Civil rights lawyer Rob Stary has called for a Senate inquiry into Australia's role in the war in Sri Lanka. Stary defended three Australian Tamil men charged with terrorism offences in 2007. He said such an inquiry would look at the reasons for the decision to prosecute the three.
Stary made the call when delivering the Eliezer Memorial Lecture at Monash University on August 26. The lecture is held annually in honour of Professor C J Eliezer, a leader of Australia's Tamil community who died in 2001.
The three men — Arumugam Rajeevan, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan — were charged with belonging to, and assisting, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which the prosecution claimed was a terrorist group.
These charges were dropped in March 2010. The three received good behaviour bonds after pleading guilty to a lesser offence.
Like many other Tamils in Australia and around the world, Rajeevan, Vinayagamoorthy and Yathavan had helped raise money for humanitarian purposes, including relief work after the December 2004 tsunami that devastated the east coast of the island of Sri Lanka.
The aid was distributed in areas controlled by the LTTE, a group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island. The goal of independence has wide support amongst Tamils due to the Sri Lankan government’s long history of anti-Tamil racism.
When the tsunami, hit Sri Lanka, a ceasefire was in effect. Under the ceasefire agreement, signed in February 2002, the LTTE was recognised as the de facto government of significant parts of the island. The Sri Lankan government formally repealed the ceasefire agreement in 2007.
Given that the LTTE had never carried out any terrorist acts in Australia, Stary asked why the Australian authorities chose to regard the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.
He told the meeting that evidence given by an Australian Federal Police officer to a committal hearing in 2007 showed that the prosecution went ahead at the behest of the Sri Lankan government.
Stary said he believed one purpose of the prosecution of the three men was to destabilise and intimidate the Tamil diaspora — in Australia and around the world — to stop them supporting the LTTE's de facto state.
Stary said Australia had been “coopted” into the Sri Lankan government's war against the LTTE. He called for a Senate inquiry to determine how and why this happened. He also suggested that the Australian government's motives for supporting the Sri Lankan government's war effort could include Australia's economic links with Sri Lanka. An Australian company, Ansell Pacific, is the biggest employer of industrial labour in Sri Lanka.
Stary said the collusion between the Australian and Sri Lankan governments continues today. Referring to the indefinite detention of Tamil refugees who had been denied ASIO security clearances, Stary said that ASIO's main source of information is the Sri Lankan government.