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Canada shames Australia on CHOGM boycott


Protest against Sri Lanka GenocideCanada's conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put Australia to shame by confirming that his country will boycott next month's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka over human rights concerns.

Canada has criticised the Commonwealth for 'accommodating evil' by allowing Sri Lanka to host the event, while Tony Abbott has said simply that 'different countries have different national priorities'.

After returning from a visit to Sri Lanka in August, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay expressed grave concern about the lack of accountability, unresolved enforced disappearances, and decreasing fundamental freedoms.

This prompted Human Rights Watch to urge Commonwealth heads to boycott CHOGM, with Asia director Brad Adams declaring Sri Lanka's government should be shunned — not rewarded — for failing to hold anyone accountable for war crimes during the country's recent conflict. 'Attending a summit in Sri Lanka so soon after the UN rights chief decried a worsening situation sends the wrong message to the government and to victims.'

Abbott made it clear that Australia has no intention of following the lead of his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper. 'Look, I explained to him that I think the Commonwealth is important and that's why I'll be there. Obviously, Australia has some significant bilateral dealings with Sri Lanka over people smuggling as well.'

At least the Australian Government has come clean and admitted that it is conflicted. In saying we have 'different national priorities' to Canada, Abbott has conceded that securing and maintaining Sri Lanka's cooperation in our efforts to 'stop the boats' trumps using the leverage we have at this moment to try to persuade Sri Lanka to respect the human rights of its citizens.

As long as Sri Lanka refuses to respond to the concerns expressed by Pillay, Australian Government claims that Sri Lanka is safe enough for the return of asylum seekers from Australia will look as ridiculous as those of Iraqi information minister 'Comical Ali' when the fall of Saddam Hussein was imminent. 

That is the impression given by Peter Arndt of the Brisbane Catholic Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission, who has just returned from a visit to Sri Lanka as part of a group of 30 Catholic justice and peace workers from across Asia and the Pacific. He said: 'It is outrageous that Mr Abbott is prepared to ignore the suffering and fear which is rife in the north of Sri Lanka in order to keep his commitment to stop the boats.'

Arndt suggested that the systematic way in which Tamil men are being arrested and detained indefinitely 'looks suspiciously like ethnic cleansing'. 'I wish Mr Abbott could meet with the women I met whose husbands and sons have been detained, tortured and, in some cases, killed over the last four years. I wish he could have heard the pain in their voices and seen their tears.'

Perversely it seems Australia's vow to push ahead with CHOGM in Colombo is largely about mateship. The Commonwealth, Abbott says, is 'amongst our oldest international associations'.

'There is, I suppose, familiarity amongst members of the Commonwealth which doesn't always exist in every other forum and I think it's important that those friends we have, we should keep. You do not make new friends by rubbishing your old friends or abandoning your old friends.' 

If mateship had prevailed during the apartheid era in South Africa, the apartheid regime might still be in place.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 



Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Tony Abbott, CHOGM, Stephen Harper, human rights, asylum seekers, Commonwealth



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Existing comments

Of course, it does not matter te least, even if it means Zimbabwe's Mugabe. Anyway, I am a bit confused here, is it always a case that whenever you make new friends it would be a case of rubbishing old friends? His oratory skills need a little bit of polishing.

jansee | 11 October 2013  

It was Gillard who ordered DIAC to forcibly return Sri Lankan asylum seekers without letting them make an asylum claim and Gillard who started trafficking them to Nauru and Manus. It was Bob Carr who said they are liars and that Sri Lanka is marvellous. WE live in a nation so determined not to help people we will commit ourselves to actively supporting genocide, torture, human rights violations and so on. I just wish the aborigines had the good sense to stop the boats.

Marilyn | 12 October 2013  

Stephen Harper is a violator of human rights and has no interest in protecting people in Canada...he posturing and presenting false sympathies...has no interest in allowing UN in Canada to investigate missing andmurdered women because the women are not shite

Canadian View | 12 October 2013  

Thanks for the article with facts. No civilized leader will attend this CHOGM summit as the Sri Lankan regime has committed genocide of the Eelam Tamils, deny Rule of Law, Justice, Democracy, Freedom.

Shiva | 12 October 2013  

looking down the long list of Commonwealth members merely picking on Sri Lanka might be a little extreme. Granted there could be exceptions talking is usually better than standing proudly aloof.

Brian Poidevin | 14 October 2013  

Thanks Michael (long time no see??) Where in Australia are the investigative journalists who are prepared to allow Australians to know the awful truth about what is happening in Sri Lanka, let alone the MPs who are prepared to put their jobs on the line in favour of speaking out about the human right abuses being committed by both the Sri Lankan and Australian governments with respect to asylum seekers from Sri Lanka?

