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Estimates: Australian Federal Police (Sri Lanka)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 30 May 2013

Legal and Consitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

Estimates Hearing 30th May 2013

Australian Federal Police 

  • Mr Tony Negus, Commissioner
  • Mr Andrew Colvin, Deputy Commissioner, Crime Operations

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: How many AFP officials are stationed in Sri Lanka?

Mr Negus: I think it is one. Deputy Commissioner Colvin will have the details of this. He has just confirmed to me that it is one.

Senator RHIANNON: Has this official been present at or involved in questioning any people intercepted by the Sri Lankan authorities?

Mr Colvin: I believe we may have answered this previously, I think the answer is that, to the best of our knowledge, no. I think we checked after the last estimates hearing. It is not routine for our officers to engage themselves in a liaison officer capacity in regular interviews.

Mr Negus: Can I just add for the record that our officers who work offshore do not have any powers in the country; they are a guest of the host nation. Traditionally they are there to work with those police agencies to exchange intelligence, to help them develop capability and to do the sorts of things that they would do in a support way rather than being somebody who might conduct interviews, take statements or conduct something in more of a law enforcement or investigative sense.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Colvin, if you need to take this question on notice, by all means do so. I know that I have asked it before, but I continue to receive information regarding concerns about this possibility. Has it occurred since we were last together that the AFP official in Sri Lanka has been present when people intercepted by the Sri Lankan authorities are being questioned?

Mr Colvin: I am very confident that the answer is no. However, I will take that on notice and will provide you with an answer in the course.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. If they have been present in those meetings, could you explain the purpose of that in your answer. 

Mr Colvin: As Commissioner Negus has explained, the purpose would be to exchange intelligence and to work with our counterparts on whatever particular transnational crime we might be investigating at the time. You have referred to people-smuggling, but our officer in Sri Lanka works on a range of transnational crimes.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the Australian Federal Police played any role in the interviews of interceptees at the fourth-floor facilities of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Terrorist Investigation Division in Colombo? Have they just been present in an observer role or have they had any involvement?

Mr Negus: I will have to take that on notice. I believe the answer is no, and I am happy to say that now, but I will give you a full answer the notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Does the AFP provide training to the Sri Lankan Police?

Mr Colvin: Yes, we do.

Senator RHIANNON: How many Sri Lankan police have the AFP trained?

Mr Colvin: I do not have the numbers. What I do have is the types of training that we have provided.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice to provide the numbers and provide details about the types of training.

Mr Colvin: I can give you the types of training now and I will take it on notice to provide you with the numbers. The training courses have included management of investigations; development for individual police officer programs; criminal intelligence analyst training; money laundering investigations training; and train the trainer. Of course, it is our desire that these agencies build up their own capacity and do not need us to do this training with them. We have also assisted with 20 computer based training learning modules on police best practice. We have done that in partnership with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

Mr Negus: Can I just add—and this goes back to questions we have previously at estimates—that the issue of human rights remains central to all of the training we deliver. Human rights to the Australian standard and to our international obligations, and any training we would deliver during that period of time in the areas you have talked about, certainly would contain elements consistent with Australia's stand on human rights.

Senator RHIANNON: You use the word 'elements', which could be either minimal or considerable. Could you take it on notice to provide details of what training that is and how large a component of the training it is.

Mr Negus: Certainly.

Senator RHIANNON: Does the AFP provide training to the Sri Lankan Coast Guard?

Mr Colvin: No, we do not.

Senator RHIANNON: Does the AFP provide training to the Sri Lankan military?

Mr Colvin: No, we do not.

Senator RHIANNON: For either of those, have you ever done so?

Mr Colvin: I do not believe so. I will correct the record if there has been. I might add that that it would only be in an instance where we are conducting training with the Sri Lankan Police Service. It may be that an officer from the Sri Lankan Navy investigative component is in that training but that would be very rare and unusual because our liaison and training is with the police.

Senator RHIANNON: So you will take it on notice to find out whether the military have been present when you have been training police?

Mr Colvin: Yes, we will.

Senator RHIANNON: How much money has the AFP spent on this training?

Mr Colvin: I have records for 2012-13, the current financial year. We have spent approximately $540,000, of which about half is ODA funding and half is our departmental funding that we have been appropriated under various new policy initiatives.

Senator RHIANNON: If you do not have the figures, could you take it on notice to tell me how much money has been spent on training since the end of the civil war in 2009.

Mr Colvin: I will have to take that on notice, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Did the request for the training that you provide to the Sri Lankan Police come from the Sri Lankan authorities, or did the Australian government make the offer?

Mr Colvin: All training that we do with any foreign law enforcement agency is arrived at in consultation with the agency. So we would have spoken to the Sri Lankan Police Service and discussed their training and capability needs. We would have looked at what we have the expertise to deliver an what we believe is in Australia's interest to deliver as well. That is how the training is arrived at.

Senator RHIANNON: That does sound like the AFP has offered the training. I am not denying that they have accepted it, but it sounds like you have offered it. I am just trying to get it clear that I have interpreted your words in the right way.

Mr Colvin: Yes. We offer training but it is on the basis of our discussion and negotiating with them. For instance, some of the training I mentioned is under the banner of the UNODC, so that would be discussions that the United Nations are having with the Sri Lankan government about training needs as well.

Senator RHIANNON: So we have the AFP training Sri Lankan police. Is there somebody who oversees that from the Sri Lankan authorities? Is it just police to police? I am just trying to understand the process of how this works.

Mr Colvin: It would nearly always be police to police. Depending on the type of training, it may be with a selected area within the Police Force. For instance, I mentioned money laundering training, and that would be with the part of the Police Service that is involved in money laundering. As a general rule, we would also be working with their own training arm of the Police Service to make sure what we were doing was consistent with what they needed.

