A BRISBANE Church agency is calling for the Australian Government to take a stronger stance on human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) made the call in the wake of a warning that Sri Lanka may lose preferential trade benefits unless human rights concerns are addressed.
This follows the European Union’s (EU) announcement that Sri Lanka’s $3.47 billion textile and clothing industry may have its tariff benefit suspended within six months unless 27 international human rights conventions are met.
CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt, in explaining the commission’s position said: “The EU’s threat of removal of trade benefits is part of a very loud and prolonged chorus of concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka.
“On the same day as the announcement, the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in Sri Lanka said there was a loss of faith in the democratic process and just governance.
“We in the Church in Australia should also heed the cries of those who suffer in Sri Lanka and the concerns expressed by the Church in that country.”
The suspension of the tariff benefit as foreshadowed by the February 16 announcement by the European Union could seriously affect Sri Lanka’s textile and clothing industry, Mr Arndt said.
Sri Lanka benefits from trade concessions in the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+), an incentive scheme tied to the improvement of human rights and good governance.
The scheme provides tariff cuts to support vulnerable developing countries.
Mr Arndt said the Australian Govern-ment should add its voice to those of many other Western nations who have expressed serious concerns about the treatment of Tamils during and since the final stages of the conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers last year.
“The treatment of Tamil civilians by both the Tigers and the military during the final stages of the conflict was appalling,” he said.
“Tamil civilians were killed and injured in great numbers by actions on both sides.”
Mr Arndt said since the end of the conflict “the Sri Lankan Government has received repeated criticisms from many quarters for its treatment of the hundreds of thousands of Tamils it detained in camps in the north of the country”.
“Throughout the whole of this period, the country’s Government has restricted the capacity of international aid and human rights organisations to monitor the treatment of Tamil civilians,” he said.
“Journalists and critics of the Govern-ment, including Sarath Fonseka who ran in the recent presidential elections, are arrested on what appear to be trumped up charges and killed or simply disappear.
“The International Crisis Group is one of many respected international organisations which have released reports and statements expressing grave concerns about the treatment of Tamils and critics of the Government.
“The group recently issued a report calling for the Sri Lankan Government to address the legitimate Tamil concerns about systematic discrimination against them.
“Under pressure from the international community, the Sri Lankan Government accelerated the release of detainees late last year, but over 100,000 people are still in the camps.”
Credible reports indicate that camp conditions are squalid, Mr Arndt said.
“Despite claims of freedom of movement for those in camps, the truth is that people cannot leave without gaining approval and they must report regularly to police.
“For those who have returned to their home area, there appears to be little support or income.”