Greens Senator asks Australian Tamil community to lobby local politicians
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has urged the Tamil community to pressure Australian politicians to speak against the “genocide in Sri Lanka”. Speaking at a public meeting organised by the Australian Tamil Congress at the Red Gum Hall, Wentworthville, Senator Rhiannon said the Tamil vote, in Sydney’s western suburbs for example, was sizeable enough to make Australian politicians responsive to the concerns of the Tamil diaspora regarding human rights violations in north east Sri Lanka.
Professor S J Emmanuel, president of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), also spoke at the meeting about the activities of the GTF and the Tamil diaspora’s responsibilities.
In her speech, Senator Rhiannon listed her findings and concerns from a fact-finding trip to Sri Lanka, which attracted a great deal of media attention, at the time of last year’s CHOGM meet. Rhiannon said that a number of themes emerged from her meetings with several Tamil political and social organisations and activists in Sri Lanka. All these themes pointed to the fact that there are legitimate reasons to believe that the situation in the Northern province of Sri Lanka amounted to “structural genocide”.
Rhiannon said that government surveillance of the local population in the Northern provinces and the disappearance of hundreds of civilians and cases of rape, torture and attacks on media organisations pointed to the seriousness of the problem in Sri Lanka.
The Greens Senator said that she had met several women who had to head households after the disappearance of family members. Cases of children being taken away from their parents too were worryingly prevalent, she said.
According to the Senator, the Sri Lankan army had played an active role in confiscating the land of Tamils in the North. Rhiannon said that public infrastructure, like roads, for the civilian population was poor while the army reserved the good infrastructure in the region for its own use. Tamil places of worship were destroyed and replaced with Buddhist stupas in an effort to change the social and historical landscape.
Rhiannon said that according to research done by local Church figures around 2,300 people had disappeared since the Sri Lankan government’s 2009 offensive to crush Tamil resistance. Rhiannon said it was worrying that the Terrorist Investigation Division was still operational and that it intimidated the local civilians in the North.
Senator Rhiannon said that the Sri Lankan army was being used to change the face of the Tamil regions and the land use there.
Call to Australian Politicians
Given this context of violence, uncertainty and economic pressure, Senator Rhiannon said that the Australian government’s response to Tamil migrants and refugees should change. Rhiannon said that Tony Abbott’s praise for the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record, at the CHOGM, amounted to an endorsement of genocide.
The Tamil vote in Sydney
Senator Rhiannon reminded the Tamil community that the Abbott government holds many marginal seats and it is well within the Australian Tamil community’s ability to vote out politicians who did not support their cause. She gave the example of Parramatta and Reid. In Parramatta, the Senator said, the seat was won by a narrow margin of slightly over 900 votes; there were over 3,000 Tamils in this constituency and they could decide the outcome in the coming elections. In Reid, the margin in the last election was 1,460 votes, and the Tamil community has 3,335 voters here. According to the senator, even if half the community changed their vote it would impact the results.
Rhiannon said that politicians in the UK and Canada were forced to take a stand against the Sri Lankan government by the Tamil community’s lobbying, and the Australian Tamil community should be proactive on the local electoral front so that its concerns and interests are responsibly represented in international fora by Australian politicians.
Speaking to The Indian Sun, Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson of the ATC, said that the meeting at Red Gum Hall was part of a campaign to get the UNHRC, in its March 2014 meeting, take a stand against the Sri Lankan government. Dr Pari said that independent research had revealed that around 146,679 Tamils were unaccounted for in Sri Lanka since 2009 and the international community had failed to act against the Sri Lankan government.