Bill Armstrong | 14 October 2013  

PM Abbott also seems to overlook or even condone Indonesian cruel and harsh rule in West Papua. Respecting territorial boundaries , indeed???

David | 14 October 2013  

Not to mention West Papua.

NamePeter Russell | 14 October 2013  

Thank you Michael for exposing the Sri Lanka sham. I subscribe to srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com where the stories Arndt describes are endless - and devastating. They have been trying since last CHOGM in Perth to get it relocated. The thing is, 'the past four years' are AFTER the war was officially ended. The Peace Campaign and Arndt's stories says the world is in denial - and ignore of UN Human rights commissioner's findings to host CHOGM is scurrilous, putting CHOGM in major disrepute for tacitly condoning ethnic cleansing, ongoing brutality,and family and cultural disruption. Please keep writing Michael.

Carol | 14 October 2013  

Two very depressing articles today. Is our country run by greedy heartless villains?

Gavan Breen | 14 October 2013  

And, of course, it's the word 'mateship' that has caused so much debate in the past, and not just because it has such an exclusively masculine connotation. More importantly, 'mateship' means 'your mate right or wrong'. If your mate beats up his wife, that's not good, but you can't interfere between your mate and his woman! It's clearly this definition of mateship that's guiding Mr Abbott. Too primitive, Tony.

Joan Seymour | 14 October 2013  

It seems you are being unduly harsh on Tony Abbott for not following Canada’s Stephen Harper’s example to not attend the forthcoming CHOGM in Sri Lanka. It is worth noting that the Canadian PM is the only Commonwealth leader to declare he won’t attend. Others, including Britain’s David Cameron, apparently see no problem in attending. And if the matter of getting Sri Lanka’s co-operation to tackle the problem of the boat people is influencing Tony Abbott’s thinking, we need to also consider if Stephen Harper is not being influenced by the large Tamil population in Canada and the value of their electoral support. The claims that failed asylum seekers who are returned to Sri Lanka face arrest and torture are routinely made but where is the evidence to substantiate these claims? I believe that not so long ago Britain stated it had not found evidence of failed asylum seekers returned from Britain being tortured in Sri Lanka. It is said that many successful asylum seekers lose little time to return to Sri Lanka on holidays. This is hardly consistent with claims of persecution and torture.

Fred | 15 October 2013  

Thanks to Michael Mullins and Peter Arndt for shining some light on to the atrocities and injustices being perpetrated against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. For many years, I've heard first hand stories of brutality from family members in Australia of the treatment of their relatives in Sri Lanka. During one campaign at Parliament House in Canberra, a prominent ABC journalist described the Sri Lankan government as a murderous regime. Part of their tactics is to deny opportunity for and proper media scrutiny. If human rights abuses in Sri Lanka were curtailed, there would be no need for its citizens to flee from their homes and their county. I say to Mr Abbott "Stop the boats by stopping the reasons for their deployment.Expose the Sri Lankan government for what it is, rather than pursue a course of denial."

(Bishop) Pat Power | 15 October 2013  

And Tony Abbott said simply that 'different countries have different national priorities'! It leaves me speechless, especially after the number of Tamils / Sri Lankans I have worked with and whose stories I have heard. Anyone have any ideas of how and where we can let our voice be heard or protest about TA's attending CHOGM. Australia is the president of the security council & Sri Lanka is definitely in breach of Human Rights.

Lorraine | 16 October 2013  

Fred, it appears that you are not up to speed with what is and has been happening in Sri Lanka. Gareth Evans wrote a significant article which was printed in The Australian in October 2012 entitled "WAR CRIMES IN SRI LANKA HAVE BEEN IGNORED FOR TOO LONG" www.warwithoutwitness.com.I suggest you follow this up and also watch some of the video footage that is connected with this site. Perhaps even go and meet some Sri Lankan Tamils who are in Australia in our detention centres or with Red Cross or some of the other agencies working with asylum seekers.  

Lorraine | 16 October 2013  

I cannot believe that so few have objected to Tony Abbott, at the moment our PM, declaring on the world stage that Australia does not view human rights as a priority. We here, know that he does not place worth on such a value yet he still claims to be a christian, even catholic! The hypocrisy of this man is unending.
Unfortunately, recent governments have created their policies without regard to human rights, even denying the abuse even death of refugees they have returned to their homelands. There are several practices which could address the 'problem' of the number of people seeking refuge here. Some have been referred to in these columns ie justice for Tamils in Sri Lanka or even a form of the indentured labour scheme so successful in the 1950 immigrant program. Schemes in other countries from which people flee could also be devised. We can use more than one strategy.

Michelle | 18 October 2013  

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