About 80 people gathered at the Eight Hour Day monument opposite Melbourne Trades Hall on April 24 to commemorate the second anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. In the collapse, 1139 garment workers are known to have died, with others still missing.
This speech was given at the Refugee Action Collective protest in Melbourne on April 8. * * * We are here to protest against the indefinite detention of a group of refugees who are claimed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to be a security threat. These are people who have been officially recognised as refugees who were at serious risk of persecution in the countries they fled. Yet they are detained indefinitely because of negative ASIO assessments.
In his latest article “New threats of war and fascism” (GLW #1045), John Pilger gives a distorted account of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. He condemns the “criminal record” of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), but seems to absolve the Serbian government of any wrongdoing. In reality Serbian chauvinism, promoted by the Slobodan Milosevic's government, was central to the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s amid the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The formation of the KLA was a response to the chauvinist politics of the Serbian regime.
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.
Tamil women whose relatives are missing completed a three-day hunger strike at Nalloor, a town in the north of Sri Lanka, on March 8. The women, led by Northern Provincial Council member Ananthy Sasitharan, were demanding an international investigation into the disappearance of their relatives, who were arrested or abducted by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The women were joined by young people who had finished a four-day march from Mullivaikkaal, site of the genocidal massacre of Tamils by the army in the final stages of the war, which ended in May 2009.
About 150 relatives of missing people protested outside a hearing of the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons in Trincomalee, a city on the east coast of Sri Lanka, on February 28. The protesters were mainly Tamil women whose relatives are still missing after being arrested or abducted by the Sri Lankan armed forces. They expressed their lack of confidence in any commission appointed by the Sri Lankan government, and demanded investigations by a United Nations team.
The Refugee Action Collective held a public meeting in Melbourne on February 23 to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka after the January 8 presidential election, at which Maithripala Sirisena defeated incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Trevor Grant, the author of Sri Lanka’s Secrets: how the Rajapaksa regime gets away with murder, told the meeting that Sirisena had been a member of Rajapaksa’s cabinet for 10 years. He was acting defence minister in May 2009, in the final days of the war, when the slaughter of Tamils by the Sri Lankan armed forces was at its height.
Maithripala Sirisena has taken office as president of Sri Lanka after winning the island's January 8 election. Sirisena won 51.28% of the vote, defeating incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who got 47.58%. Seventeen other candidates won 1.14% of the votes between them. Rajapaksa had been elected president in 2005 and re-elected in 2010. In his first term, he presided over the most brutal phase of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is being challenged by Maithripala Sirisena, who was until recently one of his ministers, in the January 8 presidential elections. However, many Tamils and leftists see little difference between the two. Sirisena is being supported by the opposition United National Party, and has promised to appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe as prime minister. There are 16 other candidates.
The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, appointed by the Abbott government and headed by retired judge Dyson Heydon, released its interim report on December 19. The report called for criminal charges to be laid against several Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials, including charges of blackmail against the CFMEU's Victorian state secretary John Setka and assistant secretary Shaun Reardon.