Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Assistant Treasurer
Minister for Housing
Minister for Homelessness, Social and Community Housing
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Human Rights in Sri Lanka

As I rise today to speak on this motion I wish to emphasise from the outset that this government takes seriously all allegations of human rights violations and international crimes and, as you will appreciate further in a moment, this is the government’s approach when it comes to human rights concerns involving Sri Lanka. We recognise that there are ongoing human rights concerns in Sri Lanka.

As speakers earlier have noted, it was only a few years that ago that Sri Lanka was engulfed in civil conflict, and we acknowledge that there are still ongoing issues of accountability and reconciliation. That is why it is important that a constructive approach is taken by all parties to any UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka. Any resolution must be aimed at assisting the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka. As Labor and the Greens well know, we have yet to receive the final text of the resolution. When we do receive the final text, we will carefully consider whether to co-sponsor a US-led resolution. We will make a decision after giving due consideration to the final text and balancing all of the issues; we will not be pushed into a position or be rushed into making decision by Labor or the Greens. We want to assist Sri Lanka to make genuine progress on human rights, accountability and reconciliation—all of which requires the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government.

This government wants to see the allegations of serious international crimes, committed by both sides during Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, independently investigated and transparently prosecuted. Pursuing those responsible for these terrible events and working towards reconciliation is clearly vital for Sri Lanka. The government has consistently and directly raised these issues with the Sri Lankan government and urged it to facilitate independent and transparent investigations.

We also have a regular dialogue with other political, official and community representatives on Sri Lanka related issues here in Australia. As recently as 5 March, our foreign minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop, met with Mr MA Sumanthiran, from the Tamil National Alliance, to discuss the resolution and the situation in Sri Lanka more broadly. On the margins of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last November, PM Abbott and Ms Bishop both raised human rights issues at the most senior levels of the Sri Lankan government. Our high commission in Colombo regularly raises human rights issues, including registering our concern at the 16 March arrest of Father Praveen and Ruki Fernando in northern Sri Lanka, whom we were pleased to see subsequently released.

Both our foreign minister and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, have an appreciation and understanding of the on-the-ground situation in Sri Lanka, having visited the country in February last year. At every opportunity our government engages with the Sri Lankan government to help advance progress on human rights and accountability. It is this approach, rather than one that seeks to isolate the Sri Lankan government, that we consider will ultimately achieve real progress in addressing human rights concerns. It is an approach that we will continue to take.

We acknowledge that progress has been limited in some areas, such as in implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the LLRC, which we have pressed upon the Sri Lankan government should be implemented with great urgency. In other areas, progress is being made, such as with the resettlement of internally displaced persons; de-mining; and infrastructure development in the north and east of the country, hard hit by the civil conflict as well as the September 2013 Northern Province council election.

Australia will continue to encourage the Sri Lankan government to build on this progress and to take the further necessary steps towards addressing human rights concerns in that country.