A major newspaper in Australia has called on New Delhi and London to refrain from following Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lead to boycott CHOGM despite heavy pressure not to go.
In its editorial today entitled ‘Sri Lanka deserves support‘, The Australian said that pressure for a boycott of next month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Sri Lanka is gathering significant momentum. “India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is now considering joining the campaign to stay away,” the newspaper said.
The editorial said Mr Harper had sacrificed his place in a major forum with the potential to exert real influence on Colombo. “Dr Singh and Mr Cameron should not follow him. Sri Lanka needs assistance on reconciliation, not isolation.” the newspaper warned in a reiteration of the position recently adopted by Canberra at the UN Human Rights Council and other forums at which Sri Lanka’s rights record is coming in for serious criticism.
The Australian Government appears to be making a trade off on cooperation from Sri Lankan Government authorities on curbing illegal immigration, with hundreds of boats making their way to Australia each year carrying thousands of Sri Lankans attempting to get asylum, analysts say. Canberra, now led by the Abbot administration that is even tougher on illegal immigration is likely to stand firmly in Sri Lanka’s corner against the rest of the Western world as calls mount for a major war crimes inquiry in the country, these analysts say.
“Tony Abbott should ignore the clamour whipped up by the well-organised Tamil diaspora and maintain the firm opposition to a boycott he expressed after meeting Mr Harper at the APEC summit. Legitimate concerns do exist about human rights in Sri Lanka. That is hardly surprising after a civil war of exceptional brutality that lasted 30 years and saw 100,000 civilians killed,” the Australian said it in its editorial.
It said however that reconciliation was “demonstrably underway”, a claim disagreed with by many rights activists including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The conservative newspaper said that reconciliation in Sri Lanka would be seriously impaired by a boycott of what will be the biggest international event held in Sri Lanka since the 1976 Non-Aligned Summit. “The Tamils inevitably would be blamed by the Sinhala majority for any failure, with potentially dire consequences,” the newspaper said.
Getting to the heart of the issue, The Australian editorial said: “Stability and an assured place for Tamils in a prosperous and peaceful Sri Lanka would also cut the ground from under people-smugglers bringing asylum-seekers across the Indian Ocean. And it would make it easier for our government to hasten the repatriation of Sri Lankans already here.”
Canberra and Colombo have insisted separately and together that the majority of asylum seekers travelling to Australia were economic refugees and not marginalised communities fleeing persecution, a position roundly criticised by Pillay and other rights activists who claim Australia is violating conventions on refugees by this broad generalisation and deportation on these grounds.