Chanting "Julie Bishop you can't hide — you support genocide", supporters of human rights in Sri Lanka gathered outside the foreign affairs minister's electorate office in Subiaco on March 29.
The protest was in response to the Australian government's public opposition to the independent inquiry into Sri Lanka's human rights record adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva on March 27.
Australia is not currently a voting member of the council, but Bishop lobbied against the resolution, saying: "I do not think the resolution adequately recognised the significant progress taken by the Sri Lankan government to promote economic growth and its investment in infrastructure in areas formerly dominated by the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] in the north and north-east of the country.
“We should recognise the brutality of the LTTE, a proscribed terrorist organisation, during the 30-year civil war from which the country is struggling to emerge."
Sam Wainwright, co-convener of Action for Human Rights in Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka, said in response: "Bishop's comments are absurd. Every independent organisation that's looked at the issue has described the country as a human rights catastrophe.
“The continuing persecution of Tamils in the north and east meets the international legal definition of genocide. That persecution was the cause of the civil war and it has not gone away. The idea that Sri Lanka is making progress is a lie and Bishop knows it."
Victoria Martin-Iverson from the Refugee Rights Action Network said the Tony Abbott government had recently gifted two navy patrol boats to the Sri Lankan navy to prevent people from escaping persecution in the first place. Wainwright said this was like "blocking the fire escape to a burning building."
Martin-Iverson also blasted the decision by the former federal government to allow the appointment of a former Sri Lankan army officer as an operations manager at the Manus Island detention centre, knowing that many detainees would be Sri Lankan Tamils.
In response to the UNHCR decision, the Sri Lankan government has declared more than a dozen Tamil diaspora organisations to be proscribed terrorist groups, including the Australian Tamil Congress and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.
Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Australia, retired Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, told SBS radio: "What did the LTTE finally want to achieve? Separatism. Any organisation that acknowledges separatism or do not reject separatism in Sri Lanka is supporting terrorist ideology."
This shows how the Sri Lankan government refuses to tolerate Tamil aspirations for greater self-determination in any form.