It’s safe to return

Sri Lankan Minister Manoharan Ganesan is currently touring Australia.  A trade unionist, the leader of the Democratic People’s Front (DPF) and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), he is also a the Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages.

Mr Ganesan wants the asylum seekers in Australia to return to Sri Lanka. He claims that it is safe for them to return, “If anyone has broken any law, they may be questioned about it,” he tells SBS Tamil. “But, they will not be taken to torture camps.”

However, not all Tamils in Australia subscribe to that view.

Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson of the Australian Tamil Congress says, “There is evidence that torture and arrests continue in Sri Lanka, even after the new government has taken office, with the International Truth and Justice Project alone documenting at least 36 cases of Tamils being tortured.

The International Truth and Justice Project, named by Dr Pari, is just one of many rights groups who allege the abuses are still continuing despite the war ending, officially, in 2009.

There remains no independently verifiable documentation of this though, as  there has been no international inquiry into war crimes and human rights abuses committed during or since the civil war by either the government or the rebel Tamil Tigers. This is despite repeated calls for an inquiry from no less than the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Dr Sam Pari of the Australian Tamil Congress says that “Sinhalese attorney and human rights activist, Lakshan Dias, has fled Sri Lanka this month because of threat to his life by the Justice Minister.”

“Bold statements such as this by Minister Mano Ganesan makes one question his credibility.”

While activist Lakshan Dias’s current whereabouts could not be confirmed, various rights groups and bloggers report that the prominent lawyer has left the country following speaking out on alleged human rights abuses against the Christian community. The American-headed NGO Human Rights Watch reports that on June 17, 2017, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe threatened to “take necessary steps to remove Mr. Lakshan Dias from the legal profession” after the outspoken lawyer alleged attacks on Christians at 160 churches across the country.

Minister Ganesan tells SBS that he wants anyone who has been mistreated to bring it to his attention, saying that he would deal with it. He further states, “If there are any such issues, please let me know I will handle it. I will address it. I am giving you the assurance.”

During his visit to Australia, Mr Ganesan has blamed the previous government for not winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils, telling SBS Tamil that his government is a government of good governance and that they are fundamentally different from the previous government.

“The previous government considered the defeat of the LTTE as the defeat of Tamils,” says Ganesan.

“[They] continued to oppress Tamil-speaking Muslims as well.

“So, ultimately it was a defeat of Sri Lankans – all but who are both Sinhalese and Buddhists.”

“The previous government considered that the island of Sri Lanka belongs only to Sinhalese and Buddhists, and all others are aliens or outsiders,” said Mr Ganesan.

Mr Ganesan claims that, by contrast, his government believes that the country belongs to all Sri Lankans.

Mr Ganesan has been in politics since 1999. He was first elected to the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 2001. In November 2014, the then-President Rajapaksa called a presidential election – two years ahead of schedule, seeking an unprecedented third term.

President Rajapakse and his government were accused of wide ranging corruption, and brutal treatment of the press.

Most of the opposition parties got together and made Maithripala Sirisena, Minister of Health in Rajapakse’s government as the common opposition candidate. At the election in January 2015, Sirisena inflicted a shock defeat on Rajapaksa and formed the Government.

In 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution on “Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka” for the alleged human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war.

In October 2015 the government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored, along with the US, a resolution (resolution 34.1) on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. In March this year, the Sri Lankan government got a further two-year extension for that.

“This government can not disown that solution.  We a part of it.  We are committed to it.  We have obligations towards it.”

When Mr Ganesan was questioned on the inaction of the government, he shifted the blame to the previous government, saying that the war came to an end in May 2009 and Mr Rajapakse was the President till January 2015.

Mr Ganesan says “President Mahinda Rajapakse did nothing.  He failed.  He conducted a war, won the war… but failed to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people.”

“Now, the UNHRC 34.1 is not somebody else’s solution against Sri Lanka.  It is our own resolution.  We are part of it.  We can’t disown it.”

“This government can not disown that solution.  We a part of it.  We are committed to it.  We have obligations towards it.”

He continued to say that the current government should standby whatever the obligation they have agreed to, at the UNHRC. Otherwise, they would have to face the consequences.(SBS)

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