Mr Negus: In all of these types of training the Australian national interest is paramount. This is about supporting our regional neighbours and partners in law enforcement to 'target harden' the region against money laundering, corruption, people-smuggling and those sorts of things. This is all done with a view to making sure that the capability of the nation in question is built to support Australia's interests of preventing or solving crime here in this country. We deliver the third largest amount of aid behind AusAID and DIAC. But this is not an aid program. This is something where we have a vested interest in building capability so that we can work strongly with our partners to prevent crime across the region. As Mr Colvin said, train the trainer programs, where we leave a legacy of capability for them to conduct appropriate investigations with the right human rights dimensions and the right prosecution outcomes, are left in the country well after we have gone. Most of these programs are three or four years in duration.

Senator RHIANNON: You have said it is to prevent crime across the region and it is not an aid program. But earlier Mr Colvin said that $540,000 is ODA eligible.

Mr Negus: That is right. Certainly some of it is funded through the aid program, but it is not specifically for an sake. What I am saying is that it is aid with a law enforcement perspective attached to it.

Senator RHIANNON: But you would surely be aware that the OECD guidelines require that ODA eligible funding is for poverty alleviation. It sounds like there is a contradiction here.

Mr Negus: No, there is not. It clearly meets the ODA guidelines, the eligibility criteria around training and a range of other things, which I am sure you are aware of. But certainly AusAID are very careful to ensure that whatever we do that is funded through the aid program—all I am saying is that very clearly this has an impact upon Australia and on regional law enforcement. The capability that we leave behind helps those countries to progress to the next level of capability and sophistication as far as their own investigations go.

Mr Colvin: Senator, I mentioned $540,000 and you just said that that was all ODA eligible. What I actually said was that $280,000, or about half of the total. was ODA eligible.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for the correction. Is the AFP aware of the allegations made against the Sri Lankan police of the widespread use of torture and rape in detention? This has come up in different reports and Human Rights Watch has covered recently.

Mr Colvin: There have been numerous reports in the media and by Human Rights Watch. Of course, the AFP is conscious of those. All of our officers who go overseas are very clear on the expectations we have of them and the standards we expect them to hold themselves to. I am not sure if I have put this on the record before, but all our officers operate under the AFP guidelines on offshore situations involving potential torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. It is a very serious issue that we take seriously. If officers are party to by accident—it would not be by design—or aware of a matter involving Australians where there may have been cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, there are protocols on what they need to do, and that is to report it to DFAT and to AFP senior management.

Senator RHIANNON: Before we get to the point where your people are caught up in that, there are situations, Sri Lanka being one of them—and you would have more detail than we would—of these allegations. So is there a point where you make an assessment that this is too traumatic for people to become involved in because they could become associated with these incidents of torture, rape et cetera? Do you consider it in that context and, if you have, what was your decision with regard to Sri Lanka? Did you make a call that it was okay to do it?

Mr Colvin: With Sri Lanka, clearly we still have a liaison office there.

Senator RHIANNON: So you have made a judgement that you can do it?

Mr Colvin: Yes. But I say that knowing that the officer involved has to be make a judgement each and every day, with every situation that he is involved in, that complies with the guidelines and the values and expectations of the AFP and the role that he has been given by the Commissioner. It is very difficult for us here in Canberra to make a judgement on what he has to do each and every day, but we have made a judgement that it is important that he continue to work with the Sri Lankan Police Service.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Negus spoke earlier about human rights training, which I understand is a component of the training that you undertake. Has the AFP ever raised the need for minimum standards of human rights such as protection from torture for persons detained as a result of joint anti people-smuggling initiatives? I am trying to get a sense of this. It is one thing to have it in the training, but it is another thing for your people to take a proactive position with the Sri Lankan authorities so that they start changing their practices.

Mr Colvin: The AFP has a strong presence across South-East Asia and the issues you are talking about are not just confined to Sri Lanka. This is a real issue for our officers each and every day. I have no doubt that the agencies we work with know the standards of the AFP and what the expectations of the AFP are. There are whole-of-government forums in relation to discussion of what training will or will not be provided to Sri Lanka. It is difficult for me to give you a very specific answer about when it is going to be—

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice to give us a specific example of where the AFP has interacted with your counterparts in Sri Lanka to recommend changes to address these ongoing allegations about torture and rape.

Mr Colvin: That will be part of our answer to you in relation to the training because that is implicit any training that we have delivered that has a human rights nature. I will also see if there have been any particular instances where we have raised it as a specific issue.

Mr Negus: It is important to understand that the AFP does not work as a one-off independent agent within the country. They are part of the Australian mission there and they would work with DFAT. There would be a high commissioner or an ambassador with whom they would be in regular contact and briefings with. So any concerns, as the Deputy Commissioner has mentioned, would certainly be reported immediately to both senior management here in Canberra and also to DFAT, and we would make representations appropriately through DFAT to the countries involved. These individuals do not walk around as a free agent within Sri Lanka. They are part of the Australian mission and do work on behalf of Australia to Australian standards.

Senator RHIANNON: So they are working to Australian standards as a part of the mission, and we know from previous evidence that there is interaction with the Sri Lankan authorities around people attempting to leave as asylum seekers. Has the AFP taken action to protect the human rights of the people intercepted by the Sri Lankan authorities, considering that some of these people are fearful that they could suffer torture or something quite horrible?

Mr Negus: That is not really a question that the AFP can answer. This is a matter for DFAT and representatives within the country. All I can say is that our officers perform to extremely high standards and if they were to see anything that was considered inappropriate it would be reported accordingly and proper representations would be made.

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