The Abbott government is wilfully ignoring human rights abuses in Sri Lanka to help his “stop the boats” policy, according to a Brisbane Catholic justice advocate.
The executive officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Peter Arndt, after returning from a visit to Sri Lanka last month, said that he saw unmistakable evidence of the Tamil population being terrorised and persecuted by the Sri Lankan government.
“It is outrageous that Mr Abbott is prepared to ignore the suffering and fear which is rife in the north of Sri Lanka in order to keep his commitment to stop the boats,” Arndt said.
“I wish Mr Abbott could meet with the women I met whose husbands and sons have been detained, tortured and, in some cases, killed over the last four years. I wish he could have heard the pain in their voices and seen their tears.
“The systematic way in which Tamil men are being arrested and detained indefinitely looks suspiciously like ethnic-cleansing to me.”
Arndt, who was a part of a group of 35 Catholic justice and peace workers from the Asia-Pacific region who toured the north and east of Sri Lanka, believes the Abbott government would be giving his assent to the terror by attending CHOGM in Colombo next month.
“It is also deeply disturbing that he will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka this November and, in so doing, give tacit approval to the on-going human rights abuses in that country,” he said.
Arndt said the Abbott government was keen to present Sri Lanka as having returned to peace and tranquility for all after the end of the civil war in 2009 in order to get help from the ruling Rajapaksa regime to stop Tamil asylum seekers coming to Australia.
“Both the former Labor government and the new Coalition government were quick to claim that everything has returned to normal in Sri Lanka so they can curry favour with the Sri Lankan government and keep returning Sri Lankan asylum seekers,” he said.
“My personal encounters with Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka have convinced me that the situation for Tamils and critics of the Sri Lankan government is extremely difficult.
“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Sri Lanka a week before me and came to the same conclusion.
“How can Mr Abbott, (Immigration Minister) Mr Morrison and (Foreign Minister) Mrs Bishop say things are going well in Sri Lanka when respected figures like Ms Pillay and the Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Bishop Reyappu Joseph, still speak out about the on-going repression and violence in the north?
“How can they, in good conscience, send Sri Lankan Tamils back home when they know that many people continue to be forcibly disappeared, many are still being detained indefinitely and tortured, and public figures like Bishop [Rayappu] Joseph are being threatened and harassed by the authorities for their public criticisms of the Sri Lankan government’s human rights’ abuses?
“Australia must take a strong stand in support of human rights in Sri Lanka and must treat asylum seekers fairly and generously.”
The major focus of the trip was a gathering in Kandy, Sri Lanka, of representatives from 16 countries at the ninth meeting of the Asia-Pacific Forum of Justice and Peace Workers.
In a statement, the forum said: “The JPWs spent a significant amount of time to learn about the situation of the peoples in Sri Lanka, four years after the war. It was not enough to understand the complexities but what they saw and heard and reflected on underscores a human rights situation that is urgent and burning.
“Some of the participants had their encounter in Mullaitivu district, where the last phase of the war was fought, where there is little improvement, little livelihood opportunities and much fear, mourning and grieving for loved ones killed. Healing is more difficult as the killings are not officially acknowledged and no memorials and monuments are allowed by the government.
“The encounters give a face to the oft-reported alleged militarisation, Sinhalisation and the blatant disregard of the government for basic human rights in Sri Lanka, especially in the north.”
The forum also agreed to send a letter to Cardinal Ranjith, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka “to share their experiences and reflections” with the bishops.
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