Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Questions without Notice
After 30 years of civil conflict, Sri Lanka was a traumatised nation when fighting between government forces and Tamil separatists ended four years ago. Suicide bombing was invented during this period of insurgency. Children were conscripted, women and children were used as shields, religious monuments were blown up, tens of thousands of people were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed and half a million people were internally displaced. It went largely unreported—and that makes all the more remarkable and hopeful the reconstruction that has been taking place in the country. It is noteworthy that nearly 11,000 former Tamil Tigers have been reintegrated and that all former child soldiers have been released. Reconstruction is underway, with 2,000 square kilometres of land having been cleared of mines. Freedom of movement has improved and gross domestic product was up 6.4 per cent in 2012.
Serious concerns, however, do remain. More needs to be done to account for abuses by both sides and to help displaced people return to their homes. Media and civil society are still constrained in Sri Lanka. There needs to be a commitment to an independent judicial system. That was undermined by the impeachment of the chief justice. I raised the matter with the Minister of External Affairs, Minister Peiris, in January and expressed Australian concern. Further progress is essential for genuine reconciliation and responsibility rests with the government of Sri Lanka. We have never ceased to raise these matters when we have engaged with the government of Sri Lanka. In December, I raised these matters with President Rajapaksa and said that Australia looks forward to the full implementation of the Sri Lankan government's own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. We have a legitimate interest in these things.