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Human Rights Watch urges Australian PM to push accountability with Ranil

Human Rights Watch this week urged the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull to push the issue of accountability with his Sri Lankan counterpart who is currently visiting Australia. 

"Let’s hope that beyond friendly cricket matches, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asks some hard questions about how the Sri Lankan government will provide accountability to victims and their families, still awaiting justice seven years after the horrific end to the country’s long civil war," Elaine Pearson, HRW's Australia director wrote. 

See here for full statement. Extract reproduced below: 

"while progress has been made in many areas, key commitments have not been met. The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act remains in force, and there have been several arrests under this law in the past year. Moreover, many people imprisoned under this law were charged after allegedly being tortured to confess. The government has still not put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained under the that law.

Large tracts of land remain under military control, primarily in the predominantly ethnic Tamil north and east. Delays plague the creation of the Office of Missing Persons. Above all, there has been no tangible progress in setting up courts with international involvement to bring to trial those responsible for serious wartime violations. A government appointed task force reported in January that communities favour international participation in a justice process. Despite its inclusion in the Human Rights Council resolution, President Maithripala Sirisena has increasingly spoken out against foreign judges and other international involvement.

Australia has a mixed record on Human Rights Council resolutions promoting human rights in Sri Lanka. It seems that Australia sided with the previous Rajapaksa government in opposition to earlier resolutions largely because of border security. According to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the Australian government’s silence on rights abuses was the price it paid to secure cooperation from the Rajapaksa government on stopping asylum-seeker boats. However, with the election of a new government in Sri Lanka, Australia changed its tune and was among the co-sponsors of the crucial 2015 resolution.

With Australia vying for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council in 2018-2020, the international community will be taking particular interest in whether it supports human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. Turnbull should urge Wickremesinghe to ensure that victims – who have given testimony to several official commissions, braved surveillance and threats, and waited for information about missing loved ones – get the answers they have long been seeking, and that it happens as soon as possible.

Foreign judges and prosecutors can play a significant role in ensuring independence and impartiality in accountability mechanisms for wartime abuses. Turnbull would do well to offer Sri Lanka help in this regard and, given Australia’s long friendly relations and Commonwealth status, Wickremesinghe might just accept it."