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Australia resists pressure on Sri Lanka war crimes probe

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Reuters

The government is resisting a push by its closest allies to establish a United Nations investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

In the past 18 months, Australia has sent more than 1000 failed asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka. A draft UN resolution, obtained by Fairfax Media, calls on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct the probe into ''alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights'' in Sri Lanka.

This leaves open the possibility it could lead to prosecutions, including members of the current government.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, confirmed that Australia had not co-sponsored the resolution, and wanted a motion to reflect ''progress'' in ''reconstruction and rehabilitation'' in Sri Lanka.   

Australia has previously co-sponsored resolutions at the UN's Human Rights Council, expressing concern about Sri Lanka's record.

But it is thought to have exasperated the US, Canada, Britain and the European Union by not yet backing this one, which for the first time calls for an independent and comprehensive inquiry into the allegations.

The end of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009 was brutal, as the rebel Tamil Tigers were crushed by the Sinhalese majority government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who remains the country's leader. Sri Lanka's victorious security forces are accused of corralling civilians in no-fire zones and then launching artillery attacks, killing surrendering rivals, as well as the rape and torture of civilians.  

The Tigers are also accused of war crimes, including using human shields and the conscription of child soldiers.

The UN inquiry, set for a vote next week, would look at alleged atrocities by both sides.  

Ms Bishop said the government wanted to see a final text of the resolution before making a  decision about co-sponsoring the resolution, saying it was talking to its allies.  

Any inquiry could place Australia's policy of returning Sri Lankan asylum seekers in jeopardy. Such action is illegal in international law. 

Under a policy begun under the Rudd government, Sri Lankan asylum seekers are put through a separate and stricter process to prove they are refugees, denying them  legal advice and the right of appeal.

More than 1100 Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been returned, many forcibly, since October 2012, and the country's government boasts of stopping 4500 more leaving, in part due to intelligence, material and financial support from Australia, including two patrol boats given by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year. 

Sri Lanka's government  denies any abuses.

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30 comments

  • And in return Sri Lanka will block investigations into Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.
    Another broken promise = transparency.

    Commenter
    Bg2
    Date and time
    March 21, 2014, 7:10AM
    • We cannot have the truth....that would prove that they are not "illegal refugees" but "legal refugees". Stop the United Nations investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka!!!!!!!.........I know it's not a 3 word slogan......oh well, sorry Tony.

      Commenter
      Bazza
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 9:01AM
    • A more dispicable, cynical and reprehensible act of bastardry, being the deliberately blind eyed turning away from the reality of likely harm returned Sri Lankan asylum seekers are subject to, is hard to fathom. We used to be better than this. Rudd, Gillard and Abbott, not to forget Howard before them, have blood on their hands, and for what? Domestic political advantage. What a miserable, self serving bunch they are.
      All that is required is for people, no matter their origin, to have their claims to asylum assessed against the benchmark of the Convention on Refugess. If they do not qualify, they are returned. If they do, they never should be. It can be tantamount to murder. No political career or electoral advantage justifies aiding and abetting in the potential murder or torture of innocents. Ever.

      Commenter
      Warwick
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 11:13AM
    • how many has actually being harmed ? 0

      Commenter
      sri lankan
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 12:57PM
  • Prosecuting members of the Govt, now that I'd like to see. Surely it's time someone brought this draconian Govt to account. Rudd started this knee jerk reaction with our shameful recommencement of shocking treatment to vulnerable people and deserves to be answerable too.
    How did we ever get to this?
    Reading of Tri's walk from Melb to Canberra is inspirational and his message should be heeded.

    Commenter
    A country gal
    Date and time
    March 21, 2014, 7:21AM
    • ACG
      We got to this because John Howard realized there were votes in racism and bigotry. And Labor weren't going to let him keep that cake all for himself!

      Commenter
      rext
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 8:37AM
  • "Sri Lanka's government denies any abuses."
    Offshore members of the Liberal Party are they?

    Commenter
    rext
    Date and time
    March 21, 2014, 8:07AM
    • It must be hard when allies, particularly those with current conservative governments, are focusing on human rights abuse in Sri Lanka yet our government is not only disputing that (see Julie Bishops last two trips to Sri Lanka) but actually providing support for stopping people fleeing. Surely, as a nation, we would be better off supporting an investigation and be involved in ensuring its integrity so we can either have a basis for our policy towards assisting the current Sri Lankan government if the investigation was positive for them or stop providing assistance and potentially change the ALP initiated Tamil processing if the investigation results end up as expected by many people.

      Commenter
      ESCape
      Location
      Empathetic, Sustainable and Compassionate
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 8:15AM
      • 4 Crns should replay that shocking program they produced on Sri Lanka a couple of years ago. Their forces bombing and raiding makeshift hospitals, raping women and brutally murdering innocents. I still have some images from that program.

        Commenter
        A country gal
        Date and time
        March 21, 2014, 9:06AM
      • most of that so called footage has been discredited , as person who lived through the LTTE terror , let me tell you something , i can give 1000 images of such crimes committed by the LTTE...

        Commenter
        sri lankan
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        March 21, 2014, 1:01PM

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