Australia fails again
Australian Financial Review : Uneven Policy
by Bruce Haigh
Monday, 5 October 2009,
The Government is quick to look after the welfare and interests of Australians overseas caught in natural disasters or accidents, most recently in PNG, Sumatra and Samoa; it is to be applauded for so doing.
However it has not been so quick to look after the interests of Australian nationals caught in Sri Lankan internment camps following the end of military action against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).
Three hundred thousand men, women and children are trapped in these camps, without access to proper sanitation, water, medical supplies and sufficient food. Old people and children are dying; they have been detained in these camps for close to five months.
The Sri Lankan Government has denied access to all NGO’s who are likely to criticise conditions in the camps and media access is denied for the same reason. The camps are guarded and controlled by the military which deals harshly with critics and suspected former members of the LTTE.
The Sri Lankan Government claims that Tamils are being held while supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE are identified and removed from the camps (where have they been taken?). Essentially all persons detained are under suspicion by the Sri Lankan Government. It is an untenable situation for those people.
Recently an Australian citizen managed to flee the camps after bribing members of the military. She is now in Australia.
The Government has not sought to identify, seek consular access nor provide assistance to Australian citizens detained in these camps. Why not?
If the Australian Government agrees with the position of the Sri Lankan Government, i.e, that all those in the camps are suspected of being LTTE supporters, it should seek legal assistance for Australians caught in this nightmare.
If the Australian Government agrees with the actions of the Sri Lankan Government it has placed itself in an awkward position in terms of UN Conventions relating to prisoners of war and internally displaced persons. It has not formally protested to the Sri Lankan Government over the abuse of human rights in these camps and it has not sought access and the provision of vital aid and assistance by NGO’s to the camps.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former diplomat who served in Sri Lanka.
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