Australia likes human rights in forums and debates but does little in reality

As Amnesty releases its annual report and highlights the “politicisation of international justice” – Israel and Sri Lanka are on their hit list -these issues have direct connection to Australia and the Labor government’s refusal to legally manage refugees from countries at war:

RACHAEL BROWN: Last month Australia’s Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced the situation in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan had improved such that people no longer needed to seek protection elsewhere.

Amnesty International called the decision “an appalling political move”. In London Amnesty’s interim secretary general Claudio Cordone has called on Australia to resume processing asylum claims.

CLAUDIO CORDONE: Sri Lanka is still a situation where you have Tamils being abused in displaced camps and so on and nothing has been done to redress the abuses that took place a year ago but even going further back.

I mean there have been the disappearances. There have been all kind of abuses for which no-one has been held to account.

In Afghanistan actually we’re seeing an increase in fighting, in violence by the Taliban but also you know abuses by the government forces and by other armed groups. So you know there’s no way that one can say that the situation in Afghanistan is one in general that is conducive to returning people who have serious fears of persecution.

RACHAEL BROWN: Sri Lankan doctor Kasippillai Manoharan says his son was murdered in 2006 by security forces.

He fled the country because of death threats he received after being one of the few brave enough to testify at the inquest of the five murdered Tamil students.

I asked Dr Manoharan how he feels about the Australian Government’s belief the climate in his country has improved.

KASIPPILLAI MANOHARAN: No any safety for Tamils in Sri Lanka, impossible! Still the war is going on in Sri Lanka. Every day, every day.

Very recently one student – I think that he is 19 years or something – died (inaudible) killed by some other weapons group.

After that the magistrate want to open, make an open warrant for that murdering man. He is make threat for that same magistrate.

RACHAEL BROWN: Wazhma Frough left Afghanistan after threatening phone calls after her report on violence against women and marital rape.

She says she stopped believing in Australia’s democracy after its claims processing freeze.

WAZHMA FROUGH: And I think it is an international discrimination that… I was very much hoping that at least from the UN Human Rights Council and other human rights organisations we would hear protest about it.

Why are Afghans… Afghans anyways they have huge problems in terms of immigration in any country of the world.

RACHAEL BROWN: Amnesty’s Claudio Cordone says the claims processing freeze might have more to do with Australia’s strategic and business interests with the Sri Lankan Government and Australia’s commitment to the US led occupation of Afghanistan.

CLAUDIO CORDONE: The debate on asylum or just also like on migration is often very much driven by politics. And this may be another example of how – you know politics trump justice.

It’s not just Australia. It’s other countries. We’ve seen it in Europe and so on.

Again the key principles here remain the same from when the convention on refugees was adopted. That is individuals must have the right to apply for asylum and their cases must be analysed and adjudicated individually.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Brussels think tank has said that Australia tacitly backed the Government’s war against the LTTE and that the Rudd Government with its refugee freeze continues in that complicity.

Would you agree with that statement?

CLAUDIO CORDONE: I think the best evidence of commitment by Australia with regard to the situation in Sri Lanka is to back our call and the call from the International Crisis Group and others to have an independent inquiry into what happened during the war between the Tamil Tigers and the government.

There has been increasing evidence despite all the attempts by the Sri Lankan Government to deny it or to dismiss it that war crimes and other serious abuses have taken place.

The Sri Lankan Government is in no position to set up a credible national investigation. They promised the UN that they would take steps. And we’re calling on the UN and on other countries to make sure that there is an international inquiry and we would look forward to the Australian Government to back that call.

RACHAEL BROWN: Does it worry you that not much spotlight has been put on Sri Lanka? You know, we’re seeing civilian deaths of about 30,000 I believe compared to only 2,000 in Gaza which has received much more world-wide media attention.

CLAUDIO CORDONE: I think partly it’s a result of the fact that powerful governments are not interested in seeing Sri Lanka being held to account. And that’s why we’re insisting for international commission of inquiry.

And it is important that regardless of the numbers, the fact that if you don’t have a proper commission of inquiry you’ll never get to the truth. And this is one of the preconditions for actually protracting the conflict.

Today the Tigers may have been defeated. But unless you address the situation, discrimination and so on of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka this conflict can erupt in different ways and continue.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Amnesty’s interim secretary general Claudio Cordone ending that report by Rachael Brown.