ASIO wears pants on refugees, not Govt

January 14, 2010 Comments Off on ASIO wears pants on refugees, not Govt

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Crikey – ASIO, not the government, calling the shots on refugees

by Jeff Sparrow

So ASIO says that five of the unfortunates from the Oceanic Viking constitute a threat to national security.

What have they done? ASIO won’t say. What’s the evidence against them? It’s secret.

It beggars belief that, in the year 2010, ASIO can still behave like this.

After all, there’s plenty of past examples of ASIO’s handiwork available in the national archives: yellowing files permeated with arbitrary and capricious judgements by unaccountable people. For the most part, the dossiers are like student cookery: anything on hand simply got thrown in. More

Crikey sets sights on SPUR

October 20, 2009 Comments Off on Crikey sets sights on SPUR

Crikey : Bolt’s one-sided scepticism on Tamil asylum seekers

Andrew Bolt regurgitates a press release from SPUR Australia, which raises doubts about whether the boat people detained in Indonesian waters are genuine refugees. I hadn’t heard of the group before, so I went for a look at their web site. I recommend that others do the same.

While I don’t want to unfairly condemn the group and hope it genuinely aspires to the goals in its name (peace, unity and human rights), a cursory review of the web site makes clear that they take a particular perspective toward the situation in Sri Lanka. Their previous media releases include statements such as this:

Feral human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, who are deaf and dumb when it comes to atrocities committed by the Allied Forces on Afghans but vociferous when it comes to IDP conditions in democratic Sri Lanka, have also joined in the fray looking for its own pound of flesh or the pint of blood.

Aside from being wrong about Afghanistan, they seem to be endorsing a view that the international community is unfairly scrutinising the actions of the Sri Lankan government and military during their conflict with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). According to the statements on their site, SPUR views this unwarranted intrusion and criticism as coming not only from human rights groups and European nations but the (hypocritical) United States of America. The site’s inclusion of links to news stories such as this one serves to reinforce that impression. Their FAQ list seems to deny or minimise any claims of discrimination or disadvantage for Tamils in Sri Lanka and seeks to paint the issue as being purely about the LTTE seeking to carve out a piece of the nation for themselves.

This view is disputed by many. Human Rights Watch has monitored and documented the situation in Sri Lanka, including raising questions about evidence suggesting war crimes by the military along with the ongoing detention of civilians. Jeff Sparrow’s recent article for Crikey (with follow-up commentary by Andrew Bartlett), and New Matilda’s publication of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s self-penned obituary, provide additional grounds for scepticism of those claims.

I find myself wondering – did Andrew Bolt fail to review the general perspective and arguments of the group whose media release he published? If nothing else, I would have thought that the anti-American sentiment and the criticism of military interventions he has supported in Iraq and Afghanistan would give him cause for concern. Or, was he aware of the group’s apparent minimisation of any human rights concerns for Sri Lankan Tamils but happy to publish it because implying that we’re being inundated with fake refugees suits his “strong borders” argument against the Rudd government?

ELSEWHERE: On the topic of asylum seekers, Possum has looked at the push vs pull factors argument and finds that (irrespective of policy changes) our boat arrivals correlate strongly with changes in asylum applications outside Australia.

UPDATE: On today’s PM, the Sri Lankan high commissioner to Australia called them “bogus asylum seekers” – claiming the accents spoken by two of the asylum seekers indicate they have not been living in Sri Lanka, but also asserting that “They are claiming that there is persecution and discrimination in Sri Lanka which are absolutely false, baseless allegations.”

1000 people have died in the camps

September 30, 2009 § 1 Comment

Crikey : Sri Lanka and its Manik approach to human rights

Overland editor Jeff Sparrow writes:

In what’s surely one of the more remarkable fact-finding missions in recent years, Sri Lanka’s attorney-general Mohan Peiris is heading to Washington for meetings with the US defence establishment. His goal? Learning to emulate the US’ treatment of captured Islamic militants!

Now, there’s not too many contexts in which anyone would point to Guantanamo Bay and say, gosh, we’d like one of those. Then again, there’s not too many nations that currently keep a quarter of a million people detained indefinitely in camps.

In Sri Lanka, an appalling human rights tragedy continues to play out. After the wake of the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers (an organisation undoubtedly responsible for its own atrocities), 250,000 Tamils have been herded into detention. Here’s how the Guardian describes one such internment facility:

“The camp, say former inhabitants, is packed, with two or three families sharing a tent or tin shack. There are complaints of stinking, overflowing toilets, water shortages and inadequate healthcare. Journalists are rarely given access and those inside Manik Farm are not allowed to cross its fortified perimeter.”

Click here to read article

Video shatters polite silence in Sri Lanka’s civil war

September 3, 2009 Comments Off on Video shatters polite silence in Sri Lanka’s civil war

Crikey – Video shatters polite silence in Sri Lanka’s civil war

by Jeff Sparrow

Earlier this the year, Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war culminated in the military destruction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a hideous gotterdammerung in the islands’ north-east.

