Sri Lanka: Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated, Australia urged to push for new way

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Sri Lanka’s newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena. Photograph: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images.

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By the Tamil Refugee Council

Melbourne, January 9, 2015 --The Tamil Refugee Council urges the Australian government to use the change of leadership in Sri Lanka to push for a resolution to the country’s most pressing issue – the long-standing oppression and persecution of Tamils.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, president since 2005, conceded defeat in the presidential election today, allowing his former ally, Maithripala Sirisena, to take over the leadership of the troubled island nation.

“The first thing the new president must do is end the vicious military occupation , which has been used to perpetuate genocide against the Tamil population in their traditional homelands in the north and east of the country”, said Tamil Refugee Council (TRC) convenor Trevor Grant.

“He also must allow the Tamils to determine their own future, not continue to inflict upon them the genocidal machinery of Sinhalese chauvinism.

“The military occupation must end, so too the land theft, the destruction of Tamil temples, the disappearances of Tamil men and boys, the murder of journalists, the rape of Tamil war widows, and even children, by soldiers who have acted with total impunity under Rajapaksa.

“Sadly, Sirisena’s election manifesto says nothing about these critical issues, which is not surprising. As a former senior Minister in Rajapaksa’s cabinet, Sirisena has been an accomplice in so many of the repressive measures dished out to Tamils.

“As acting minister of defence, he was also culpable in the 2009 atrocity, which saw, according to the UN, as many as 70,000 innocent Tamil civilian deliberately slaughtered by government forces. So it’s not surprising he has said he will continue Rajapaksa’s policy of blocking the UN from conducting its current war crimes investigation. Sirisena, as much as Rajapaksa, stands accused of war crimes and is now more desperate than ever for the world to forget his role in this atrocity.

“Australia, along with other nations, can play a part in addressing all of these issues.

“Before the new president continues down the same path as Rajapaksa, he needs to know that the international community wants to see a change of direction, away from the repressive militarism that has infected Sri Lankan society, particularly since the end of the war, and destroyed the lives of millions of Tamils, Muslims and Christians.

“Up to now, Australia, under both Labor and Coalition governments, has backed Rajapaksa and his cabal of war criminals in order to bring an end to the flow of Tamil asylum seekers to our shores.

“The two governments struck an agreement in which Tamils have been involuntarily returned to persecution, in defiance of international law. As many as 1500 have been sent back to face imprisonment and, often torture.

“It’s not just illegal but, also, short-sighted. If Tamils in Sri Lanka continue to be rounded up in white vans and taken off to torture chambers, the human survival instinct will ensure they continue to flee in the future.

“The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, could start by reversing Australia’s “whatever it-takes-to-stop-the-boats” foreign policy, which included the shameful (unsuccessful) decision to block the current UN war crimes investigation – a move which saw Australia reject its traditional allies, such as the US, UK and Canada and side with such noted human rights’ abusers as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. 

“Abbott also needs to stop condoning Sri Lankan torture, as he did at CHOGM in Colombo in 2013, and see the change in leadership as a chance to help re-direct policies away from military-led repression to a new way that allows Tamils, in particular, to live the way they decide, and in peace and harmony.

“If Australia really wants to stop Tamils fleeing in the long term, then the root cause must be addressed, which is the persecution. We can only hope that this forms part of the discussion in Abbott’s congratulatory phone call to Sirisena.”

For further information contact Tamil Refugee Council on  +61 400 597 351.