with Sri Lanka.
“We began to express our concerns about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka at the height of the civil war in 2008 and 2009 and we continue to be concerned about what is happening there since the war ended in May 2009,” Mr Arndt said.
“The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in March this year calling for action by the Sri Lankan Government to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as there was little action to address the grave concerns about human rights violations committed during the war,” he said.
“Sri Lanka’s human rights record came under scrutiny again this month when it was examined as part of a routine four-yearly Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN Human Rights Council,” he said.
“Major human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group continue to raise their concerns about on-going extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and the lack of judicial independence and media freedom,” he said.
“On the same day as the UN review of Sri Lanka’s human rights record commenced, the Sri Lankan Government introduced legislation into the Parliament to impeach the country’s Chief Justice,” he said.
Mr Arndt said that recent reports from Church bodies such as the Justice and Peace Commission in the Diocese of Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka and discussions he has had with senior Church officials in Sri Lanka suggest that there has been no improvement particularly for the Tamil people in their homelands since the war ended,” he said.
“The military is still present in large numbers in the north and the east and they are a highly intimidating presence,” he said.
“One Church leader I spoke to said that he was safe as long as he did not speak out about the poor treatment of his people by the military and the Government,” Mr Arndt said.
“He clearly have good reason to fear reprisals if he complains or criticises the Government,” he said.
“Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Manna has been threatened repeatedly by Government Ministers for speaking out about human rights concerns in his diocese and a judge who complained recently about executive interference in the courts was assaulted,” he said.
“We have worked with other organisations in the local Sri Lanka Justice Forum to pressure the Government to implement the recommendation to seek a human rights dialogue with Sri Lanka,” he said.
“Australia cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in a neighbouring country because we want their cooperation to stem the flow of asylum seekers,” he said.
“Indeed, one of the reasons why Sri Lankans are fleeing the country is that they continue to face serious repression and human rights abuses,” he said.
“We are grateful to local MPs and Senators who have taken our concerns to the Government and will continue to work with them to bring about improvements in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka,” he added.
For further information and comment, please contact Peter Arndt (Executive Officer, Catholic Justice & Peace Commission) on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
This statement is issued by the Commission under the provisions of its mandate which enable it to speak in its own right and has been authorised by the Commission’s Executive.