Dozens of NGOs call on Aus + Cwlth to act on SL

October 23, 2011 Comments Off on Dozens of NGOs call on Aus + Cwlth to act on SL

Australia and the Commonwealth must take action on Sri Lanka

On 20 October 2011, a coalition of leading human rights NGOs, including the Human Rights Law Centre, Human Rights Watch and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, sent an Open Letter to the Commonwealth Heads of Government [PDF] regarding the need to take urgent action on human rights in Sri Lanka at the forthcoming meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth.

The letter was written as further evidence emerges of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against Tamil civilians by Sri Lanka’s military, including systemic rape, murder and the targeting of hospitals and health care clinics.

Click here for the text of the letter.

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"Don't-ask, don't-tell no longer works with war crimes"

October 19, 2011 Comments Off on "Don't-ask, don't-tell no longer works with war crimes"

Opinion Editorial by Gordon Weiss

The Australian – Secrecy and denial are also war crimes

…Don’t-ask, don’t-tell no longer works with war crimes. The international community has become increasingly intolerant of governments solving their internal problems with impunity.

Ethical considerations aside, a secure and orderly global framework requires that international laws and treaties be respected, even when responding to an insurgency.

Yet Sri Lanka’s consistent response to allegations since the end of the war has been blanket denial. For years its envoys insisted their forces were not responsible for a single civilian death. As a result of pressure from emerging evidence, they now admit they may have been responsible for some civilian deaths, albeit unwittingly.

Australia has a duty, under our own laws and in accordance with our international legal obligations, to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Julia Gillard should join Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s public commitment and boycott next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting should Sri Lanka not satisfactorily account for the deaths of civilians. Incredibly, CHOGM 2013 is scheduled for Hambantota, Rajapaksa’s hometown.

Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka during the war, is the author of The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers

Young Aust. Lawyers' hard work on SL war crimes acknowledged

October 18, 2011 Comments Off on Young Aust. Lawyers' hard work on SL war crimes acknowledged

Lawyers Weekly – Young lawyers expose Sri Lankan atrocities

Two years of hard work by the New South Wales Young Lawyers (NSWYL) has culminated in the delivery of a brief to the Federal Government calling for investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka.

The NSWYL assisted the International Commission of Jurists Australia (ICJA) to prepare and submit a brief of evidence to the Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions last Friday (14 October).

The brief calls for an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sri Lanka during the final phase of the civil war.

“Many thousands of men, women and children were left injured, homeless and dead at the end of the civil war and justice must be afforded to those people,” said Daniel Petrushnko, president of the NSWYL.

“Those responsible for such atrocities need to be held to account. There will no peace in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world if international impunity for such crimes continues.”

Confidential copies of the brief have been provided to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd and Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

For the past two years, the NSWYL has worked jointly with the ICJ Australia to take witness statements from Sri Lankan Australians who bore witness to atrocities committed as the civil war drew to a close.

Petrushnko said the organisation is also calling on the Federal Government and Opposition to support calls for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Commonwealth at the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Perth from 28 to 30 October.

Yesterday (17 October) the president of the ICJA, John Dowd, refused to comment on whether the brief implicated Thisara Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia.

Samarasinghe was in command of the Sri Lankan navy in the north of the country in the final weeks of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers in early 2009. Samarasinghe told the ABC that the Sri Lankan navy only fired at terrorists and did not target civilians during the conflict.

Samarasinghe was appointed as the chief of the Sri Lankan navy after the conflict ended in July 2009 and retired from that position in January this year.

He took up his current role as the High Commissioner in May.

Canadian gov't + opposition show leadership on SL HR issues

October 16, 2011 Comments Off on Canadian gov't + opposition show leadership on SL HR issues

Montreal Gazette – Canada to press for Sri Lanka rights changes at Commonwealth meet

OTTAWA — Two weeks before a Commonwealth summit that could be marred by divisions on the issue, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pressing forward with demands that Sri Lanka show “progress” on accountability for alleged human-rights violations that occurred at the end of the civil war in 2009 with the Tamil Tigers.

