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‘Australia’s dangerously close relationship with Sri Lanka’

The Australian government’s “dangerously close relationship with Sri Lanka” has put it at odds with its allies and leaves it at risk of violating international human rights obligations, said Emily Howie, the director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre in a piece published on Tuesday.

Stating that Australia has “failed to live up to its own human rights standards”, Howie said the government has become “increasingly unwilling to criticise Sri Lanka on any account”, even though it is “well aware of the serious human rights situation in Sri Lankan and the brutal track record of its partners”.

Howie went on to call the increased collaboration between the Sri Lanka and Australia, including Australian opposition to a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka earlier this year, “counterproductive, short-sighted and extremely disappointing”.

Extracts from her piece have been reproduced below. See her full piece here.

“Whilst the UK Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the [UN Human Rights Council] resolution as a “victory for the people of Sri Lanka,” the Australian government stunned many observers with its vocal opposition to the resolution.”

"Australia is not a member of the Council so it could not vote on the resolution. Nonetheless, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said she was “not convinced that the resolution’s call for a separate, internationally-led investigation, without the co-operation of the Sri Lankan Government, is the best way forward at this time.” She said that the resolution did not properly acknowledge the economic growth and progress in Sri Lanka or the brutality of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)."

"Bishop’s comments put Australia directly at odds with some of its closest allies – the United States, UK and Canada – who supported the resolution.  Surprisingly, her comments aligned Australia with countries known for their obstructionist approach to the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.  You could have been forgiven for thinking she was accidentally reading from the notes of the Russian, Chinese or Iranian foreign minister."

"Australia’s opposition to the Human Rights Council’s investigation aiming to achieve justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka is counterproductive, short-sighted and extremely disappointing.
Sadly, this position is consistent with Australia’s deteriorating approach to human rights in its foreign affairs with Sri Lanka. The Australian government claims that “engagement” with Sri Lanka, not “isolation,” is the best way forward."

"However, in reality Australia is now so closely engaged with, and dependent on, Sri Lanka to conduct border control, that Australia is increasingly unwilling to criticise Sri Lanka on any account, even when it comes to some of the most serious human rights abuses in our region.  The close relationship puts Australia at risk of violating its international human rights obligation of non-refoulement."