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Monday, 24 March 2014
Page: 2923


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:10): I rise today to speak in support of reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka and I commend my colleague the member for Greenway on her motion. On a visit to Sri Lanka last year the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights observed that after a vicious and debilitating 27-year conflict the fighting is over but suffering is not. The high commissioner has consistently reiterated the need for a full, transparent and impartial investigation into a conflict that saw numerous war crimes and other violations committed by both sides.

The situation in Sri Lanka following the decades long war has been the subject of Human Rights Council resolutions in 2012 and 2013 and in both instances, in 2012 and 2013, Australia supported the Human Rights Council resolutions. In these resolutions the United Nations urged the government of Sri Lanka to adopt the findings and recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The commission's recommendations highlight the need to credibly investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings and disappearances; demilitarise the north of Sri Lanka; implement land dispute resolution mechanisms; re-evaluate detention policies; strengthen civil institutions; reach a settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces; promote and protect freedom of expression; and, finally, enact rule of law reforms.

This week the UN Human Rights Council will again consider a report on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka including through an independent international investigation into violations and abuses of human rights by both parties in Sri Lanka. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has acknowledged the progress made by the government of Sri Lanka since 2009 in relation to de-mining, resettlement and reconstruction and rehabilitation. The high commissioner has also welcomed the elections to the Northern Provincial Council in 2013. Likewise, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons also acknowledged what he described as the government's impressive strides in rebuilding.

But the high commissioner has also observed that physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity and lasting peace for all citizens of Sri Lanka. Her report concludes that national mechanisms have not yet been successful in establishing the truth and achieving justice. Against this background, the high commissioner recommends the establishment of an independent international inquiry mechanism which would contribute to establishing the truth where domestic inquiry mechanisms have failed.

Our call on the Australian government to support the draft resolution before the Human Rights Council is with a view to preventing recurrence of violations and abuses and puts us in company with all of our usual allies when it comes to foreign affairs decision making. In line with the position taken by the Australian government in 2012 and 2013, the motion before the council supports the entitlement of all Sri Lankans to the full enjoyment of their human rights regardless of religion, belief or ethnicity in a peaceful and unified country.

I want to turn just briefly in the time I have remaining to the letter that has been sent to the Prime Minister from a range of eminent Australians suggesting that Australia ought support the US-sponsored UN resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. I think this letter shows that the Australian government has a balanced position, acknowledging that there were wrongs on both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict and seeking clarification and enlightenment that is impartial and focused on the facts. This letter shows that the support for that position is truly bipartisan, with the eminent Australians including John Dowd; Gareth Evans; Malcolm Fraser; Owen Harries, the former Australian ambassador to UNESCO and visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy; Geoffrey Robertson; and Gordon Weiss, an adjunct professor at Griffith University who is the founding adviser and consultant expert to the International Crimes Evidence Project, a former UN spokesperson and author. All of these eminent citizens are calling, as we do today, for Australia to support the US sponsored UN resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights.