Australia should follow Canadian PM’s example


aus-greenAustralia’s Greens leader Christine Milne has accused the Gillard government of placing domestic politics ahead of human rights by refusing to boycott the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.

Describing it as hypocrisy on Labor’s part, the Greens leader said sending asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka when its government continued to sponsor human rights violations was outrageous.

And turing a blind eye to those abuses by attending the CHOGM to be hosted by Sri Lanka this year was appalling, she said.

Senator Milne said the Australian Government was taking a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach to what was actually happening in Sri Lanka.

Her rebuke follows Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s insistence on being at the November summit despite increasing human rights violations across the South Asian country.

The minister told ABC’s Lateline program he was not convinced the Sri Lankan government was engaging in human rights abuses.

“I think some of the stories that have been put to us, when we’ve checked them out, haven’t been sustained,” Senator Carr said.

He also pointed to evidence of improvements in the country when it came to human rights and said boycotting CHOGM would be counter productive.

“I think the concerns we’ve got about human rights in Sri Lanka are best met through engagement with that country,” he said.

But Senator Milne, who last year visited Sri Lanka and heard first-hand of some of the atrocities allegedly committed there, said the Australian government’s position could not be sustained.

She said Australia should follow Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s example and refuse to attend the summit unless there were dramatic improvements in Sri Lanka.

“I’m very disappointed that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Bob Carr are not taking a much stronger stand against these human rights abuses,” Senator Milne said.

“And the excuse for not taking a stronger stand, according to Bob Carr, is that it’s better to be engaged in the process and to try to bring about change that way.”

Senator Milne said such an approach could only be useful if Australia was blunt with Sri Lanka.

But the government wants asylum seeker issues “off its plate” before the election and so won’t properly engage Sri Lanka over human rights.

“It really is a closed loop between the Australian government, the Sri Lankan government and the churn of asylum seekers and no questions asked about what actually is going on in Sri Lanka as we speak,” she said.

“I would call on the Prime Minister and minister Carr to actually take a stand on Sri Lankan human rights.

“If Australia, being on the UN Security Council, wants to be taken seriously in this region as a middle power then we’ve got to be seen to be putting at the head of our agenda the strengthening of human rights.

“It should not be pushing it to the bottom of the agenda beneath domestic political considerations in relation to an election and asylum seekers.”

Amnesty International said Australia should play a role in having the CHOGM summit moved from Sri Lanka if human rights abuses continued.

Campaign co-ordinator Ming Yu said a new report to be released on Tuesday titled Assault on Dissent provided ample evidence that violations were escalating in Sri Lanka.

“We would encourage the Australian government to properly consider all the credible evidence that exists on this issue and take it into account when making their asylum seeker polices,” Ms Yu said.

“Amnesty International would like to see Australia and the whole international community insist that if these kinds of human rights abuses continue then the government of Sri Lanka not host CHOGM or be awarded the Commonwealth chair.”

Ms Gillard did not comment, a spokeswoman saying there was nothing to add to Senator Carr’s remarks