For the most part, the world discreetly hid its eyes from exactly what took place, an evasion made easier by the Tigers’ own unlovely history (suicide bombings, cult of personality, etc). Last week, however, Britain’s Channel Four shattered that polite silence by screening a particularly ghastly video (warning: it’s NSFW  — or anywhere else for that matter), purportedly taken during the war’s final stages.

The clip shows a naked man, hands tied behind his back. He’s thrown to the ground in what seems like a jungle clearing. A second figure dressed in Sri Lankan military uniform gives the prisoner a final kick and then fires an assault rifle into his head. As the body slumps, there’s a giggle. “It’s like he jumped,” says a voice. The camera pans, revealing a landscape strewn with corpses: most of them naked, all of them bound. Later, a second man is dragged out. He, too, is shot.

According to Channel Four, the footage came from the exile group, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. JDS says the clip, filmed on a mobile phone in January during the battle for the LTTE’s capital Kilinochchi, had been circulating amongst soldiers, a grisly digital souvenir.

For its part, the Sri Lankan government has denounced the footage as fraudulent. The Tigers often dressed in army uniforms, explained military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara. Why, they probably made the clip themselves.

Well, it’s a theory. But does the brigadier encourage journalists to investigate, to clear up the imposture? No, not so much. In fact, yesterday, the Sri Lankan high court sentenced prominent editor JS Tissainayagam to 20 years hard labour. Tissainayagam, among other sins, had published details of war time atrocities  — and, in many respects, he got off lightly. The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders lists Sri Lanka as the country in which media employees are most likely to disappear. That, incidentally, explains Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka: not a Tamil group but an organisation made up of some of the many journalists forced to flee for their lives.

Despite the government’s phoned-in denial, the massacre footage seems authentic precisely because it’s so uncinematic, so understated. There’s no great explosions, no gouts of blood, just one group of young men systematically and unhurriedly murdering another. The childishness of the soldiers (in bumpkin Sinhala, they play out the game “kurupiti gahanawa wage” —  “Your Turn, My Turn”  — as they kill) recalls other battlefield atrocities from other conflicts, where banality and routine normalises the unspeakable and steadies the executioners. The victims’ empty expressions, the rubberiness of their limbs: you can see something similar in the few surviving photos of the Einsatzgruppen in Poland, in which the process of mass slaughter seems to reduce its victims almost to automatons even before any shots are fired.

As for the circulation of a video, that’s a recent technological innovation in group violence, popularised only over the past decade or so. You’ll recall that someone captured Saddam’s last moments on a cellular phone, that, in Iraq, US soldiers regularly swapped combat footage until their commanders cracked down on the practice. Sharing the moments of death bonds the perpetrators and dissolves their responsibility, with any lingering unease diffused among everyone who approvingly nods along to the atrocity.

In any case, the most obvious reason to think the JDS footage authentic is that there’s so much other evidence suggesting that terrible things took place in the war’s final phases. With the Tigers confined to a shrinking scrap of jungle, the Sri Lankan government launched a full-scale assault, using mortars and artillery. The conflict zone at that time contained hundreds of thousands of ordinary people but the same military mouthpieces that so airily dismiss the massacre clip assured the world that no innocents were killed. By contrast, a Times investigation put the toll at about 20,000.

And still the abuses continue. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in militarised detention centres, where they lack proper sanitation and medical care, and where the few external observers reliably report ongoing intimidation and abuse. When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited camps in May, he said: “I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scene I have seen.”

In some ways, the worst thing about watching that JDS clip is the despairing sense that it will change nothing. In the wake of atrocity, we’ve all heard the Sri Lankan rhetorical style, time after time  — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Gaza. These days, such things can simply be brazened out. On the one hand, there’s blackened bodies and witness testimony and video evidence; on the other, there’s a square-jawed military man on the TV, saying, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Cruelty and abuses spread like viruses, with the standards set by the wealthier nations impacting disproportionately on the earth’s wretched. To put things bluntly, if the urbane and sophisticated Barack Obama, liberalism’s shining knight, won’t punish his employees for torture (as well as the waterboarding and the stress positions and the sleep deprivation, the CIA, we now learn, threatened detainees with mock executions, power drills and sexual assault), why should anyone expect Sri Lanka, an impoverished Third World Government grappling with a savage war, to investigate extrajudicial killings? Amnesty and similar bodies can produce as many reports about the internment camps as they like but after nearly a decade of politicians from Great Britain, the United States and, yes, Australia routinely dismissing the “rights agenda” as shrill and hysterical on Guantanamo or Bagram or refugees or anything much else, there’s very little in the way of political repercussions if Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara simply shrugs his epauletted shoulders at a massacre or two.

So that, unfortunately, is where we’re at, a decade into the 21st century: a jungle clearing, a scattering of bodies — and, almost certainly, no consequences whatsoever.

Breeding the next Sri Lankan insurgency behind razor wire

May 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

In today’s crikey…

Jeff Sparrow, editor of Overland writes:
The connections between Wars on Terror around the globe have only become more intense now that the Sri Lankan military has so thoroughly crushed the Tigers. In the past, the consensus held that internal rebellions, even — or perhaps especially — those with a reputation for brutality would only subside when their legitimate grievances were assuaged. You couldn’t, the theorists agreed, simply kill your way to peace.

Now, apparently, you can.
Read more here.

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