Diplomats fear Australia will wreck UN probe into Sri Lankan war crimes

Abbot Aussie pm   Diplomats preparing for the UN Human Rights Council next month have expressed concern Australia is working to ”actively undermine” a push for an international inquiry into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, because of Australia’s eagerness to co-operate with the country’s leaders on asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in November his government would give Sri Lanka two Bay-class patrol boats, at a cost of $2 million, to help the country stem the flow of asylum seekers to Australia.

It is part of a wider agreement between the two countries, which has led to the Sri Lankan navy, with Australia’s help, intercepting boats trying to depart the Sri Lankan coast and returning them.

Well-placed sources involved in the preparations for the UN meeting have told Fairfax there is ”deep concern” among US and British officials at Australia’s position.

The US will sponsor a resolution at the March meeting criticising Sri Lanka’s human rights record, with reports it could call for an international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the dying days of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. It is estimated between 40,000 and 70,000 civilians lost their lives in the final phase of the war, particularly as government forces advanced on the Tamil Tigers in the country’s north.

Australia has supported the US resolutions on Sri Lanka in the past. However, Australia was accused by some officials of undermining discussions last year, while publicly backing calls for an investigation into possible war crimes.

”[They] are concerned that Australia may spring a nasty surprise this year and not only fail to co-sponsor it but work to weaken or defeat it,” one source said.

”If that was the case, it would have Australia joining forces with such human rights pariah states as Russia, China and Cuba and working against traditional allies such as the US, UK, Canada, Norway and France.”

In November, when Mr Abbott visited Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth heads of government summit, he made clear he would not follow the lead of Britain and Canada’s leaders and publicly raise concerns, saying: ”I don’t propose to lecture the Sri Lankans on human rights.”

He also appeared to brush aside concerns about human rights abuses, saying ”sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen”.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said Australia had raised human rights issues with senior members of the Sri Lankan government, ”in the margins of CHOGM”.

She said Australia would make a final decision on its position on the US resolution on Sri Lanka ”after due consideration of the final text and the balance of issues it raises”.

”We encourage all parties to take a constructive approach and any resolution must be seen to assist the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka,” the spokeswoman said. (Sydney Morning Herald)

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