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The AFP gets close to the edge of the law

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 13 April 2010


In pursuing a case against three Australians of Sri Lankan Tamil background for supplying funds to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the Australian Federal Police (AFP) relied on information provided or vetted by the Sri Lankan government. These facts emerged during the trial of Arumugan Rajeevan, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan before Victorian Supreme Court Justice Paul Coghlan which concluded on March 31 with stinging criticism by the Judge of the methods of interrogation employed by the AFP. Justice Coghlan described these methods as outrageous and a fundamental departure from the principals accepted as governing interrogations.

Once again it appears as if the AFP have moved very close to the edge of the law in getting a desired outcome, another being the interrogation and charges brought against Dr Haneef, a monumental blunder and error of judgment which is a contributor to the current poor relationship between Australia and India.

For the past 15 years or so the Sri Lankan government has applied pressure on the Australian government to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. Dennis Richardson as head of ASIO (now head of DFAT), rightly resisted that pressure, but following his departure, the AFP asserted dominance within intelligence circles and circumvented that restraint, culminating in the case against the three Australian citizens. The judge took such a leery view of the case that all three have been released on bonds.

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The Sri Lankan government will not be pleased and through their High Commission in Canberra will no doubt make representations, as well as pursuing the issue through their networks within the AFP.

The Sri Lankan High Commission has conducted a campaign of harassment against Australians of Tamil background for the last decade. This has been tolerated by Australian authorities who should have been offering these citizens protection. The High Commission has been acting improperly; it should be directed to cease those activities. Officers posted to Australia to harass Tamils should be sent back to Sri Lanka.

If the AFP felt constrained to rely on the Sri Lankan government as the sole source of information on matters relating to the LTTE, it is safe to assume that ASIO does likewise. That information is biased and unreliable. Yet ASIO has seen fit to declare four Tamil asylum seekers on Christmas Island threats to national security. In a democracy we have a right to ask why? What is the threat they represent? What is the case against them? If they were former members of the LTTE they represent no threat. As soldiers or supporters on the losing side of a civil war they are deserving of our assistance and compassion.

For many years it has been a requirement of the Australian government to seek a security clearance from the Sinhalese police for Tamils seeking refugee status in Australia. When I was posted to the Australia High Commission in Colombo I could see no sense in the arrangement. It was best ignored for all it did was to put the family of the applicant in jeopardy.

ASIO and the AFP rely on goodwill to carry out their duties towards ensuring the security of the nation. Goodwill is built on trust, without it security organisations operate in a hostile domestic environment and need to rely on an increasing number of agents. Look at East Germany or indeed China. The AFP has done little to build trust in recent years.

ASIO needs to revisit its decision relating to the Tamils who received an adverse security rating, particularly since these are the same people singled out as terrorists some months earlier by the Sri Lankan High Commission.

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In the opinion of the regional director of UNHCR, security in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is returning to normal and that there is now not a case for people from these countries to claim refugee status. Both the government and the opposition cite this authoritative UN source. The Department of Immigration has recently returned refugee applicants to both countries saying that their claims cannot be sustained in the light of positive change in these countries.

Other sources including Amnesty make no such assessment. Young Tamil males are still disappearing off the streets of Colombo and a quick glance at the evening news will show that nothing has changed in Afghanistan, in fact it is poised to get worse with the approach of summer.

When it comes to doing deals with “friendly” governments UNHCR has form. In 1993 the regional UNHCR representative did a deal with the Australian government declaring that women fleeing China because of persecution or the fear of persecution, as a result of the one child policy, were not refugees. The Australian government, as usual, were concerned about a flood from the north. The quid pro quo was that Australia would agree to take more refugees from UNHCR camps, paradoxically among them being Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan.

No doubt some sort of deal making has been involved to help Australia justify sending politically sensitive refugees back home in an election year.

It is a disgrace and there is not a single independent source of information that supports the contention that Tamils from the north do not face a fear of persecution in Sri Lanka or that life for the average Afghan trader and farmer is safe. Shame Senator Evans.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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