Auz. PM pushes hard line on Sri Lanka

| by Michelle Grattan
Courtesy The Age

(October 27, Perth , Sri Lanka Guardian) Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with the President of Sri Lanka Mahindra Rajapaksa during a bilateral meeting at CHOGM in Perth on Wednesday 26 October 2011.

Julia Gillard meeting Sri Lanka's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in Perth yesterday. Photo: Andrew Meares

JULIA Gillard has delivered a sharp message to Sri Lanka - which is under attack from within the Commonwealth and whose President has been accused of war crimes - to address its major issues of human rights.

Speaking ahead of her meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday, the Prime Minister said Australia's position was clear. ''We have consistently raised our concerns about human rights questions in the end stages of the [Sri Lankan] conflict. These need to be addressed by Sri Lanka, through its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.''

Ms Gillard indicated that she would be taking up the human rights issue with the President.
Advertisement: Story continues below

But Ms Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd ruled out the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting revisiting the issue of Sri Lanka hosting the next CHOGM.

Mr Rudd told a news conference it would be a matter for individual governments as to how they viewed matters in Sri Lanka between now and the next CHOGM in two years' time.

''I think our friends in Sri Lanka are mindful that there are a range of views on this across the Commonwealth and … the agenda makes it possible for individual governments to raise these matters in the next two days [in the foreign ministers' meeting] but also when the heads of government meet.''

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened his country may boycott CHOGM in Sri Lanka if there is not an improvement in human rights.

Mr Harper said this month he wanted ''to make clear to my fellow leaders at the Commonwealth that if we do not see progress in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights … I will not as Prime Minister be attending that Commonwealth summit [in 2013]''.

President Rajapaksa has had an allegation accusing him of war crimes brought against him in an Australian court.

But Attorney-General Robert McClelland has refused permission for a criminal investigation to go ahead, saying the request breached domestic law and Australia's obligations under international law.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said respect for fundamental human rights was one of the core values of the Commonwealth.

''We have offered our support to Sri Lanka in the past and remain available to assist if the Sri Lankan government so wishes. Sri Lanka is aware that the Commonwealth has considerable expertise.''

Later, a spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said the Prime Minister in the talks noted the opportunity provided by the Perth CHOGM to reform and strengthen the Commonwealth, including its ability to support democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

She also pointed to Australia's support for reconstruction, resettlement and reconciliation efforts in Sri Lanka, including through the development co-operation program.

She asked about progress in Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and underlined the importance of this process in addressing allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka at the close of the civil war.

The president of the International Commission of Jurists' Australian chapter, John Dowd, said yesterday there was damning new photographic evidence of war crimes by the Sri Lankan army.

He said that this included evidence of executions and degradation of female victims in 2009.

The photographs had been sent to him by an Australian union official recently, and he had passed the evidence on to the Australian Federal Police.

''All members of the Commonwealth, if the Commonwealth is going to be taken notice of as a human rights body discussing human rights, should take this fact into account,'' Mr Dowd said.