Harper will bring his case to the upcoming Oct. 28-30 summit of leaders in Perth, Australia, and is saying that unless he is satisfied with the actions of Sri Lanka he will boycott the next biennial Commonwealth meeting, which is being held in that country.

“We do expect a discussion at the Commonwealth on this and the prime minister will make his position clear,” Harper’s associate director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, said in an interview Friday.

Moreover, MacDougall said the prime minister has not wavered from the concerns he outlined in a round table discussion he had a month ago with some Canadian ethnic media.

At that session, Harper was responding to questions about Canada’s stance on whether Sri Lanka should be permitted to host the next Commonwealth summit in 2013 and whether there should be an international investigation into allegations of human rights violations by the government.

In response, Harper was clear.

“I intend to make clear to my fellow leaders at the Commonwealth that if we do not see progress in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights and some of the issues that you raised, I will not as prime minister be attending that Commonwealth summit (in 2013),” he said.

“And I hope that others will take a similar position, but I hope that this will pressure the Sri Lankan government to take the appropriate actions. We are concerned about the situation.”

Harper said that Sri Lanka needs to “make progress” not only in terms of what it did to the Tamil Tigers, but also needs to show advances in the areas of “political reconciliation, democratic values and accountability.”

Furthermore, the prime minister said he supports calls for an international investigation of the issue in the wake of a report done by an expert panel earlier this year for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon which found “credible allegations” that government forces and the Tamil Tigers both committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the final months of the civil conflict.

Specifically, that report concluded there were credible allegations that the government killed civilians through “widespread shelling,” including at hospitals, that it denied humanitarian assistance and that it tried to silence the media and critics through intimidation tactics such as the use of white vans to abduct people who would then disappear.

The mounting evidence has not gone unnoticed in Ottawa, where Harper’s government — which has long been critical of the Tamil Tigers as terrorists — is now also demanding accountability from the Sri Lankan government itself.

“The prime minister’s comments from September stand,” MacDougall said Friday.

“That’s still his view — that there has to be progress in Sri Lanka.”

MacDougall noted that the 54-nation Commonwealth exists, in part, to “build support for democratic reform and the rule of law.”

“We want to see progress on these fronts and the prime minister has made that clear with respect to Sri Lanka. We’ll have the discussion in Australia.”

But on Friday, Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canada, Chitranganee Wagiswara, told Postmedia News that her country does not want the issue raised at the Commonwealth summit.

“In Perth, I think we don’t want any sort of division created. I think Canada doesn’t want that. It’s up to Canada to decide.”

Wagiswara said Commonwealth leaders already decided at their last summit, in 2009, that Sri Lanka would host the conference four years later.

“We don’t want the issue, the subject, re-opened. We feel that it is unfair to reopen that subject because it was already decided by the Commonwealth member states.”

She denied allegations that Sri Lanka committed human rights violations, stressing that the government was fighting a war against terrorism when it defeated the Tamil Tigers.

She said the report prepared for the UN secretary general is filled with “unsubstantiated allegations,” and that a “propaganda campaign” is now being circulated by Tamil Tigers which has influenced governments.

However, Harper appears to have the support of political critics and international organizations, and a critical question will be how other large Commonwealth countries such as Britain and Australia react when the discussion occurs at the upcoming summit.

NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere said her party believes an international investigation into the alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka is “essential.”

“It’s the only way we cannot allow impunity to stand and the only way to make sure that we have durable, sustainable peace.”

Moreover, she said she believes Harper is right to have it on the table at the meeting in Australia.

“The Commonwealth has played an important role, for example, in the case of South Africa,” said Laverdiere. “We’re not talking the same situation here, but we’re still talking about a very serious situation. And I think this is the kind of issue that the Commonwealth should address.”

John Argue, of Amnesty International, said his organization and other groups have long called for an international investigation into Sri Lanka. He said the country has rejected those pleas and has, instead, established a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission which will submit its report in mid-November.

