The Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice & Peace Commission of Brisbane recently visited Sri Lanka as part of the 9th Justice and Peace Workers Network Gathering for Asia and the Pacific. What he encountered challenges efforts by the Australian Government to portray a rosy picture of the situation in post-war Sri Lanka. He urges Australia not to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Sri Lanka as part of its obsession with stopping the boats.
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.
Friday 4 May 2012
The Australian Government must raise the issue of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka in talks currently taking place between the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, and the Sri Lankan Government, according to Executive Officer of Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Peter Arndt.
The Immigration Minister has spent the last three days in Sri Lanka in order to discuss on-going cooperation to counter people smuggling.
Mr Arndt said that Mr Bowen should not turn a blind eye in his discussions to reports of on-going abuses of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority by the military.
“We are very concerned about reports that some Tamil asylum seekers whose claims for protection have failed were deported to Sri Lanka and subsequently subjected to rape, beatings and torture,” Mr Arndt said.
“A Human Rights Watch investigation shows at least eight Tamil asylum seekers were deported to Sri Lanka by the British Government and were abused by the Sri Lankan military in various ways,” he said.
“The Sri Lankan Government has thumbed its nose at the international community with its refusal to implement recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission,” he said.
“The UN Human Rights Council has called on the Sri Lankan Government to implement the Commission’s recommendations to deal with the injustices and abuses committed during Sri Lanka’s brutal and long-running civil war, but theSri Lankan Government refuses to do the right thing,” he said.
“There is still a massive military presence in the traditional homelands of the Tamil minority in the north and east and there are still reports of military violence and abuses of the Tamil people in the area,” he said.
“The Australian Government knows the Sri Lankan Government has questions to answer about human rights abuses committed during the civil war and that significant human rights concerns still exist in Sri Lanka,” he said.
“Australia cannot ignore these matters when it is talking to the Sri Lankan Government about stopping more Tamils coming to Australia and seeking asylum,” he said.
“Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka will stop fleeing their country when they can live in their own lands free from fear and oppression,” he said.
“The Sri Lankan Government will not get the message about human rights abuses if Australia keeps dealing with them as if it is business as usual,” he said.
“Australia cannot send Tamils back to Sri Lanka if it knows there is a strong possibility that they will be subjected to violence,” he said.
For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right. The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Friday 2 March 2012
Following the release of its response to the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report, the Australian Government must continue to put strong pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that there is justice for all those whose lives were affected by the war. We urge the Australian Government to do three things in particular:
- Pressure Sri Lanka to agree to and cooperate fully with an independent, international investigation of allegations of serious war crimes and human rights violations committed by both the Sri Lankan Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) during the country’s bloody conflict which ended in May 2009;
- Support this demand at the United Nations Human Rights Council when it meets to consider the matter in March; and
- Ensure that the Sri Lankan Government publishes a timetable for implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations concerning restitution and political reconciliation and fully implements each of these recommendations.
This call is made by the Sri Lanka Justice Forum Brisbane, a coalition of organisations and individuals committed to promoting justice and peace in Sri Lanka.
In making this call, the Sri Lanka Justice Forum notes the following:
- Three leading international human rights organisations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, all refused to participate in the LLRC hearings as they considered the establishment of the Commission as a whitewash by the Sri Lankan Government;
- Amnesty International, in particular, produced a detailed report in September 2011, When Will They Get Justice?’, which demonstrated the serious flaws in the structure, terms of reference and operation of the LLRC;
- The LLRC’s finding that the Government forces did not deliberately target and kill Tamil civilians is at odds with the findings of the United Nations Secretary-General’s expert panel report on war crimes and human rights violations committed in the last stages of the Sri Lankan civil war;
- The USA and other major Western powers insist that a credible independent investigation of war crimes and human rights violations must take place;
- The Tamil National Authority (TNA) tabled a detailed report in the Sri Lankan Parliament in October 2011 showing the continuing, systematic militarisation of the north and east of the country and the further marginalisation of Tamil people in their homelands;
- It is doubtful that the LLRC report recommendations will be implemented as the Sri Lankan Government has a track record of establishing flawed commissions and never implementing their recommendations;
- Sri Lankan Government representatives have been meeting with TNA parliamentarians for a prolonged period to address Tamil grievances, but commitments made have not been honoured and no progress towards a political solution has been made.
The Sri Lanka Justice Forum Brisbane expects the Australian Government to join with other nations in demanding a credible and independent investigation of war crimes and human rights violations at the UN Human Rights Council. There can be no durable peace in Sri Lanka without action to ensure that those responsible for terrible war crimes and human rights violations are held fully accountable.
