SL HR issues continue to be discussed post CHOGM

November 8, 2011 Comments Off on SL HR issues continue to be discussed post CHOGM

The Australian Opinion Editorial – Commonwealth should unite on human rights

…The second important issue for the meeting concerned the civil war in Sri Lanka and whether the government and the Tamils had committed war crimes in the conflict’s final years. The question was virtually ignored. A UN Human Rights Commission report suggests substantial evidence of war crimes by the government and the Tamil Tigers, especially in the final two to three years of the conflict. A separate independent report by the International Crisis Group came to much the same conclusion. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to justify an international inquiry into the actions of both sides, potentially leading to indictments before the International Criminal Court.

But the Commonwealth leaders suggested the matter should be managed bilaterally, rather than by the organisation as a whole.

This failure to debate what happened in Sri Lanka may have consequences for the Commonwealth down the line. Indeed, several weeks ago Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke strongly against the lack of action in Sri Lanka, and indicated that if the next Commonwealth meeting were held there, as planned, he would not attend. He may not be the only leader to take such a stand when the time comes…

Malcolm Fraser was prime minister from 1975 to 1983.

SMH Opinion Editorial – Politics has no place when it comes to crimes against humanity

…Last week Attorney-General Robert McClelland halted the possibility of the arrest and charging of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and in my view undermined similar ”citizens arrests” of individuals against whom it could be said there is a prima facie case of crimes against humanity.

Over the course of the past two months not only Australia, but Canada and Britain have stymied the progress of such arrests. McClelland took less than 24 hours to refuse to allow charges to be filed against Rajapaksa despite the fact that the person laying the charges was Jegan Waran, a 63-year-old man who claimed to have direct evidence of war crimes being committed against the Tamil people during the country’s recent civil war.

McClelland says that Rajapaksa has diplomatic immunity. We don’t know whether there were other reasons but Australia does have an important relationship with Sri Lanka, on whom it depends for co-operation to stop asylum seekers leaving that country. That relationship may have had some impact on the decision.

While McClelland was busy with his red pen at the same time, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, Attorney-General Shirley Bond blocked a lawsuit, brought by the Canadian Centre for International Justice and the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which sought to prosecute former US president George Bush under Canada’s criminal law for crimes of torture allegedly committed during the Iraq War…

…It is doubtful that any of them would have prevented legal action against any senior member of the Gaddafi regime had they landed in their jurisdiction. That is why their actions smack of hypocrisy and blatant political self interest.

The prosecution of crimes against humanity, however, should never be subjected to a political interest test. If there is a prima face or arguable case against Bush, Rajapaksa or Israeli government officials then governments have no business in interfering to prevent the operation of the criminal law by the independent judicial system.

One global elder statesman who would be cheering McClelland on for his actions last week would be Henry Kissinger, an opponent of the idea of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. ”Universal jurisdiction risks creating universal tyranny – that of judges,” Kissinger wrote in 2001. And long may that remain the case.

Greg Barns is a barrister and National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

The Australian – CHOGM memorable but not meaningful

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