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Monday, 17 June 1996
Page: 1641

Senator CHAMARETTE(6.31 p.m.) —by leave—I also wish to address the report to which Senator Minchin and Senator Jones referred. It was a very memorable visit to Sri Lanka for me, and I support the comments that have been made. The hospitality and entertainment were truly wonderful. I would like to convey a special thanks to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr Elmo De J. Seneviratne, for his preparatory and follow-up evenings which assisted both the planning and experiences of the delegation.

Thanks too to the Australian High Commission which, as Senator Minchin already mentioned, were exemplary in the service and care provided not only to us as visitors but also, as was demonstrated, to the many different sectors within the Sri Lankan community. The High Commissioner, Mr Bill Tweddell, Dominic Trindade, Mr Titon Mitra and Mr Dunstan Fernando were extremely helpful in coordinating our visits into the exceedingly beautiful countryside, which which were very informative.

It is very difficult to select highlights, but I just want to briefly mention some highlights of the visit for me. One was the meeting with three Australian women who were doing volunteer work with NGOs. Mary Norwood, Sheila Francis and Sue Allen are engaged in very productive and helpful work in a very strife torn area of Sri Lanka. The visit to the prison, which I was privileged to make, was a very enlightening experience, and I am very grateful to Mr C.T. Jansz, the chairman of the human rights committee, and also to the commissioner, Mr Dharmadasa, for graciously allowing that visit to occur. It did show the strife torn nature of the country. The proportion of people who are in prison without sentence was vastly greater than those who are under sentence. It was very interesting for me to meet with two Tamil Tigers—two young girls of 15 and 17—who were under detention there without sentence.

An aspect of my visit which was very important was a visit to a place called CENWOR—Centre for Women's Research—where some very skilled work is going on in community development for women and publications. Another aspect was a visit with Mr Ponnampalan, the government agent in Jaffna, who shed some light on the conditions in the Jaffna Peninsula.

We must not forget the plight of this beautiful country. The civil war still ravages it and there is much human tragedy. There is polarisation within the citizenry, militarisation of the government and terrorism by the LTTE. This stems from deep historical conflicts which, to our eyes, seem far from resolution. The delegation was able to express concern regarding human rights violations, and urged the continuation of peaceful dialogue.

There is a very excellent recommendation in a publication of the SEDEC—Social and Economic Development Centre—which is the justice, peace and social action arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka. They note that:

Both parties involved in the Sri Lankan conflict have expressed an interest in negotiating for peace but do not seem to be willing to move from their positions.

There is a need for the world community to respond. They go on to say:

With the clear lack of political will for those peace negotiations within Sri Lanka, there is a clear need for pressure from outside the country to be applied to both the Government and the LTTE. Unfortunately, there appears to be little international interest or willingness to become involved. The war in Bosnia has gained considerable attention but few people seem to realise that the toll in the Sri Lankan conflict has been significantly higher.

There is a need for Australia to keep a continued involvement to promote the calls for a just and lasting settlement which is guaranteed by the constitutional provisions that were proposed by the Prime Minister and yet seem far from being achieved at the moment.

Finally, it would be wrong indeed to finish without expressing appreciation and thanks to Ms Robyn Webber, the secretary to the delegation, for her hard work, patience and efficiency.