Given the repeated failure of the Sri Lankan Government to keep its promises and to respect internationally accepted human rights standards and the clear evidence of the increasing political, economic and social marginalisation of Tamils following the war, the Australian Government cannot simply make a statement that it expects the Sri Lankan Government to set down a timetable for implementing the LLRC’s recommendations and implement them. Australia must actively monitor progress closely and hold the Sri Lankan Government to account for its actions.
The Sri Lankan Government must not be allowed to resolve its conflict with the Tamil people by depriving them of their cultural identity, their attachment to land and their social, economic and political rights.
The many thousands of Tamils who have suffered so much at the hands of both the Government and LTTE forces have a right to dignity. Their immense pain and suffering cannot be ignored and dismissed as irrelevant to the future of Sri Lanka. Those who have inflicted such grievous physical and psychological harm and distress on them must be held to account for their actions if the dignity of Tamil people is to be respected and Sri Lanka is to move forward to a peaceful and prosperous future.
Australia must play its part to ensure that justice is done so that a genuine and lasting peace is possible in Sri Lanka.
For further information or comment, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
Monday 3 October 2011
Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission joined in a call for the Commonwealth of Nations to take tough action against Sri Lanka unless it agrees to an independent investigation into war crimes and human rights violations committed during the civil war which ended in 2009.
The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, recently attended a Parliament House round table in Canberra with representatives from the Australian Tamil community, the International Commission of Jurists, the University of Sydney and the Australian Greens where the call for action against Sri Lanka was made. The call was made in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which will take place in Perth in a few weeks.
Participants at the round table discussed the Sri Lankan Government’s refusal to accept the findings and recommendations of an independent expert panel appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and evidence of the Government’s on-going failure to respect the human rights of Tamil people.
Mr Arndt joined with the other participants in calling for the Federal Government and the Opposition to:
- Support calls for the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Councils of the Commonwealth until the Government of Sri Lanka agrees to an international independent investigation into war crimes, restoration of human rights and the rule of law and implementation of all the recommendations of the UN expert panel report on war crimes in Sri Lanka
- Oppose Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM in 2013.
The participants also called on Prime Minister Gillard to join Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, in saying she would not go to CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 unless there is progress in Sri Lanka’s human rights record and in the establishment of an independent war crimes investigation.
MrArndt said that the Sri Lankan Government has shown no commitment to respecting the human rights of Tamils since the end of the civil war in 2009.
“The Sri Lankan Government established its own Commission after the war but has ignored its interim recommendations,” Mr Arndt said.
“The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommended over a year ago that the Government should release the names of those it has in detention, expedite the charging or discharging of detainees, disarm illegal militias in Tamil areas and make a clear policy statement about acquisition of land in Tamil areas,” he said.
“None of these recommendations have been acted on in whole or in part,” he said.
“It has told both Tamil Parliamentarians and foreign government representatives that it has published a list of detainees, but no-one can find it,” he said.
“The Sri Lankan Government is not only treating the Tamil people dreadfully, but it insults other nations with its false claims,” he said.
“The Sri Lankan Government recently ended its State of Emergency in order to give the impression that things are returning to normal, but it used its Prevention of Terrorism Act to promptly re-introduce extraordinary regulations which applied under the State of Emergency,” he said.
“When we also hear that security forces are doing appalling things like assaulting Tamil MPs at public meetings, we cannot accept that the Sri Lankan Government has any respect for human rights or the rule of law,” he said.
“The BBC’s documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields showed how dreadfully both the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers behaved during the war,” he said.
“The BBC has also released interviews with Sri Lankan military officials who said they were told to mutilate, rape and kill Tamil civilians,” he said.
“The Sri Lankan Government must be held accountable for its actions,” he said.
“It is an obscene joke on the part of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia to tell Australian MPs that Tamil injury and death was accidental and ‘collateral damage’” he said.
“Australia must take a strong stand on Sri Lanka’s human rights record at CHOGM and we will continue to advocate this approach vigorously,” he said.
“As the theme of the CHOGM in Perth this year is human rights, it is imperative that Australia and the other Commonwealth countries tell the Government of Sri Lanka that its behaviour has been appalling,” he said.
“At the same time, in fairness, we believe that Australia’s human rights record in relation to asylum seekers and Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory should be fully scrutinised,” he added.
Participants at the round table were:
The Hon John Dowd AO QC (President of the International Commission of Jurists Australia)
Dr Sam Pari (Australian Tamil Congress)
Associate Professor Jake Lynch (Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University)
Dr Ben Saul (Professor of International Law and Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law at Sydney University)
Peter Arndt (Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane)
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.
For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.