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Australia policy emboldens Sri Lanka

Dr Nick Cheesman, a research fellow at the department of political and social change in the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific, writes in the Canberra Times arguing that Abbott's deportation policy damages Australia's credibility and endangers the rights of asylum seekers coming from Sri Lanka.

See here for full article. Extracts reproduced below:

"At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka at the weekend, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that while his government ''deplores the use of torture, we accept that sometimes, in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen''.

His statement is not only legally and morally indefensible, it is also factually incorrect. Torture is prohibited under international law precisely because it is so reprehensible that no civilised society accepts it. The prohibition is absolute. Circumstances, no matter how difficult, can never be used to justify it.

But nor are the circumstances in Sri Lanka under which torture is used as difficult as the Prime Minister makes them out to be. In Sri Lanka, torture is most often used not in difficult circumstances but in routine police inquiries. It is endemic and pervasive precisely because it is used without regard for circumstances."

"The problem is not one of difficult circumstances but a lack of political will to address the incidence of torture. Creeping authoritarianism and militarisation in Sri Lanka have enabled its spread. Collapsed rule of law has meant that the courts and other institutions have also failed to halt it, despite the country having a domestic prohibition on torture since 1994.

Only a handful of police officers have ever been prosecuted for torture. Some have murdered their victims rather than have them testify. The government of Sri Lanka has increasingly rebuffed calls from international agencies and observers to give the law effect. Unfortunately, the Australian Prime Minister's position on torture and attendant abuses does nothing to improve the situation.

Rather, it encourages the spread of existing practices. It emboldens the Sri Lankan government to continue thumbing its nose at United Nations human rights bodies. It also undermines the legitimacy of the Australian government on questions of human rights, diminishing our voice on matters of great importance not only to people in Sri Lanka but to hundreds of millions of others in countries across Asia.

In his attempts to do everything and anything to stop boats of asylum seekers from reaching our shores, Abbott is playing a game with damaging consequences, both for this country's credibility, and for the human rights of Sri Lankans."