Groundviews

Australia’s Tamil Eelam Lobby and CHOGM

Photo credit AFP via Haveeru Online

Introduction

The war on the battle field may be over, but the propaganda war is alive and well. The Australian news media, particularly the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, were in an uncontrollable frenzy two weeks before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) by the predictable lobbying against Sri Lanka. There are legitimate issues that Australia must and did raise with Sri Lanka during CHOGM 2011. Unfortunately, these publicity stunts risked derailing and overshadowing those conversations and hardening the stance of some of the non-Western members of the Commonwealth. The first was John Dowd’s submission of a brief of evidence to the Australian Federal Police. It was timed conveniently just prior to the questioning by the Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon, at the Senate Estimates hearings. The other was the war crimes charges by Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran, also known as Jegan Waran, against Mahinda Rajapaksa. The latter is frivolous and vexatious, but the former may be of interest to researchers, if made public.

Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran (Jegan Waran)

Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran is the father of Brami Jegatheeswaran, also known as Brami Jegan. Brami Jegatheeswaran was a NSW Green’s Senate candidate. She was placed third on the ballot behind Lee Rhiannon and Keith Mcilroy.  [1]  Brami Jegatheeswaran’s uncle is Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar, a convicted criminal in the UK. He was convicted for supplying the LTTE military equipment. [2]  Brami Jegatheeswaran lived in the UK between 2004 and 2007 before returning to Australia as a radicalised Tamil Eelam lobbyist. Brami Jegatheeswaran has worked for the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA) [3] . She is also linked with the Australian Tamil Congress which is a member of the Global Tamil Forum. [4]

In 2008 she was linked with Antony Loewenstein, of the ’Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice’, who also espouses Tamil Eelam lobby propaganda:

“Despite the fact that the government murdered at least 40,000 Tamil civilians during the last period of the war (a figure confirmed by then UN spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss), the international community has been reluctant to hold officials to account.

A thorough UN-led investigation found overwhelming evidence of war crimes committed by both sides during the conflict and Ban Ki-Moon recently submitted this report to the UN Human Rights Council for investigation. The move was condemned by Colombo.” [5]

Interestingly, Gordon Weiss actually states the opposite of “at least 40,000”:

“We do have pretty good indications that probably somewhere between ten and forty thousand people were killed. This is not my own figure, plucked from nowhere. It’s credible enough for the UN to have used it as part of its assessment in to the available evidence.”  [6]

The UN Advisory Panel report actually refers to “credible allegations” of crimes. [7]

War Crimes charges

Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran was represented by Robert Stary Lawyers [8]  which also represented the three men who pleaded guilty in the Victorian Supreme Court in 2009/2010 for providing funds to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The media contacts for Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran’s press conference included the phone numbers of the following individuals:

“Mr. Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran – [redacted]

Lucien Richter, Lawyer, Robert Stary Lawyers – [redacted]
Dr. Sam Pari, Spokesperson, Australian Tamil Congress – [redacted]

Mr. Bruce Haigh, former Australian Diplomat – [redacted]”

Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran is described as providing assistance to the LTTE by the Sri Lankan military. [9]  Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence has gone on the offensive and asked some uncomfortable questions on whether the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is breaching its Code of Practice. [10]

Brami Jegatheeswaran is nominally a “Visiting Scholar” at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney for the “Sri Lanka Human Rights Project” [11] . The convenor for the project is Associate Professor Jake Lynch who is the Director of the ’Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies’. Bruce Haigh, a former Australian diplomat, is a patron for the project. Bruce Haigh also has a tendency to espouse rhetoric that sounds remarkably like the Tamil Eelam lobby’s hymn sheet:

“The UN report estimates 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed towards the end of the war, some, as already noted, by the navy. In addition, 4,000 Tamil soldiers (LTTE) are being held incommunicado by the government. The 500-page UN report notes that:” [12]

The 200-page UN Advisory Panel report does not estimate “40,000” Tamil civilian deaths. The Advisory Panel refers to a possible civilian death toll range comprising of a lower bound defined by the UN’s estimate, of 7,000, and an upper bound defined by non-UN estimates, of 40,000, in the final 5 months of the war. [13]  Impartial commentators do not refer to the Tamil Tigers as “Tamil soldiers”.

Bruce Haigh also claims an “ongoing genocide” of Tamil people:

“More importantly, however, the issue of the ongoing genocide of the Tamil people by the government of Sri Lanka needs to be considered urgently and CHOGM is the forum in which to do it,” Mr Haigh said in joint statement with Mr Jegatheeswaran.” [14]

USA’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Ombudsman, Michael Getler, agrees that the claim of genocide is “on the outer fringe of opinion about the conflict”. [15]

Bruce Haigh had more to say:

“BRUCE HAIGH, FORMER AUSTRALIAN DIPLOMAT: I think just because the Sri Lankan government won the PR battle. The Tamils lost that a long time ago. They’ve had three decades of being ground under by the Sinhalese. That’s why the Tamils wanted a separate state.” [16]

Perhaps Bruce Haigh feels the Tamil Eelam lobby needs a PR win!

