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Lowy Institute blogs about Sri Lanka

October 15, 2009

Lowy Interpreter Blog –  Boat people a symptom of Sri Lanka’s dark side

Gobie Rajalingam is co-convenor for the University of Sydney’s Sri Lanka Human Rights Project and an intern at the Lowy Institute.

In the months following the Sri Lankan Government’s declaration that the 26-year civil war was officially over, footage of alleged extra-judicial killings by Sri Lankan soldiers* trickled out. The living conditions of some 280,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), forcibly held without justification in the country’s northern provinces, also rapidly deteriorated.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the 260 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who were intercepted en route to Christmas Island last night showed preference for suicide rather than return to a country that has no regard for justice.

With the imminent monsoon season threatening to worsen the spread of infectious disease among IDPs, with forced disappearances and rape in the internment camps continuing unabated, and with the Sri Lankan Government showing little interest in releasing civilians, the urgency surrounding the humanitarian and political fate of Sri Lanka’s Tamil refugees remains heightened.

Although Sri Lanka continues to censor its human rights emergency, holding its rank in the bottom ten countries for press freedom, the Australian Foreign Minister has previously raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s human rights situation. But Kevin Rudd’s latest offer of ‘micro-loans, free volleyball nets and fishing nets’ to quell the number of asylum seekers does little more than add insult to injury for Sri Lanka’s marginalised population.

The increase in asylum seekers does not indicate a weakness in Australia’s immigration policies, but is instead a creation of Sri Lanka’s unacceptable human rights record and lack of protection for refugees. Australia must accommodate human rights in its national interest if it is to uphold its responsibility to protect.

* Ed. note: the link takes you to a UK Channel 4 story about the footage. The footage itself contains extremely disturbing images.

Photo, of a Sri Lankan IDP camp, by Flickr user Foreign and Commonwealth Office, used under a Creative Commons license.

Previous links to the USYD Sri Lanka Human Rights Project

Article by co-convener of the USYD Sri Lanka Human Rights Project, Jake Lynch

Article by patron of the USYD Sri Lanka Human Rights Project, Bruce Haigh

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