Sydney forum condemns indefinite detention of Tamils

"Why are Sri Lankan Tamils seeking refuge in Australia? And why are we keeping them locked up?" was the theme of a forum on May 8, sponsored by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) and the Sydney Peace Foundation. About 30 people attended the meeting held at the University of Sydney.

Brami Jegan from the Sri Lanka Human Rights Project told the audience that up to 100,000 Tamils were massacred by the Sri Lankan military at the end of the 28-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger guerrilla forces in 2009.

Following the crushing of the Tamil resistance, mass torture and rape of Tamil civilians took place.

"These war crimes are still taking place," she said. "This has forced thousands of Tamils to flee to Europe, Canada and Australia seeking asylum.

"The irony is that Sri Lankan officials are taking huge amounts of money to allow Tamils to flee by boat. Sri Lankan president [Mahinda] Rajapaksa’s son is one of those becoming rich from 'people smuggling.

"The boats cannot leave Sri Lanka without the knowledge of the Sri Lankan Navy. What does the Australian government think they are achieving by sending Tamil refugees back to danger?"

Dr Lesley Lynch, convener of the National Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) campaign, sponsored by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), and other human rights groups, told the forum that, "the pendulum has swung way too far on national security in this country”.

"Now, around 56 mainly Tamil asylum seekers assessed as genuine refugees are being held in indefinite detention because ASIO has classified them as a 'security risk.' This category refers not only to a potential 'risk' to Australia, but to a 'foreign country,'" she pointed out.

"Indefinite detention is a policy decision chosen by the Australian government. It is an extraordinary punishment, which cannot be appealed, and breaches all international conventions.

"How did we get to this disastrous position? It is the intersection of flawed policies on asylum seekers and on 'counter-terrorism’”.

She urged support for the National ASIO campaign, which "seeks to remove the most anti-democratic and most dangerous of the post-9/11 anti-terrorism laws from our statute books.” A NSWCCL statement explains: “Collectively, these laws represent the greatest assault on civil liberties in Australia since World War II.”

The immediate campaign priorities before this year’s federal election are to "seek to achieve the following legislative and policy commitments:

"Have the ASIO Questioning and Detention Powers legislation repealed in this term — or failing that, gain government and opposition policy commitments to repeal the legislation as a priority for the next government.

"Secure a robust and effective merit review process for refugees with adverse security assessments made against them by ASIO.

"Gain commitments from the government and opposition that they will not implement current National Security Legislation proposals relating to: mandatory data retention; new powers for ASIO; and, immunity for ASIO officers from civil and criminal liability for undercover operations."

CPCS director Jake Lynch concluded the panel by calling for support for the campaign to pressure the Australian government to join the Canadian government in boycotting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November this year, to protest the Sri Lankan government's repression of the Tamil people.

[Click here to register your interest in the ASIO campaign.]