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.