October 18, 2011 Comments Off on Aust. survivor of Mullivaikkal massacre recalls war crimes committed by SL
Listen to an Australian citizen who survived the Sri Lanka’s genocide of the Tamil people in 2009
ABC TV 7.30 Report – Sri Lankan president under investigation
April 5, 2011 Comments Off on Pursuing Palitha Kohona for war crimes
Recent reports of an Australian/Sri Lankan citizen’s alleged involved in the commission of war crimes at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war raise once again questions about where Australia stands on the question of war crimes allegedly committed either by its citizens or by people who now live in this country.
Palitha Kohona, a dual citizen of Australia and Sri Lanka, has been accused of assisting in organising the alleged murders of three surrendering Tamil Tigers in 2009. In January, two Tamil organisations operating outside Sri Lanka — the Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils and a US group called Tamils Against Genocide — submitted a request to investigate Kohona for the murder of three surrendering Tamil Tigers to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Kohuna is said to have been prominent in negotiating the surrender of the victims while serving in the Sri Lankan government, but has denied any involvement in the alleged event. He is now Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Kohona is not just an Australian citizen; he was also employed, according to Hansard, as a senior official with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The allegations of his involvement in war crimes, therefore, come as an added embarrassment to the Australian government.
Looking at the submission from the Tamil groups to the ICC prosecutor, the factual case itself has problems and complexities. Areas untested before the ICC relating to certain kinds of criminal participation raise question marks, even were the prosecutor prepared to investigate and seek Kohona’s prosecution.
However, substantive legal matters aside, the prosecutor is highly unlikely to investigate a case in which three surrendering combatants were believed to have been killed. The prosecutor’s office receives many such submissions and requests, only a fraction of which can, and will, ever be investigated — even fewer will be prosecuted. This is because of its policy of prosecuting only the gravest of crimes, and only then when other limiting factors are satisfied.
Which brings consideration of this case back to Australia and the interest — if any — of Australian authorities in either prosecuting or facilitating the prosecution of Kohona for war crimes.
Sri Lanka is not a party to the statute of the ICC and the court has no jurisdiction over its citizens or crimes committed on its territory, unless the United Nations Security Council authorises it. One exception to this limitation is where a perpetrator is a citizen of a country that has ratified the court’s statute. The Tamil groups’ submission to the ICC states that Australia, as a signatory to the court’s statute, has an obligation to assist such an investigation.
Australia is indeed obliged either to prosecute or extradite to the ICC a person who falls under the court’s jurisdiction. So far the only response from the government is a general statement that it will support any action by the court. There is no suggestion that the government might itself consider seeking the extradition of Kohona back to Australia for investigation or prosecution here — either under the Commonwealth criminal code or the Geneva Conventions Act.
This is understandable for several reasons. For a start, the facts in relation to Kohona’s involvement are vague, there is only, at this stage, the suggestion of an anonymous witness who can put him in the picture and, as a serving ambassador of Sri Lanka, he may be entitled to diplomatic immunity (although where war crimes are concerned, and because he is an ambassador and not a minister, this argument is challengeable).
But beyond that, since the trials of three accused Nazi war criminals living in Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s Australia has been reluctant to engage in investigating and prosecuting alleged war criminals even where they reside under our noses — let alone where we would have to seek their extradition in such a challenging legal and political environment.
Take the recent case of Dragan Vasiljkovic, the Australian Croatian Serb finally sent to Croatia to face war crimes prosecution only after the High Court ordered his extradition (and after Australian Federal Police managed to recover him from hiding in New South Wales). There was a strong case for us prosecuting Vasiljkovic, an Australian citizen, under the Geneva Conventions Act, but this appears never to have been seriously considered.
In other cases, we have been prepared to facilitate extradition but never to prosecute ourselves. While our legislative framework certainly renders some of these cases complex, the reluctance goes far beyond purely legal considerations. We have a great anxiety about the resources involved in such prosecutions and an even greater anxiety that the Australian public does not really support prosecuting people who committed crimes — even war crimes — in other countries.
While Kohona’s case is far from a great example of our reticence in this area, it highlights just how far we are as a country from taking our place as good international citizens; from talking seriously about what to do about alleged war criminals residing within our community, and from having an evolved policy on how to deal with them.
Dr Gideon Boas is an associate professor in the Monash University Law School and was a senior legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
March 6, 2011 Comments Off on Merak Tamils get refugee status
A large of group of Tamil asylum seekers intercepted in 2009 by Indonesian authorities following a call from Kevin Rudd have been released after gaining refugee status.
At least 10 of the group who were aboard a boat carrying 254 asylum seekers on their way to Australia were released from detention on Friday with more to be let go in the coming weeks.
January 25, 2011 Comments Off on ATC in the media
ABC Radio Asia Pacific Program – Abuse concerns over Sri Lanka envoy nominee
There is pressure on Australia to reject Sri Lanka’s nominee for its top diplomatic post in Australia because the candidate could be implicated in war crimes during the 2009 offensive that ended the war with Tamil separatists. Neither Sri Lanka’s high commission in Canberra nor the Australian government will discuss the issue. But Sri Lankan news reports say the nominee is the former head of Sri Lanka’s navy, Thisara Samarasinghe. Observers are concerned – this comes at the same time as Sri Lanka’s government has cut off direct talks with a United Nations panel on accountability for war crimes on both sides.
Presenter: Linda Mottram, Canberra correspondent
Speakers: Sam Pari, spokeswoman, Australian Tamil Congress; John Dowd QC, president, International Commission of Jurists (Australia); Bruce Haig, former Australian diplomat
Australia Network News – Envoy anger
ABC Radio Australia News – Sri Lankan admiral in Australian storm
The Age – Concern over Sri Lankan envoy
Canberra Times – War crimes cloud over envoy choice
January 25, 2011 Comments Off on Will Aust give diplomatic immunity to an alleged war criminal?
