Two groups of Tamils walked from Glen Waverley and Sunshine to the Melbourne CBD on March 15 to “alert Australians to war crimes and genocide in Sri Lanka”.
The walkers converged in front of the State Library, where a rally was held.
The Campaign for Tamil Justice organised the walk to coincide with a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UNHRC meeting had been expected to hear a report on Sri Lanka by the UN human rights commissioner, but this has been delayed for at least six months.
The rally had demanded an independent investigation into genocidal crimes in Sri Lanka, the immediate release of all political prisoners, an end to militarisation and land grabbing, and the recognition by the international community of the Tamils’ right to self-determination, nationhood and their traditional homeland.
Rally chairperson Sivakumar explained that an international inquiry on war crimes is necessary because the Sri Lankan government’s own inquiry is merely a “delaying tactic”.
He said that, despite the recent election of a new government, there has been no improvement for Tamils in the north and east of the island. These areas remain highly militarised. The large areas of land taken over by the army have not been returned to their Tamil owners. There has been no information about the many people who have disappeared after being taken away by the army.
Convener of the Tamil Refugee Council and author of Sri Lanka’s secrets: How the Rajapaksa Regime Gets Away with Murder, Trevor Grant told the rally that the US, after supporting an international inquiry last year, has changed its attitude following the election of a new government.
But new president Maithripala Sirisena was a cabinet minister for 10 years under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena has refused to allow war crimes investigators into Sri Lanka, and has failed to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act or free Tamil political prisoners.
Refugee Action Collective (RAC) member Amanda Zivcic spoke about Australia’s treatment of Tamil asylum seekers. Many have been sent back to Sri Lanka, where they face jail and torture. Zivcic also spoke about RAC’s activities, ranging from mass rallies to attempts to block deportations.
Maritime Union of Australia state secretary Kevin Bracken reported that the Victorian Trades Hall Council had passed resolutions condemning the Sri Lankan government, and will consider a motion calling for an international inquiry. He said Australia is the second largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka.
Moreland city councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sue Bolton said that Tamils in Sri Lanka, like Aboriginal people in Australia, have been fighting “cultural and physical genocide”.
Bolton spoke about the Australian government’s history of support for the Sri Lankan government.
An example is the inclusion of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on a list of proscribed organisations compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This listing has been used against Tamil organisations in Australia.
It is also used against individuals who have been recognised as refugees but are still being detained because the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation claim they are a security threat.