The past tormenting and continuous sixty years sufferings of Tamils in Sri Lanka has provided an opportunity for Australia to join hands with the majority led suppressive governments of Srilanka more in particular with the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the present Rajapaksas government. The main reason is to sustain the co-operation and assistance of Sri Lankan government to stop the flow of refugees from Sri Lankan shores to Australia.
Australia is known and reputed for its democratic practices while up-holding the principles of UN charter, C’wealth charter and other conventions relating to human rights and rights of refugees. The recent acts and conduct of Australian government belie their commitments to the above principles of human rights and conventions relating to refugees. A refugee is anyone who flees from his or her own country fearing for his or her life and security by any means of transport which could be legal or illegal and even with invalid or forged documents. Sometimes they fall victims to unscrupulous agents who exploit their helplessness. Some of the fleeing refugees could be economic refugees. In all instances, whether a person is a genuine refugee escaping from his own country to avoid torture, persecution, rape or even death by state terrorism, or an economic refugee to seek better quality of life and prosperity, can only be assessed and determined by the authorities once they have reached the shores of that particular country.
The past and present conduct of Australian government in handling the refugees from Sri Lanka particularly Tamils who have been persecuted, raped, tortured, massacred and made refugees in their own country Sri Lanka, since 1958, is nothing but defiles humanism, civilized and dignified conduct, not to mention it as disgusting and disgraceful to respectful country like Australia. The whole world now knows about Sri Lanka which has since been masquerading as a free democratic state with good governance and observing human rights and fundamental freedoms while maintaining law and order with an independent judiciary.
The whole world has now realized the sinister agenda of successive Srilankan governments in carrying out state sponsored genocidal schemes and pogroms to eliminate the identity of Tamils and its race starting from 1958 and culminating in the genocidal war against Tamils in 2009. Now their target is the Muslims who are controlling most of the businesses and becoming richer wielding influence. The present dictatorial Rajapaksas have not even spared their political opponents.
Gotabaya is running the government and the military is gradually and steadily taking over the civil administration in all areas. Criminals and thugs are let go free. Police and security forces assist or gleefully watch the violence of thugs against citizens and property. Freedom of press is nor-existent fearing reprisals. Sri Lanka is now facing an international investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes. State war criminals are counting the months when they will be hauled up before tribunals to face the music.
Sri Lanka, a state where no citizen is safe from arrest, detention, disappearance or torture, some governments have warned their citizens to think twice before travelling to Sri Lanka. This being the sorry state of affairs prevailing in Srilanka, it is a downright distortion of truth and common sense to note Australian prime minister’s recent statement that “Sri Lanka is a peaceful country with no law and order problem” shows Australian prime minister’s closing of eyes, ears and mouth to see, hear or speak the truths.
This is unbecoming and unworthy for the Office of P.M. Australian government has committed for the following crimes against the refugees
1) Detention of refugees in the camps of another country without basic facilities
2) Keeping the refugees in camps indefinitely with little or no processing, degrading ill treatment in the camps
3) Considering all refugees as unwanted persons
4) Failing to identify the genuine refugees from economic refugees
5) Committed international piracy by arresting, and detaining refugees who were sailing in international waters, falsely assuming they were bound for Australia, when they could have intended for another destination like New Zealand. As revealed in the latest detention of ISI refugees outside Australian sea limit
6) Ill-treating the refugees without supplying water etc. As one refugee commented “bottles were given to drink sea water while the dogs were fed with mineral water”
7) Australia has violated the human rights UN Refugee Conventions, C’wealth charter, and UN charter. No wonder they have found Sri Lanka as an ally in these violations. It is relevant to remind the Australian P.M. to follow the noble examples and precedents of Canadian Prime Minister’s exemplary conduct in handling the Tamil boat refugees in the past.
