I: Open Letter to Canberra Times, 22 July 2012
I have known the HE from the days he was a cadet in the Navy . I am aware he took pride in educating his children in Tamil culture. His daughters are accomplished Baratha Natyaam dancers. I think his son learnt Tamil. He himself has been very sympathetic to the Tamils. In fact I believe when he was the Navy Commander his Personal Assistant was a Tamil Commodore. Just because he was in the Navy at that particular time it does not make him culpable. For example not all of the German Service Officers in WW2 were Nazi perpetrators.
The HE by the nature of his office is open to criticism – both fair and unfair. That does not give us licence to abuse the freedom of expression. The HE has contacted me several times expressing his desire for the reconciliation of the different communities and I know he is a tireless worker in that area. I feel the treatment the HE is being given is quite unfair and uncalled for.
In any case it is far better to seek reconciliation than harp on revenge and recrimination. If we are responsible adults we will seek a better future for the generations to follow rather than subject them to continuous tension. This Email is the least I can do for the officer and gentleman the HE is.
Regards, Marty Somasundaram
II: “Sri Lanka’s envoy must be recalled” by Bruce Haigh in Canberra Times, July 18, 2012, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/politics/sri-lankas-envoy-must-be-recalled-20120718-22a26.html#ixzz213uCrwQ0
Fairfax senior correspondent Daniel Flitton reported on July 18 that the AFP had dropped an investigation of war crimes into the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, former Admiral, Thisara Samarasinghe.
Samarasinghe joined the Sri Lankan navy in 1974 and retired in 2011, after his appointment to Australia became known. Samarasinghe was Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan navy in 2009 when the navy carried out the shelling of Tamil women and children in a safe zone designated by the Sri Lankan defence force, in the north of the country, at the end of the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
Whether he ordered the shelling or not, Samarasinghe as Chief of Staff held a very senior and responsible position in the navy and as a result must be held to account. There is no question that Samarasinghe should be recalled. A former Commodore in the Sri Lankan navy has been refused permission by the Canadian Federal Court to apply for refugee status in Canada because of his complicity in war crimes in 2009.
In 2005 and 2008 the Canadian Government refused to accept nominations from the government of Sri Lanka for the position of high commissioner on grounds that both nominees were guilty of human rights abuse. In September 2011, former Sri Lankan General Jaghat Dias, who had been appointed ambassador to Germany and Switzerland, was recalled to Colombo, following accusations that he was complicit in the shelling of civilian and hospital targets at the end of the war.
In 1995 the nomination, as ambassador, of former Indonesian General Herman Mantiri was rejected by Australia on the basis of war crimes committed against the East Timorese. The UN has accepted that the Sri Lankan defence forces were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the final weeks of the war, just as they accept that both sides in the civil war were guilty of war crimes during the course of the conflict.
The President of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, John Dowd, AO, released a statement on 17 October last year which said in part: “Those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 must not be allowed to go unpunished. The expert committee established by the United Nations Secretary-General found credible allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”
Senator Lee Rhiannon of the Greens says, “If the Prime Minister has information which clears the High Commissioner of any complicity in war crimes then she should share this with the Australian people. If not, the Australian government should immediately ask the Sri Lankan government to recall its High Commissioner, or move to expel him.”
The AFP should never have been tasked with investigating Samarasinghe’s conduct during the war. They have a conflict of interest. Charged with preventing boat arrivals of refugees from Sri Lanka and with helping to organise disruption activities with the Sri Lankan navy, they are hardly in a position to bite the hand of a former representative of the service that AFP officers based in Sri Lanka are now working closely with. The Australian government condones this activity.
The Department of Foreign Affairs was said to have been opposed to Samarasinghe’s appointment but the AFP may well have pushed for it in order to assist their disruption activities of which Samarasinghe has admitted undertaking. (ABC radio interview 17.7.12). The unsupervised power of the AFP is a matter of growing concern, but the fact that they can drop an important investigation without informing parliament or its representatives is symptomatic of the arrogance now attending this force as it seemingly prosecutes its own agenda, free from parliamentary constraint and supervision. The Gillard government and the Abbott opposition are weak for having allowed this situation to develop and more so for now appearing to condone it.
Tamils in the north of the country remain under military occupation. Credible witnesses report a climate of fear. Women and children are abused, the economy is dead and there is no work. All this is denied by Samarasinghe and the government he represents, however this is why desperate Tamils continue to try and come to Australia by boat. A form of apartheid is being carried out against the Tamils in the north.
When apartheid was being carried out by the white South African government against black South Africans, not even a Coalition government was prepared to accept a general or admiral from South Africa as ambassador to Australia; so why do we bend and break the rules with Sri Lanka?
Is it all to do with the disruption program and the special ‘relationship’ we have forged with Sri Lanka over terrorism? Most likely. The terrorism bogey, from, and within Sri Lanka, is long dead if ever it were alive for anyone but the Sri Lankan spin machine and ASIO expansion plans.
AFP involvement overseas with the disruption of refugee boats is corrupting and harming what should be a premier Australian police force. It is preventing the AFP from fully gaining the respect of Australians and distorts their ability to focus on non political police activities. They should have no role in the formation and conduct of aspects of Australian foreign policy and yet they do.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Sri Lanka.
“Sheridan challenges Jegan Waran’s attempt to universalise rights and McClelland trumps it,” http://thuppahis.com/2011/10/26/sheridan-challenges-jegan-waran%E2%80%99s-attempt-to-universalise-rights-and-mcclelland-trumps-it/
Michael Roberts, “Reviewing Eelam War IV: A Think-Piece drafted in May 2011,” 23 July 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/07/23/a-think-piece-drafted-in-may/#more-2998
Michael Roberts, “People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka,” 27 June 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/10/26/sheridan-challenges-jegan-waran%E2%80%99s-attempt-to-universalise-rights-and-mcclelland-trumps-it/
Michael Roberts, “Incorrigible Watch-Dogs of the Human Rights World,” 30 November 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/11/30/incorrigible-watch-dogs-of-the-human-rights-world-2/#more-4355
Michael Roberts: Confrontations in Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, LTTE and Others, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-955-665-035-8
Michael Roberts: Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Volume One, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010. ISBN978-955-665-134-8