Diplomats paint one-sided picture of Sri Lanka
A Sri Lankan man waves his national flag in central Colombo. Photo: David Gray
Writing in the Weekend Australian on December 15-16, the Sri Lankan consul-general in Sydney, Bandula Jayasekara, gives a very one-sided defence of the Sri Lankan persecution of dissenters, including Tamils. It is interesting that Jayasekara is being put forward as the Sri Lankan representative in Australia to defend the indefensible, an acknowledgement that the Sri Lankan high commissioner, Thisara Samarasinghe, has singularly failed to get his message across.
Jayasekara begins by saying, ''There is a misconception among some Australians regarding the issue of Sri Lankan asylum seekers because of a misinformation campaign carried out by parties with vested interests.'' Australians are quite used to weighing the facts, they saw through the propaganda of the South African apartheid regime, the lies over East Timor and weapons of mass destruction and it is only a matter of time before the truth will out on the treatment of Tamils and the political enemies of the corrupt Rajapaksa regime.
The Sri Lankan flag has a sword-bearing Sinhalese lion. Attempts, after independence, to adopt a flag with neutral symbols were rejected by the Sinhalese majority. Instead two ribbons were added to represent minority Tamils and Muslims. With the advent of the civil war the Tamils adopted a tiger as their symbol and the Sinhalese army, the lion.
Jayasekara would have us believe that Tamils fought (as terrorists) to divide Sri Lanka. What he conveniently fails to mention is that what occurred was a civil war fought because the Sinhalese refused to share power on the departure of the British. Tamil protest eventually turned Sinhalese exclusionary policies into genocide, which erupted in a blood bath in Colombo in 1983.
Many fled to the north and were subsequently forced to defend themselves from the army. The Sinhalese fear and hate the Tamils, hence the belief that Tamils are reorganising overseas for another civil war. It may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the Sinhalese continue to deny their rights.
Jayasekara makes a series of unsubstantiated claims, among them that the ''pro-LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) lobby wants to enter Australia, having penetrated into Canada and Britain. Its long term plan is to have a voice in Australian politics, so as to lobby and tilt the balance in its favour … it believes it is important to create that base in Australia …'' Jayasekara does not say what the LTTE hopes to gain by doing this.
He claims that, ''As the former consul general to Toronto in Canada, I have experienced first-hand how these groups interrupted the daily lives of Canadians with their violent methods'' and they ''may breed terrorism on Australian soil''. Perhaps he might like to detail the harassment of Tamils in Australia by Sinhalese, some of them security operatives. He claims LTTE groups control people smuggling operations for profit. I would have thought that if they are operating out of Sri Lanka they would be well and truly behind bars by now.
What Jayasakera does not mention is Sri Lanka's appalling human rights record, where young Tamils have been abducted and murdered. Forty Sri Lankan journalists have been murdered over the past 10 years for reporting state-sponsored corruption and abuse of human rights.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs is well aware of the nature of government in Sri Lanka. However the Australian government has been prepared to gloss over these abuses and in its own treatment of Tamil asylum seekers has now transgressed accepted human rights.
In September 2012, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, warned that he may refuse to attend the November 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, unless the Rajapaksa government addresses allegations of Sinhalese atrocities during the closing stages of the civil war.
In a matter continuing while the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, was in Colombo over the weekend of December 15-16, Canadian senator Hugh Segal and the Commonwealth Secretariat in London expressed grave concern at the impending impeachment of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Shirani Bandaranayake.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth Legal Education Association and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association issued a statement saying, in part, ''By virtue of its membership of the Commonwealth, Sri Lanka is committed to the shared fundamental principles, at the core of which is a shared belief in and adherence to democratic principles including an independent judiciary … The consistent and serious violation of these could well result in a country's membership being questioned.''
In early December the Indian newspaper The Hindu said that ''Just 19 months after Bandaranayake was appointed … the fate of the 43rd chief justice appeared to have been sealed following a ruling she gave to a bill introduced in Parliament by the Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapaska, one of the many presidential siblings controlling the levers of power.
''In early November, when 117 parliamentarians handed over an impeachment motion against the chief justice to the Speaker of the legislature (Chamal Rajapaksa, another sibling), the process that followed affirmed how heavy were the odds stacked against Bandaranayake.'' The Hindu noted that such was the haste that due process and legal consistency had been given the flick and the government controlled media had already judged the chief justice guilty.
Jayasekara seeks to deceive because, with hubris and ignorance, he thinks we know little beyond what he writes. He should take pause and think again.
>> Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Sri Lanka and on the Refugee Review Tribunal.