Calls made to not forget the Tamils

A seminar at NSW Parliament House on June 16 discussed the current dire situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka and the need for the Rudd Labor government to step up and help protect human rights there.

A seminar at NSW Parliament House on June 16 discussed the current dire situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka and the need for the Rudd Labor government to step up and help protect human rights there.

The 60-strong meeting heard from Tamil leader Dr Sam Pari. Pari said that since the Sri Lankan government reported it had "won" the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, there had been repeated accusations of human rights violations and war crimes on both sides of the conflict.

"The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has repeatedly called for an international independent investigation into such violations", she said. "However, Sri Lanka has blatantly opposed such an idea."

Pari criticised the Sri Lankan government for still refusing unrestricted access for international aid groups or independent observers to visit the government concentration camps. The camps are thought to hold about 300,000 Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka's north-east.

Pari said: "Allegations of rape, torture and abductions continue to emerge from the concentration camps. An estimated 10,000 Tamils have been taken away for interrogation by security forces and their whereabouts are unknown."

The non-Tamil guest speakers were John Dowd, president of the Australian section of International Commission of Jurists and president of ActionAid; Bruce Haigh, a former deputy high commissioner to Sri Lanka; and Dr John Whitehall, a paediatrician who had undertaken voluntary medical work in Sri Lanka.

Whitehall gave a moving account of living and working with the Tamils in the north east of the country, including the Tamil Tigers. He said he had come to understand that the struggle for self-determination could not be beaten, or shot, out of an oppressed people.

The speakers expressed reservations about aspects of the LTTE, but they were highly critical of the Australian government for ignoring calls to assist the 300,000 Tamils trapped in the government-controlled camps.

Dowd said he was concerned that Tamils were being transported away from the north-east, where they had traditionally lived, while Singhalese were encouraged to relocate there.

"The movement of people against their will is a war crime", he said.

Dowd also urged the audience to continue lobbying the Rudd government to do more for the displaced and war-torn Tamil people.

Pari asked supporters of Tamil rights to regularly check www.srilankancrisis.com.

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