Several prominent Australian human rights advocates have called for protests when Sri Lanka’s “war criminal” president, Mahinda Rajapaksa comes to Perth in late October to attend the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The Rajapaksa government is guilty of committing “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity,” said Professor Damien Kingsbury, the director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University. Kingsbury spoke at an international conference on “Accountability In Sri Lanka: Common Justice In The Commonwealth” in Sydney on October 20.
There is “widely accepted evidence” that about 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in 2009, largely through “systematic shelling of populated areas” in the closing weeks of the Sri Lankan governments war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). The LTTE had previously controlled parts of the north and east of the country.
Kingsbury said there is also credible evidence of thousands of killings and disappearances. He said this was enough evidence for a case to be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by a signatory state of the ICC convention.
Kingsbury also said there was also a precedent for CHOGM to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth until it was brought to account for these crimes.
He joined several other speakers at the conference in a call for protests to be held against Rajapakse when he comes to CHOGM.
These speakers included former Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Bruce Haigh, the Catholic Bishop of Canberra Pat Power, the Uniting Church’s Reverend John Barr, the Director of the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies Jake Lynch and Australian president of the International Commission of Jurists and former NSW Attorney-General John Dowd.
Several international guest speakers also added their voice to the protest call, among them two Malaysian opposition MPs, Dato Johari Abdul and M. Manogaram.
Haigh and Dowd said current Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia, former admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, should be sent back because there was enough evidence of his responsibility for war crimes.
The International Commission of Jurists had sent its evidence of Samarasinghe’s human rights abuses to the Australian Federal Police.
The conference was organised by the Australian Tamil Congress and the Global Tamil Forum. Conference spokesperson Sam Pari said: “Despite mounting evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka and increasing calls for an international independent investigation into such crimes, Sri Lanka continues to be defiant.
“Sri Lankan leaders are due to attend CHOGM to campaign for CHOGM 2013 to be held in their country. However, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already stated that he is likely to boycott CHOGM 2013 if Sri Lanka was to host the event, given the country’s appalling human rights record.
“Sri Lanka is also competing with Australia to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games,” she added.