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Abbott's stance on Sri Lanka's human rights is craven and irresponsible

Extract’s from an opinion in the Sydney Morning Herald by Ben Doherty, South Asia correspondent:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came to Sri Lanka to praise President Mahinda Rajapakse, not to bury him under the weight of human rights abuse allegations that completely dominated this Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

For his fealty, he was rewarded. Sri Lanka has vowed to further help Mr Abbott with his No.1 domestic priority, "stopping the boats" of asylum seekers looking to go to Australia.

The countries' existing co-operation has been extended, with Australia giving Sri Lanka two patrol boats, so that asylum seekers might be intercepted before they leave Sri Lankan waters.

Mr Abbott came to CHOGM with an entirely domestic agenda. He needed Sri Lankan support to combat people smuggling, and so was unwilling to criticise his hosts.

While human rights concerns - forced abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings by state forces, land seizures by the military and oppression of political opponents - dominated every public CHOGM event, Mr Abbott sidestepped these at every turn.

“We accept that sometimes, in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen,” he said of torture allegations, instead focusing on the progress that had been made, and on Australia's co-operation at sea.

But Mr Abbott's refusal to even countenance Sri Lanka's ongoing human rights issues, in contradiction to the position of the UN and his own foreign affairs department, was craven and irresponsible.

To put a minor, questionable political point above an issue as fundamental as human rights, diminished Australia and cheapened the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Charter, of which Australia was a key drafter, promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law.