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Adjournment speech: Sri Lanka

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 6 Jun 2018

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:45): A number of Tamils and Muslims living in Sydney have approached me about ongoing violence that their communities in Sri Lanka are experiencing. In March this year—this is relevant; it is a story linking what is happening in Australia to what is going on in Sri Lanka—a Tamil asylum seeker family suddenly was whisked away from their home at dawn for deportation by Australian Border Force officers. The family had been living and working in Biloela in Queensland for about three years. The reports I received told me that they were very well liked and very much part of their community. A candlelight vigil was held to protest against their deportation.

The deportation of Tamil refugees from Australia back to Sri Lanka is now not uncommon. We do need to link it with what is going on in Sri Lanka, because the basis of these deportations is that the Sri Lankan government has assured the international community that all refugees are safe to return. That's a lie. It's a clear lie. Tamil refugees continue to be in grave danger of harassment, imprisonment and worse when they return. According to a report by Amnesty International, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was not repealed, despite repeated promises by the Sri Lankan government, and it continues to be used to detain and arrest Tamils suspected of links with the LTTE, often referred to as the Tamil Tigers. Torture and other ill-treatment in police custody is rife. During his visit to Sri Lanka, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms stated that over 100 unconvicted prisoners remained in detention under the PTA, some of whom had been held like that for over a decade. Torture and other ill-treatment is routine and practised throughout the country, mainly by the police. Sri Lanka is not a safe country to which Tamil refugees who have sought assistance in this country should be returned.

Threats and physical violence are also made against other minority groups. Christians and Muslims are being targeted by supporters of the hardline Sinhala-Buddhist political group, and reports also show that police regularly fail to take action when they are called. In March, multiple reports identified violence against Muslims in the eastern province. It spread to Kandy and suburbs. Lives were lost and great damage was caused to mosques, homes and businesses belonging to minority Muslims. They lost millions of rupees in these attacks. This violence also is being reported as coming for a small group of extremist fundamental Buddhists. I understand that the security forces sent to restore peace regularly just stand by and take little action. It appears that they make no attempt to prevent the violence or to identify and arrest the perpetrators. This is simply unacceptable.

The evidence is clear. The government of Sri Lanka appears to be captive to this powerful group of Buddhist extremists. They are intent on attacking the rights of minority religious groups and other groups in Sri Lanka. We shouldn't be fooled by the continuing reassurances of the Sri Lankan government.

A recent report by the International Truth and Justice Project calls attention to the recent deployment of members of the Sri Lankan Special Task Force, the STF, a paramilitary unit of the Sri Lankan police—as UN peacekeepers. The report notes:

The violations described in this report speak to an amoral attitude to the taking of life and to human dignity, and where dehumanisation has become institutionalised.

Yet many of the people now known to have committed war crimes with substantial evidence are being sent overseas as peacekeepers to trouble spots. We are talking about systematic and documented abductions from the streets of Colombo, torture, rape, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings and also wholesale massacres.

Some of these people are the same people who were never held to account by the Sri Lankan government for their war crimes, despite the United Nations' UNHCR Resolution 30/1, in which the government of Sri Lanka committed to accountability, including the thorough vetting of public and security officials. But now we have this shocking situation where STF officers are taking peacekeeping roles in Africa and elsewhere, often with rewards for their service and often, tragically, continuing to commit crimes and abuse human rights. The Australian government has a responsibility to investigate.


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