But he said the review falls far short of what is needed.

“It doesn’t really investigate human rights violations.”

British journalist Derek Ingram, widely regarded as the world’s leading scholar on the Commonwealth, said it is unusual for a situation to arise where the leaders are faced with a tough debate over the proper venue for the next summit.

Still, he said they won’t be able to avoid the issue by putting off the thorny discussion.

“They have to decide at this summit the venue of the next summit,” said Ingram.

Media coverage of Greens Roundtable on SL War Crimes

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on Media coverage of Greens Roundtable on SL War Crimes

BBC – Pressure mounts for international investigation

Australia’s Green Party has called upon the Australian government to suspend Sri Lanka from the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Perth next month.

A resolution was passed by the party on Tuesday at a meeting held at parliament house.

The Green Party calling for suspension says that Sri Lanka has defiantly refused to hold an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed during the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

It also accuses Sri Lanka of breaching its commitment to the Commonwealth’s values and principles.

Sri Lanka has been endorsed as the host for the CHOGM meeting to be held in 2013 and the Green Party calls upon the Australian government to boycott it as well…

SBS Radio – Call for Commonwealth action against Sri Lanka

Human rights groups and the Greens are calling for punitive action against Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth.

Human rights groups and the Greens are calling for punitive action against Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth.

It’s a bid to force a full investigation into war crimes allegations against both Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels at the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

The International Commission of Jurists is one of the groups making the call, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth next month.

The Commission’s Australian President John Dowd told Clare Atkinson that the Commonwealth should suspend Sri Lanka from participation in some of the organisation’s activities.

AAP – Sri Lankan envoy hits back at Greens

Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Canberra has hit back angrily at an Australian Greens-led group demanding a war crimes investigation of his government.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon on Tuesday hosted a roundtable meeting of academics and activists who want Prime Minister Julia Gillard to throw her weight behind international calls for an independent war crimes tribunal to investigate Sri Lanka.

The roundtable’s participants called for Sri Lanka’s suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth and warned they may try to disrupt Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Perth for next month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)…

TamilNet – Australian Senator calls for suspension of Sri Lanka from CHOGM

In a roundtable discussion led by Australia’s Green Party Senator from New South Wales, Lee Rhiannon, the party passed a resolution calling upon the Australian government to suspend Sri Lanka from the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Perth next month and to Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth because it is resisting setting up a tribunal to investigate war crimes.. The Green Party accused Sri Lanka for refusing to hold an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed during the final stages of the civil war in 2009 and for breaching the commitment to the Commonwealth’s values and principles.

ABC Radio News – Suspend Sri Lanka, say Australian Greens

A senator from the Australian Greens says her party is calling for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth because it is resisting setting up a tribunal to investigate war crimes.

The Greens say they plan to hold a meeting of legal experts and community leaders to discuss how to build on growing international support for a tribunal to look into the deaths of 40,000 Tamils in 2009.

Senator Lee Rhiannon says the British and Canadian governments and the US Senate have joined the call for an independent tribunal.

“The voice missing here is the Australian Government,” she said.

“I’ve heard today (Tuesday) that the United Nations is waiting to hear from Australia.”

The Australian – Greens call for suspension of Sri Lanka from Commonwealth

AUSTRALIA’S Greens will launch the first major challenge to Sri Lanka’s Commonwealth membership today when the party calls for its suspension pending a full investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in the final months of the country’s civil war.

The campaign to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth kicks off tomorrow with a roundtable meeting of human rights activists and jurists involved in collecting evidence for an international war crimes probe to discuss ways of building popular support for the move.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would lobby for a boycott of the proposed Sri Lanka-hosted Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013 unless it could prove significant progress on human rights. Australia hosts the next CHOGM in Perth late next month.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said given the international momentum behind the push for a war crimes probe, she was hopeful of building bipartisan political support for Sri Lanka’s suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth…

Kick SL out of Councils of Cwlth – Aust. Greens Party

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on Kick SL out of Councils of Cwlth – Aust. Greens Party

Sri Lanka should be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth, says roundtable
Posted on 20. Sep, 2011

A round table held at Federal Parliament today resolved to call for a suspension of Sri Lanka from the Councils of the Commonwealth pending an international independent investigation into war crimes (see backgrounder below). This is the first time that groups in Australia have publicly made this call.

Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon said: “Sri Lanka will continue to be the elephant in the room in Commonwealth forums until allegations of war crimes and discrimination are independently investigated and addressed.

“Last week Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the bar for Commonwealth leaders to follow in questioning whether Sri Lanka should continue to host the 2013 CHOGM meeting unless it can prove it has made progress on investigating alleged war crimes.

“With CHOGM shortly to be held in Perth the Australian government needs to add its voice and ensure that all Commonwealth nations uphold principles of human rights and the rule of law”, said Senator Rhiannon.

The Hon John Dowd said: “It would be a disgrace to the whole Commonwealth if CHOGM were to be held in Sri Lanka prior to Sri Lanka dealing with the war crimes committed there.

“There will be no justice for the people of Sri Lanka or solution to the problems unless the crimes committed on both sides are dealt with.

“The Commonwealth must suspend Sri Lanka from its membership. Failure to do so will mean all members condone the recent history of Sri Lanka” said Mr Dowd.

Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress said: “The Sri Lankan regime needs to know that perpetrators of war crimes cannot simply continue to evade accountability with impunity, and deny justice to their victims.

“A tribunal for the Tamil killing field should be turned into a global symbol of deterrence for other authoritarian regimes willing to kill their own civilians. Without a tribunal, the Tamil killing field becomes a horrific precedent suggesting that in our era, states can escape unscathed for egregious violations of human rights law.

“Suspending Sri Lanka will send a strong unambiguous message to Sri Lanka: as long as you continue to obstruct an international independent inquiry into war crimes you will face consequences”, said Dr Pari.

The roundtable resolved the following:

We call on the Australian Government and the Federal Opposition to:

1. Support calls for Sri Lanka to be suspended 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 the implementation of all of the recommendations of the UN Expert Panel Report on War Crimes in Sri Lanka. Failing that event occurring within a reasonable time that steps be instituted to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.

2. Oppose Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM in 2013.

We call on the Prime Minister Julia Gillard to follow the lead of Canadian President Stephen Harper in saying he will not attend CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 if there is no progress in Sri Lanka’s human rights and the establishment of an independent investigation into war crimes.

The round table, hosted by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, looked at furthering the call for an independent war crimes tribunal for Sri Lanka. Participants 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 Brisbane); Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Contacts: Lee Rhiannon 0487 350 880; John Dowd 0439 625 007; Sam Pari 0433 428 967; Jake Lynch 0420 980 010; Peter Arndt 0409 265 476

Aust. Greens further call for SL war crimes tribunal

September 14, 2011 Comments Off on Aust. Greens further call for SL war crimes tribunal

MEDIA ALERT – 14 September 2011

Greens to host round table to further call for War Crimes Tribunal for Sri Lanka

What: Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon will host a round table at Parliament House on ‘Furthering the call for an Independent War Crimes Tribunal for Sri Lanka’. The round table will be a closed door meeting, with a press conference following.
When: Press conference at 12.30pm Tuesday 20 September, following the round table
Where: Senate courtyard
Who: Participants in the round table include:
* The Hon John Dowd AO QC, President of International Commission of Jurists Australia and former NSW Attorney General and Supreme Court judge
* Gordon Weiss, UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka during the final months of the civil war
* Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress
* Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at The University of Sydney
* Dr Ben Saul, Professor of International Law and Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law at the University of Sydney
* Peter Arndt, Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Brisbane
* Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said:

“International momentum is growing for an independent investigation into allegations that war crimes were committed in the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war.

“British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the US Senate have all supported calls for an independent investigation.

“The upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, which will be attended by the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is an important opportunity to further the call and I look forward to discussions at the round table”, Senator Rhiannon said.

For comment: 0487 350 880.

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