The Age – Concern over Sri Lankan envoy
AUSTRALIA is under pressure to reject Sri Lanka’s choice of a senior military commander as its next top envoy in Canberra over a war crimes controversy dating from Sri Lanka’s grisly civil war with Tamil separatists.
Former Sri Lankan navy chief Thisara Samarasinghe has reportedly been nominated to fill the vacant position of high commissioner to Australia.
But The Age understands the Foreign Affairs Department – which must decide if it will accept the nomination – sees the appointment as ”problematic” for Australia amid calls for a United Nations investigation into human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
No specific allegation of war crimes arising from the conflict have been made against Vice-Admiral Samarasinghe, who took over as chief of the Sri Lankan Navy in July 2009 after the end of the civil war.
But Tamil community leaders in Australia have demanded that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd reject the nomination in protest at Sri Lanka’s refusal to allow an international war crimes tribunal.
Plans to send another senior military commander as Sri Lanka’s envoy to Britain were reportedly scotched by Colombo after protests in London.
”It clearly shows that Sri Lanka is slowly becoming a military state,” said Sam Pari of the Australian Tamil Congress. ”Their diplomatic posts are being taken over by military or former military personnel and I think that’s a very, very worrying sign.”
The Foreign Affairs department and the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra both declined to discuss the nomination.
The bitter 26-year conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – who demanded a homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority – ended in May 2009 after government troops finally crushed the insurgents.
Thousands of civilians were trapped inside a military cordon in the island nation’s north-east in the closing phase of the conflict as government troops hemmed in remnants of the militants and pounded the area with heavy artillery, mortars and combat aircraft.
Aid groups complained that Sri Lankan forces deliberately targeted civilians during the fighting, especially in the province of Mullaitivu, while the government accused the Tamil Tigers of imprisoning locals for use as human shields.
UN estimates at the time put the civilian death toll at more than 6500 in the four months before Mullaitivu was finally overrun. About 300,000 Tamils were forced to flee the violence to emergency camps.
The fighting sparked the 2009 exodus of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, many of them later attempting to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia.
Admiral Samarasinghe commanded operations in the country’s eastern and northern waters during the final three years of the fighting. Earlier, he was a base commander on the Jaffna peninsula, a one-time Tiger stronghold.
He retired from the navy 10 days ago and Sri Lankan media report he is expected to be Colombo’s next representative in Canberra, following the departure of the previous high commissioner in December.
But former NSW Attorney-General and Supreme Court justice John Dowd – who is collecting evidence for the International Commission of Jurists to present to an eventual war crimes tribunal in Sri Lanka – said the nomination raised concerns.
”The nature of a war crime, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the person who fires the shot or gives the order,” he said. ”The person in charge can be responsible for a war crime and commit a war crime by not stopping it.
”It’s very difficult to see how anyone in a senior command position – army, navy or air force – is not going to have a likelihood of allegations of war crimes, and indeed evidence of war crimes.”
Mr Dowd said he had recorded stories of shelling of civilians from naval vessels offshore during the war in Sri Lanka.
It is not the first time a proposed appointment of an ex-military figure has complicated Australia’s ties with Sri Lanka. Retired general Janaka Perera’s posting to Australia in 2001 sparked local community protests but he remained as high commissioner until 2005.
Australia’s relations with Indonesia were also poisoned in 1995 after Canberra was forced to reject the nomination of a former Indonesian general, Herman Mantiri, who had earlier excused a military crackdown in occupied East Timor.
Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in recent weeks show the US believes a war crimes tribunal in Sri Lanka will not occur as President Mahinda Rajapaksa bears much of the responsibility for the abuses.
The civil war in Sri Lanka is thought to have cost up to 100,000 lives.
December 31, 2010 Comments Off on Amnesty concerned for fate of 10 Tamils rejected by ASIO
The Australian (31/12) – Amnesty pleads for Tamil asylum-seekers left in limbo
TAMIL asylum-seekers given adverse security assessments by ASIO should not be repatriated to Sri Lanka, where they face persecution.
So said human rights watchdog Amnesty International yesterday.
Amnesty’s concern follows calls by the Refugee Council of Australia for the government to explain whether ASIO’s adverse assesssments against Tamil asylum-seekers is linked to advice from Sri Lankan military intelligence.
Refugee advocates are concerned about the fate of 10 Tamil refugees from the Oceanic Viking who are in limbo in emergency accommodation in Romania. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has upheld their claims for refugee status.
August 13, 2010 Comments Off on Australian Tamil Senate candidate writes…
ABC Unleashed – Reneging on our promise
…There is a simple reason for refugee migration patterns – it’s called survival. Men, women and children are risking their lives in the hands of people smugglers because they have no choice. As long as there is war, the threat of persecution, cultural and religious genocide, the boats will keep coming. But they are not many. About 2,000 boat people sought asylum in Australia in 2009. Compare this with the approximately 50,000 visa over stayers each year.
Australia is legally bound to provide protection for asylum seekers who meet the United Nations definition of a refugee, as defined in the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. This is not something to fear, this is something to be proud of. We have an opportunity in this country we are lucky to call our home to provide safety for people in this world that have had to endure and suffer a life many of us can’t even begin to understand or imagine…More
Brami Jegan is an Australian Tamil, a refugee advocate and Greens NSW Senate Candidate for NSW. She was involved in some of the discussions between the ABC journalists and those onboard the Oceanic Viking.