The charade of Australian-Sri Lankan relations

30/07/2012

After the forcible return in the face of desperate pleas, and 16 hours of continuous interrogation by Sri Lanka’s notorious Criminal Investigations Department in the presence of Australian authorities, returned Tamil asylum seeker Mr X has become an emblem of the maniacal turn of the Sri Lankan state.

In May 2012, when Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen travelled to Sri Lanka in a visit intended both to solidify Australia’s alliance with the Sri Lankan terror state and discuss measures to stop refugees escaping from Sri Lanka to Australia – Mr X received an emergency visit from the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team in Melbourne as his mental health took a sharp decline. Mr X as well as other Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers was fearful that closer relations between Australia and Sri Lanka would mean forcible deportation back to those who persecuted them. The latest events have vindicated that fear.

Friends, family, advocates and supporters who had accompanied Mr X every step of his two year battle for refugee status, were at least relieved to see his face appear on Sri Lankan national television last Thursday night. Mr X had not been allowed any external contact during his 16 hour long interrogation, let alone legal representation. His family and supporters were relieved to know he was alive.

However what followed from a beleaguered and strained Mr X was a chilling statement which in every word spoke of the coercion and threat he is now facing. In this event organised by Sri Lanka’s Information Department, Mr X recanted all of his claims of torture and persecution.

CEO and founder of RISE, Ramesh Fernandez said, Mr X was made to deny that he had suffered a severe back injury while in the cages of the Sri Lankan security forces – an injury that has been twice documented and confirmed by the head of the Australian College of Physiotherapists. Mr X was made to deny the post-traumatic symptoms he has suffered since being tortured, the severity of which have touched and concerned a plethora of Australia’s best trauma counsellors and experts. He was made to describe Sri Lanka as ‘the best place on earth.’ To force your victims to praise you in public is a sick act.

In a scene akin to the most sadistic and cruel international show trial, an obviously coerced Mr X was made to do the bidding of the Australian government, warning others against the use of people smugglers in their efforts to escape from the Sri Lankan state’s vicious security forces. Then, in a sad attempt to distance this statement from the Australian government and its hand in his forced return and 16 hours interrogation, he ridiculed Australia’s disregard for its “international obligations.

This propaganda should be seen as a chilling collaboration of the Sri Lankan and Australian governments” said Ramesh Fernandez. “We condemn Australia’s role in forcing Mr X to act as the mouthpiece for its collaboration with Sri Lanka in the forced return of Sri Lanka’s Tamil victims.

Just three short years ago, the present government of Sri Lanka’s slaughter and destruction of the nation’s Tamil community were later described by international bodies as genocide. At the beginning of this year, Human Rights Watch documented at least 12 cases of torture by the Sri Lankan authorities of forced Tamil returnees. In March 2012, representatives of 24 nations on the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to condemn crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state.

At what point did we agree to pretend that these war criminals are trusted upholders of the human rights of those Tamils we choose to forcibly deport?

Now, through the opportunistic use of the first forced returnee to Sri Lanka since 2008, the Australian and Sri Lankan governments force their victim to declare the country ‘the best place on earth’. These events are clear evidence of the maniacal turn of the Sri Lankan government and Australia’s willingness to play into their hands, just to evade Australia’s responsibility to give protection to Tamil refugees fleeing persecution.

On behalf of RISE, we demand public reasons from the Australian government and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship for the removal of Mr X, in the face of ongoing concern by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture, and the UNHCR. We demand an end to the forced return of asylum seekers to the rogue state of Sri Lanka.