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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6648

Dr JENSEN (12:47 PM) —I rise today to speak in support of the people of Sri Lanka—all the people Sri Lanka. My seat of Tangney is home to many people from Sri Lanka, including Tamil people. I have a wonderful working relationship with both the Tamil community and the wider Sri Lankan community.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place, sometimes referred to as the pearl of the Indian Ocean. One of its former names was actually Serendip or Serendib, from which we get the word ‘serendipity’, meaning good luck and good fortune. This was made famous in Horace Walpole’s story, The Three Princes of Serendip. It is also the shape of a teardrop, and that is so appropriate because of the years of suffering by so many in the civil war. The fighting is now officially over, and I am sure that we all hope that peace will reign over all Sri Lanka’s people.

To assist the Sri Lankan government and protect the Tamil minority, I now call upon the government to request that neutral, third-party observers be sent to Sri Lanka to help the people through the rebuilding phase—not just rebuilding the infrastructure damaged by years of hostilities but also rebuilding the broken communities, families and neighbours torn apart by conflicting loyalties but united by tragedy and loss.

There was a courageous recognition of the enormity of the humanitarian disaster by Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice, Sarath Silva. Speaking of displaced people, he said:

I was unable to console them. They survive amid immense suffering and distress.

He expressed concern that these already suffering people would not get just treatment:

They cannot expect justice from the law of the country. Their plight and suffering are not brought to the court of law in our country.

He is a brave man, the highest law officer in Sri Lanka, who may well suffer himself for speaking out so poignantly in support of his fellow Sri Lankans—fellow human beings whose lives were so shattered. In many cases the people have lost homes and possessions but, worst of all, they have lost loved ones and they are now being kept in what Chief Justice Silva describes as appalling conditions. According to government figures there are more than 250,000 displaced people in some 20 camps. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent movements have been distributing drinking water, food packs, personal hygiene kits, emergency household items and kitchen utensils to around 40,000 people in the biggest camp, Menik Farm, near Vavuniya. Furthermore, tents and plastic sheeting have been distributed to serve as temporary shelter for around 17,000 people.

There are also worrying signs that journalists on the island are in danger. With the old adage, first articulated in 1758, about the first casualty of war being the truth, it is important that the outside world is kept properly informed. Recently, journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga was shot dead as he drove to work. The government has strongly denied any involvement in this murder. Lasantha’s wife, Sonali Samarasinghe, is one of at least 10 journalists who have fled from the country in the wake of his murder. According to BBC News, at least nine journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past three years. It is essential to get neutral observers into Sri Lanka to ensure, as much as possible, that human rights are being protected for all the people on the island of Sri Lanka. These observers must ensure that Chief Justice Silva’s words are not prophetic. They serve as a warning as to what might happen if there is not some form of international oversight of this important transition phase. I am sure Australians want to help Sri Lanka put this terrible civil war behind it and ensure that after so many years of bloodshed all Sri Lankans can live in a safe, harmonious and just society.