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Sri Lankan High Commissioner: Blood on his sword

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 23 July 2012


Writing in The Canberra Times on 18 July 2012, Daniel Flitton advises that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have dropped an investigation of war crimes into the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, former Admiral, Thisara Samarasinghe.

Samarasinghe joined the Sri Lankan navy in 1974 and retired in 2011, after his appointment to Australia became known. Samarasinghe was Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan navy in 2009 when the navy carried out the shelling of Tamil women and children in a safe zone designated by the Sri Lankan defence force, in the north of the country, at the end of the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

Whether he ordered the shelling or not, Samarasinghe as Chief of Staff held a very senior and responsible position in the navy and as a result must be held to account.

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There is no question that Samarasinghe should be recalled. A former Commodore in the Sri Lankan navy has been refused permission by the Canadian Federal Court to apply for refugee status in Canada because of his complicity in war crimes in 2009.

In 2005 and 2008 the Canadian Government refused to accept nominations from the government of Sri Lanka for the position of high commissioner on grounds that both nominees were guilty of human rights abuse.

In September 2011, former Sri Lankan General, Jaghat Dias, who had been appointed ambassador to Germany and Switzerland, was recalled to Colombo, following accusations that he was complicit in the shelling of civilian and hospital targets at the end of the war.

In 1995 the nomination, as ambassador, of former Indonesian General Herman Mantiri was rejected by Australia on the basis of war crimes committed against the East Timorese.

The U.N. has accepted that the Sri Lankan defence forces were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the final weeks of the war, just as they accept that both sides in the civil war were guilty of war crimes during the course of the conflict.

The President of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, John Dowd, AO, released a statement on 17 October last year, which said in part, “Those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 must not be allowed to go unpunished. The expert committee established by the United Nations Secretary-General found credible allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”

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Senator Lee Rhiannon of the Greens says, “If the Prime Minister has information which clears the High Commissioner of any complicity in war crimes then she should share this with the Australian people. If not, the Australian government should immediately ask the Sri Lankan government to recall its High Commissioner, or move to expel him.”

The AFP should never have been tasked with investigating the matter of Samarasinghe’s culpability in condoning war crimes. They have a conflict of interest. Charged with preventing boat arrivals of refugees from Sri Lanka and with helping to organise disruption activities with the Sri Lankan navy, they are hardly in a position to bite the hand of a former representative of the service that AFP officers based in Sri Lanka are now working closely with. The Australian government condones this activity.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was said to have been opposed to Samarasinghe’s appointment but the AFP may well have pushed for it in order to assist their disruption activities of which Samarasinghe has admitted undertaking (ABC radio interview 17.7.12).

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Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
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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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