Hundreds attend Sri Lankan rights meeting

November 18, 2009

More than 200 people, many from the Tamil community, attended a public meeting at Monash University on November 10 called "Sri Lanka: Human rights issues and media representation".

The forum was endorsed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council, Amnesty International and several academic institutions.

Associate professor Jake Lynch from the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies said trying to advocate a middle-ground position on refugee issues, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tries to do, satisfies no one. It could even drive right-wing positions further to the right.

Lynch said it had become commonplace in the Australian media to use terms such as "invaded", "over-run", "queue jumper" and "economic migrant". Actual figures, on the other hand, paint a very different story.

Out of about 850,000 asylum claims worldwide in 2008, Lynch said only 4500 related to Australia. This is an extremely low percentage compared with France (35,000) and the United States (49,000).

David Feith, author of Conflict in Sri Lanka, pointed out that the last significant migration of Tamil people internationally was in 1983, after anti-Tamil riots killed and displaced huge numbers of Tamils.

Deakin University's associate professor Rohan Bastin said the 1983 conflict was a civil war, and that such conditions still exist — even after the military defeat of the Tamils this year.

He also raised concerns about Sri Lankan government plans to double the size of the military.

Associate professor Damien Kingsbury, also from Deakin University, said the international community must consider the concept of "responsibility to protect" if there are well-founded fears of genocide.

Japan, the single largest aid donor to Sri Lanka, is now considering withholding aid, he said.

Kingsbury said some estimates place 250,000 people in the Sri Lankan "concentration camps", and Australia's demand that Sri Lanka "fix" its border protection and security issues and "just stop producing boat people" was feeble and spurious.

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