A tribunal of academics and activists has found the Sri Lankan government guilty of the genocide of its Tamil minority. Retired diplomat Bruce Haigh was at the tribunal as an expert witness and asks: is Australia also to blame?
Last month I travelled to Bremin, Germany to appear before a tribunal of 11 judges as an expert witness on the treatment of Tamils from Sri Lanka by the Australian government. The tribunal unanimously found Sri Lanka guilty of the crime of genocide — and Australia could be found to be complicit because of its treatment of Tamil asylum seekers and recent gifts to the Sri Lankan regime.
I took the opportunity at the hearings, held on December 7-10, to ask some of the Tamil witnesses from within the country whether they thought the Australian High Commission in Colombo had been informed about the genocide. They said yes — they had briefed Australian diplomatic officers. It raises the question of what was done with that information; the assumption must be that it had gone to Canberra and been ignored for reasons of policy and politics.
This would suggest that both major parties knowingly acted illegally with respect to processing Tamil asylum seekers, as both the Rudd and Abbott governments have sent back Tamil asylum seekers as “economic migrants” without processing their claims. The tribunal requested that states able to do so should take Tamil asylum seekers as refugees. How low can we go?
Lower, it seems. I was also informed that the AHC has now ceased briefings from Tamil sources in the north, presumably on the basis of what they don’t know they don’t have to lie about.
The tribunal recognised that Sri Lanka did not have the capacity to achieve genocide without assistance. On the basis of evidence provided it came to the conclusion that the United Kingdom, the United States and possibly India are guilty of complicity. However, due to the constraint of time the tribunal limited its findings to the UK and the US, pending the availability of further evidence against India and other states not yet identified.
After the recent gift of two patrol boats to the Sri Lankan Navy, Australia is in danger of being one of those countries. The gift adds to the military capacity of the Rajapaksa regime to illegally detain and harm Tamil asylum seekers fleeing repression.
The second session in Bremen was convened in response to the determination of the first session, held in January 2010 in Dublin, that war crimes and crimes against humanity had taken place against the Tamil population in the final months of the war in early 2009, and that further investigation be undertaken regarding the question of genocide.
The two sessions of the Permanent People’s Tribunal were established in response to submissions made by the International Human Rights Association, Bremen, and the Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka. The Permanent People’s Tribunal is based in Rome under the auspices of General Secretary Gianni Tognoni.
Thirty eye-witnesses and other experts appeared before the second tribunal, some at great personal risk.
The tribunal found that genocide against the Eelam Tamil group had not yet reached the total destruction of their identity; however, the genocide is a process, and the process is ongoing. The military killings of May 2009 have been transformed into other forms of conduct causing serious bodily and mental harm to members of the group.
The tribunal considered that the proof established beyond any reasonable doubt that the following acts were committed by the government of Sri Lanka:
Killing members of the group, which includes massacres, indiscriminate shelling, the strategy of herding civilians into so-called “no fire zones” for the purpose of massive killings, and targeted assassinations of outspoken Eelam Tamil civil leaders who were capable of articulating the Sri Lankan genocide project to the outside world;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, including acts of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, sexual violence including rape, interrogations combined with beatings, threats of death, and harm that damages health or causes disfigurement or injury; and
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part, including expulsion of the victims from their homes, seizures of private lands, and declaring vast areas as military high security zones (HSZ) to facilitate the military acquisition of Tamil land.
The tribunal undertook to further examine allegations of forced sterilisation and contraception of Tamil women.
*Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, human rights activist and retired diplomat