Mulroney, a former Prime Minister, accepted the Tamil refugees travelling in a ship from UK. The present Prime Minister Stephen harper allowed the boat carrying Tamil refugees to land in Vancouver, Canada. While Canada gave protection and escort to the ship once it entered Canadian waters, Australian prime minister is preying on the lives and safety of refugees in international waters violating international laws and intending to send them back to Srilanka to face an uncertain life. Australia is widely condemned by all UN agencies and Human Rights groups for its high handed and inhuman acts. Australia has brushed aside these criticisms like Sri Lanka’s attitude to world opinion. If the present illegal approach is mandated in the election manifesto, and endorsed in the elections as the Australian pm defends, the honorable course of conduct open for Australia is to quit from Human Rights Council as well as withdrawing their endorsement of all conventions relating to refugees and their protection.
The recent visit of Australian foreign minister to Sri Lanka and hobnobbing with Sri Lankan war criminals while presenting two naval ships to monitor refugees is another slap to the human rights of refugees who are desperate to leave Srilanka’s killing, rape and torture fields. The foreign minister’s secret visit to the north to meet with the governor, another war criminal shows the depth of his tarnished commitment and loyalty to democratic ideals. The fact he deliberately chose to ignore and avoid the face to face meetings of traumatized and tormented civilian Tamils and the elected Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, is nothing but disgraceful but only adding insult to injury to the norms of democracy and decency and to the be-leagued northern Tamils.
Instead of gaining first-hand knowledge of the sorry state of affairs prevailing in the north and finding out the reasons for the Tamil youths to flee Sri Lanka, the foreign minister had only chosen to trim the branches while allowing the tree of grievances to exist and grow. Instead of speaking to the Rajapaksas to arrive at an honorable political settlement, for the sixty year old ethnic problem the Australian government has only encouraged the Rajapaksas to continue their racist policies to decimate the minorities, Tamils and Muslims alike.
Australia’s Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison’s recent statement, that some agencies are exploiting the issue of refugees, is nothing but a palpable lie with no grain of truth. He has either chosen to feign ignorance of is fully ignorant of the fact that Sri Lanka is fast reaching the final isolation stage ultimately becoming an international pariah state. Very recently Sri Lanka has been labelled as an unsafe country like Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan except for tourists who can go without visa. USA state dept. official has bracketed Sri Lanka with North Korea, Syria and Iran as countries which defy UN resolutions and chose confrontation.
If the recent violence unleashed against the innocent Muslims, their properties and mosque, is falling within the definition of a peaceful country as proclaimed by Australian prime minister surely he has sullied the image of Australia and its civilized people.
If the Australian Prime Minister is concerned about his electoral prospects at the expense of human rights and good governance, he will then stand at par with some dictatorial African rulers with a tainted conscience.
However, Australia’s unholy alliance with Sri Lanka will never go to cleanse the sins of Sri Lanka. On the contrary Australia will risk losing its good international image and losing good alliances like the proverb “bad companionship will culminate only in harmful consequences”
It is apt to conclude by quoting the opinion of international weekly, the Washington Post in its editorial in the issue of 13th July 2014;
“Australia is pursuing draconian measures to deter people without visas from entering the country by boat. In doing so, it is failing in its obligation under international accords to protect refugees fleeing persecution. As a signatory to the UN convention, Australia is legally obligated to grant anyone fleeing persecution and seeking asylum the right to enter the country. Boat people has provided politicians with an exploitable issue that does, its otherwise commendable record on refugees no good”
It is important to quote the new Australian Immigration Bill requires people to “prove that they have more than a 50 percent chance of being harmed if they return to their home country”. The current rule of “real chance of harm” is enough to qualify as a refugee is unjustifiably altered by Australia. How a person can attain the 50% harm is one that will be decided by the Immigration authorities and a person scoring 49 percent harm will be returned to face persecution in his own country. This is the scale of justice which is being roughed up by the Australian government which is measuring the life and death of a person on percentage basis and a one percent deficit deciding the fate of refugees.
*M.K. Eelaventhan – Former Member of Parliament – Sri Lanka and Member of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam Representing Canada