[ Sudarshana Gunawardane and Brito Fernando ]
The decision of the University of Sydney to de-invite two Sri Lanka human rights defenders under the pressure of Sri Lanka Defence Ministry form the International conference on Enhancing Human Rights and Security in the Asia Pacific is a serious issue says number of organisations. The University itself admits that they are de-inviting HRDs working in difficult situation.
Explaining the situation Brito Fernando of the Right to Life organisation says that ‘the Sydney University did invite me (Right to Life) and some other NGO activists from Sri Lanka, including Sudarshana Gunawardane (Rights Now ) to participate in a seminar on Torture, in Bangkok All of a sudden , myself and Sudarshana were requested by Sydney university to withdraw ourselves from attending the conference, due to the opposition from Sri Lanka defense ministry against the participation our participation’.
In an open letter to Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer, Director Enhancing Human Rights and Security in the Asia Pacific of the University of Sydney, Amnesty International insists that best course of action would have been ‘the reissuing the invitation to the individuals you have excluded from the conference and reassured all participants without exception that they may speak freely.’
In the letter of de-inviting two Sri Lankan human rights defenders form the International conference, Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer admits that in asking certain NGOs not to attend, they are capitulating to pressure and thus in a sense affirming that power can be misused in this way. It further says that they are also aware of the danger that we are sending you or other Sri Lankan NGOs (who continue to work under the most difficult circumstances) the message that they will simply cut you off when the programme is faced with a conflict.
Richard Bennett, Director, Asia-Pacific Programme of the Amnesty International further says in his letter that ‘the Sri Lankan government has been persistent in its intolerance of dissent, its attacks on human rights defenders and journalists and its assaults on academic freedom. The climate of impunity that exists in Sri Lanka has been devastating to civil society and to the rule of law. Brave individuals still able and willing to speak out openly against this trajectory of abuse deserve our respect and support. The organizers’ retraction of their invitations sends a message that the sentiments of the officials who have been invited matter more than those of civil society participants. But in fact change in Sri Lanka, as anywhere, depends on individuals having the freedom to challenge state authorities to be accountable and to uphold human right and the rule of law. It is our duty to help them do that.’
Meanwhile another Sri Lanka NGO also working on torture has withdrawn in protest. The Janasansadaya in its letter to the University says that ‘ our organization has been informed by the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice of dis-inviting of two NGO participants from Sri Lanka due to objections from the Ministry of Defense.
That is a sad and a serious situation.
We also share the view of several other colleagues from human rights organizations that unless these two participants are re-invited we feel obliged not to attend this meeting as it will compromise us, on the principles we hold dear.’