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Australian human rights record damaged by failure to act on Sri Lankan war crimes

Media Release
Lee Rhiannon 26 Oct 2011

Commenting on the arrival of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Australia for CHOGM, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said: "Attorney General Robert McClelland's decision to refuse permission for a criminal investigation of Mr Rajapaksa under the Commonwealth criminal code seriously tarnishes Australia's human rights record.

"The Attorney General should have allowed this case to be tested in court," Senator Rhiannon said.

"An investigation undertaken by a United Nations appointed panel found that up to 40,000 mainly Tamil civilians were killed in 2009 in the final months of the war.

"The same UN report found credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity which should be investigated.

"The failure of the Australian government to take strong action on the war crimes committed in the Sri Lankan civil war will undermine the Prime Minister's push to reform Commonwealth institutions to encourage democracy and human rights.

"A broad alliance of Australians from across the political spectrum have joined together to call for a suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth until the Sri Lankan government agree to an independent investigation into war crimes. (Full statement and names below).

"Julian Burnside QC, former Liberal Attorney General John Dowd and author Thomas Keneally signed onto this statement following a roundtable on Sri Lanka initiated by the Australian Greens.

"The Australian government should respond to this growing call for action by moving at the Perth meeting to ensure Sri Lanka does not host the 2013 CHOGM events.

"The Australian government is setting a dangerous precedent by rolling out the red carpet for Sri Lankan officials at CHOGM while allegations of war crimes remain unanswered.

"A report by the Eminent Persons Group has highlighted the failure of the Commonwealth to call countries to account for human rights violations.

"CHOGM is the time for the Commonwealth to show that the Sri Lankan government cannot escape unscathed against war crimes allegations," Senator Rhiannon said.

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Statement

We call on the Australian Government and the Federal Opposition to:

1. Support calls for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth until the government of Sri Lanka agrees to an international independent investigation into war crimes, restoration of human rights and the rule of law and the implementation of all of the recommendations of the UN Expert Panel Report on War Crimes in Sri Lanka. Failing that event occurring within a reasonable time that steps be instituted to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.

2. Oppose Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM in 2013.

We call on the Prime Minister Julia Gillard to follow the lead of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in saying he will not attend CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 if there is no progress in Sri Lanka's human rights and the establishment of an independent investigation into war crimes.

Endorsees

Thomas Keneally, Author
Robert Stary, Lawyer
Hon John Dowd AO QC, President of the International Commission of Jurists Australia
Professor Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (retired), Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston
Julian Burnside AO QC, Barrister and Human Rights Advocate
Bruce Haigh, retired diplomat, political commentator and adviser to the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens and Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon
Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre
Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees, Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and adviser to the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University and adviser to the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Professor Damien Kingsbury, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights, Deakin University
Peter Arndt, Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Brisbane
Professor Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at The University of Sydney
Dan Patrushnko, President of NSW Young Lawyers
Dr Raj Rajeswaran, Chairman of the Australian Tamil Congress
Rev Dr. S.J.Emmanuel, President of the Global Tamil Forum
Professor Wendy Bacon, The University of Technology, Sydney
Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist and adviser to the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Edward Mortimer, Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Professor Chris Nash, Professor of Journalism, Monash University

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