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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Australian envoy draws ire for role in Tamil ceremony

Daniel Flitton
 Ambassoder Kathy Klugman has been criticised for presenting Sri Lankan awards.
A TOP Australian diplomat has handed out certificates to alleged Tamil rebels after they were put through two years of official ”rehabilitation” at camps run by the Sri Lankan government.

In a move condemned by a leading international law advocate, Australia’s high commissioner to Sri Lanka, Kathy Klugman, took part in a ceremony in Colombo on Friday to release about 1800 Tamils after what the military called ”a two-year rehabilitation program”. But John Dowd – president of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia and former New South Wales attorney-general – condemned the program in the camps as ”re-education, not rehabilitation”.

He warned that Australia was lending legitimacy to a regime that refuses to allow an investigation of alleged war crimes during the country’s vicious civil war.

Advertisement: Story continues below More than 11,000 people surrendered in the dying days of the conflict that ended in May 2009 and had been held without charge in at least 24 military-run camps.

Ms Klugman – who last month congratulated the ”effectiveness” of Sri Lanka’s security services for stopping a boat carrying 44 Tamils fleeing to Australia – was one of a number of foreign envoys, including from the US, at the ceremony. Local media reported she handed out certificates for skills training offered in the camps to the Tamils in areas such as carpentry and agriculture.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said those released, reported as the last of those in detention, were rehabilitated according to international standards. ”We have made you a person worthwhile to society,” he told them.

But human rights groups accuse Sri Lanka of continuing to hold thousands of Tamil Tiger suspects under draconian anti-terrorism laws.

Of the 44 Tamils stopped on September 11 on the boat to Australia, six have reportedly been accused of being former rebels and sent to a camp in the country’s south.

Sri Lanka has refused to allow an independent investigation into human rights violations by both sides in the four-decade war over a homeland for the island’s Tamil minority.

The Greens in Australia are demanding Sri Lanka be suspended from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Perth this month – a move Professor Dowd has backed.

Australia has so far adopted a cautious line on Sri Lanka in international forums, last week praising the establishment of a Sri Lankan reconciliation commission in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. This came despite Amnesty International condemning Colombo’s official inquiry into the final weeks of the conflict – when more than 7000 people are believe to have been killed – as ”flawed at every level”.

A Foreign Affairs Department spokesman said Australia had not provided any funding for Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation programs.

”Nor has Australia supported activities relating to ex-combatants in detention. Australia has urged the Sri Lankan government to charge or release ex-combatants,” he said.


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