Protests as Janaka Pereraís appointment proceeds
[TamilNet, Monday, 18 June 2001, 16:03 GMT]
(News Feature) Hundreds of Tamils protested outside Australia's Parliament Monday over the government's acceptance of a Sri Lanka Army General accused of human rights violations as Colombo's High Commissioner to Canberra. Amnesty International also voiced its opposition, but Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said his Sri Lankan counterpart, Lakshman Kadirgamar, had given his "personal assurance" that Major General Retd.) Janaka Perera is a "suitable and worthy appointment."
Over 500 Tamils from Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra gathered opposite the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra Monday morning before marching to the Australian Federal Parliament to register their outrage. Major General Perera, who recently retired from the Army after a bitter rivalry with the present Army chief, was in control of several Tamil areas when wide spread atrocities attributed to his troops took place.
The central feature of the march was 400 skulls carried by the protesters representing the hundreds of Jaffna residents said to have been tortured to death or deliberately killed in military custody and buried in mass graves in the Chemmani area by troops under Perera's command during 1996.
Amnesty International supported the protesters' charges with a statement over the weekend criticising Australia's decision. "By making this appointment they are disregarding their international obligations as state parties to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatement," Amnesty said, adding that several allegations against General Perera, who commanded the elite 53 Special Forces Division, were under investigation by commissions in Sri Lanka.
"Amnesty International understands that in relation to at least some of these cases, the commission has recommended further investigation with a view to prosecution," Amnesty said.
However, inside Parliament Monday, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer issued a statement dismissing the allegations against Perera, press reports said.
Downer told parliament that his department had investigated the allegations and had found no direct evidence to substantiate them, AFP reported. The minister also said he had received personal assurances about Perera's character from Sri Lanka's foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar.
The Tamil protesters said they would continue their campaign. Ana Pararajasingam, Secretary of the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) said that the "action would be continued to expose the crimes against humanity committed under General Perera's command.
"We are working with human rights organisations with the aim of pursuing the matter in the international judicial system," he said.
"Mr Downer's decision is tantamount to endorsing the terrible atrocities committed by the Sri Lanka Security Forces. It has caused profound distress to the world Tamil community and raised concern among human rights organisations," said Kathir Ravichandra, AFTA's Chairperson.
Last week, Australia's National TV Station, Channel 9, screen an investigation on the issue of Perera's appointment in its "Sunday" program, interviewing former torture victims, human rights workers and forensic scientists involved in the investigations at Chemmani.
"Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer declined to speak to Sunday. He sent us a letter saying he'd decided to accept the nomination of Perera after a private chat with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar," the documentary said.