Editorial in The Australian, 29 April 2013
FORMER prime minister Malcolm Fraser and Greens senator Lee Rhiannon are singing from the same song sheet as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but they are misguided in calling for a boycott of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka in November. Making that nation an international pariah is no answer to the human rights issues that have arisen since the Colombo government’s 2009 victory over the ethnic insurgency led by the barbarous Tamil Tigers, described by the American FBI as “the world’s deadliest terrorist group, worse (even) than Hamas”.Legitimate questions need to be asked about human rights in Sri Lanka. That is hardly surprising after a 30-year conflict that claimed 100,000 lives and tore the society apart. Attention remains on the alleged killing of tens of thousands of civilians in the last five months of the war. There is also concern about alleged human rights abuses widely publicised by the well-oiled Tamil diaspora in Australia and elsewhere – enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, religious discrimination and intimidation of the judiciary and journalists.
While Mr Harper has announced that Canada would not go to CHOGM, it is important to note that Foreign Minister Bob Carr is not convinced the Sri Lankan government is engaged in human rights abuses. He notes that “some of the stories that have been put to us, when we’ve checked them out, have not been sustained” and has spoken of an improvement in the human rights situation, with former Tamil Tiger terrorists reintegrated into society and reconciliation in former Tamil strongholds. The need, as he argues, is not for the country to be isolated but for it to be engaged with the international community.
It is unlikely, after September 14, that Senator Carr will have to make the final call on our CHOGM attendance, but his position is sound. After one of modern history’s most horrendous conflicts, Sri Lanka deserves better than the ill-considered calls made by Mr Fraser and Senator Rhiannon to boycott a gathering to which it attaches such huge significance in its post-war recovery. The Sri Lankan government has shown sensitivity and skill in dealing with asylum-seekers. Isolating it would be counter-productive, turning it inward and making it more defiant of world opinion, further compromising human rights.