The Australian government’s decision to deport to Sri Lanka a former ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) puts at risk his safety and possibly his life, the Tamil Refugee Council said today.
Santharuban, the man in question, is subject to a United Nations Committee Against Torture interim measure request that he not be returned to the country. Yet the government last Thursday issued him a notice stating that he would be deported on 22 February.
“Members and suspected former members of the LTTE continue to be disappeared, detained, tortured and harassed by the Sri Lankan security forces,” said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson. “This notice ignores the reality facing returning Tamils and, if acted on, would place Santharuban in significant danger.”
For more than 30 years, the Tamil Tigers led a struggle for national liberation, in the country’s north and east, against chauvinist Sinhalese governments that denied the Tamils basic human and civil rights. Since the organisation’s military defeat in 2009, Sri Lankan military and security forces have occupied Tamillands and continued to oppress the population.
Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Locked up without evidence”, quotes Ben Emmerson, a former UN special rapporteur who visited Sri Lanka last year: “The use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.”
In November, the Associated Press quoted Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator, as saying, “The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.” AP was reporting on the case of 50 Tamil men seeking asylum in Europe, who were abducted, tortured and raped in Sri Lanka in 2016-17.
The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has released the preliminary findings from its visit to the country in December. It notes receiving “accounts of Tamils who were arrested and detained in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when returning to Sri Lanka after seeking asylum in another country or working abroad.”
“The Working Group received testimony that, in some cases, the returnees were beaten and kept under surveillance once released, and charged with offences relating to illegal departure from Sri Lanka.”
Yet the Australian government continues to detain Tamil refugees, some for years on end, and now is moving to deport yet another.
The government implies that the country is safe for returning Tamils. It says that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – legislation under which thousands of Tamils have been indefinitely detained, tortured and denied natural justice and due process – has been suspended.
This is a highly dubious claim, made by the Sri Lankan government itself. There continue to be scores of political prisoners locked up under PTA provisions and it is not at all clear that the security forces have stopped using it as a practical operating guide.
Either way, the draft Counter Terrorism Act, which is to replace the PTA, contains extraordinary provisions that are in some cases worse. A leaked draft of the proposed legislation proposes a range of new terrorism offences, including:
“threatening, attacking, changing or adversely affecting the unity, territorial integrity, security or sovereignty of Sri Lanka or … illegally or unlawfully compelling the Government of Sri Lanka to reverse, vary or change a policy decision or to do or abstain from doing any act relating to the defence, national security, territorial integrity [or] sovereignty of Sri Lanka.”
“The scope of this draft legislation is chilling and shows that the Sri Lankan government is not at all ‘reformed’,” Mylvaganam said.
“In effect, it outlaws in advance any movement for Tamil national rights. How on earth can the Australian government square this reality with its determination to deport Tamils who fledprecisely because they were involved or were suspected to be involved in the struggle for Tamil national rights?
The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the Australian government to:
- Withdraw its notice of intention to deport Santharuban
- Release immediately and grant protection visas to all Tamil asylum seekers currently held in detention
Media contact: Aran Mylvaganam 0410 197 814