John Dowd

The Australian Tamil Congress and Global Tamil Forum organised an event on October 20, 2011, where John Dowd and Meena Krishnamoorthy were speakers. [17]  Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence made a series of serious allegations against Meena Krishnamoorthy regarding her association with the LTTE. [18]

Like many of the other actors in this drama, it appears John Dowd is not an impartial commentator. On May 6, 2008, he conveyed his true motivations:

“Justice John Dowd, a former Chairman of the International Commission of Jurists and a former NSW Attorney General spoke of the increasing influence of China and called upon the international community to recognise that Sri Lanka needs to be transformed into two states and structures developed for these states to coexist and cooperate.” [19]

and in 2010:

“More than 10,000 registered to cast their votes in the referendum across Australia last weekend, on the creation of independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, reported SBS Australia, citing organisers.

But, it won the support of John Dowd, the president of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, SBS said, citing him saying that the referendum highlighted the aspirations as well as the plight of Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. “Australians need to be reminded that there is a common obligation to these people who for centuries or indeed millennia have led their own lives there,” John Dowd further said.” [20]

John Dowd was sighted in the scopes of Tamil Eelam lobbyists back in 2001:

“I have written to our Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Commonwealth Secretariat in London to suggest the inclusion of Sri Lanka on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane in October and I look forward to some sort of positive response”, the Hon. Justice John Dowd said in a letter to the MP.

Mr.Pararajasingham had met Hon. John Dowd, President of the ICJ (Australian Section) and briefed him about Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem during a recent visit to Australia. Mr. Pararajasingham brought to his notice the atrocities, human rights violations taking place in the Tamil dominated northeast province by the Sri Lankan security forces.

Mr.Pararajasingham had cited several instances where Tamil women were raped and tortured by the Sri Lankan security forces dominated by the Sinhala soldiers. He made an appeal to Justice John Dowd to use his good offices to persuade the Australian Foreign Minister to include the Sri Lankan ethnic issue in the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held in Brisbane in October this year.

Hence the letter written by Justice John Dowd to the Australian Foreign Minister Mr. Alexander Downer and the Commonwealth Secretariat requesting the inclusion of the Sri Lankan ethnic issue on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.” [21]

John Dowd retired from the NSW Supreme Court in 2004, because he felt targeted by the then Prime Minister of Australia and Premier of NSW:

“Yesterday Justice Dowd blamed Bob Carr’s and John Howard’s attacks on his stance against anti-terrorism legislation for his resignation.” [22]

The Australian anti-terror laws are over-reaching and make targeted minority communities particularly vulnerable. Public pronouncements by John Dowd related to his involvement with Tamil Eelam lobbyists began around 2004/2005:

“Justice John Dowd, president of the International Commission of Jurists and soon-to-retire member of the NSW Supreme Court, officially launched the booklet. He told the audience: “I recently went to a Tamil fundraising function. I went to a similar function a year ago, and I didn’t check that the money didn’t go directly to buying bullets. This function was to buy ambulances.”

Referring to the fact that it is an offence punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment to unknowingly give funds to a listed terrorist organisation, Dowd said: “I bought $40 worth of raffle tickets, because I wanted to make a point. I’m appalled that I have to audit my dollar back to Jaffna before I can agree to donate.”” [23]

In 2005, he was the keynote speaker at an event with a larger-than-life picture of Prabhakaran in the background. [24]  John Dowd is the President of ActionAid Australia [25] , formerly known as Austcare. [26]

Attempts to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Australia

Australia stands out as an anomaly among its peers for not having banned the LTTE as a proscribed terrorist organisation. The current state of affairs is not due to a lack of trying on behalf of the Australian government.

Howard government

During the tenure of the Howard government, there were attempts to ban the LTTE around 2005/2006. This was during the post-tsunami period and the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the umbrella body for Australian international development NGOs, lobbied strongly against the banning. The practical reason was apparently because these NGOs needed to provide money to the LTTE in order to get access and they feared being prosecuted if the LTTE was banned in Australia. To be proscribed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code requires agreement by the states. [27]  The majority of states did not agree to banning the LTTE at this time.

Rudd government

The Rudd government received agreement from the the States for the banning of the LTTE. The Rudd government explicitly indicated to the relevant State government departments of the impending banning. The States were advised to prepare to liaise with the Tamil community, but the ban never eventuated. Academics, political advisers and observers remain perplexed by the events that transpired.

Conclusion

The Australian news media has been unable to differentiate between those primarily motivated by separatism, the creation of Tamil Eelam, and those primarily motivated by human rights issues in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the Tamil Eelam lobbyists are radicalised ’true-believers’ that shout the loudest and drown out the voice of the majority of Sri Lankans, Sinhala and Tamil. The media, with their time constraints, want a quick and controversial story. Hence it is unlikely the Australian media even knew of Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran’s background or John Dowd’s political views. Ignorance rather than malice is the likely reason for the omission of material facts.

One definite outcome of the propaganda campaign in Australia is that it solidifies the support for Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/elections/federal/2010/guide/snsw.htm

[2] http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/british-tamil-leader-convicted-20090418-aaf3.html

[3] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/tamil-refugee-seeks-senate-seat/story-e 6frgczf-1225890477817

[4] http://jayasolutions.com/slreport/sl-Australia-Tamil-Eelam-lobby.html

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3553286.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uzRNl8NByo

[7] http://jayasolutions.com/slreport/sl-Darusman-report-media-reaction.html

[8] http://www.robertstary.com.au/

[9] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/presidents-accuser-criticised/story-fnapmixa-1226177734427

[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCxh_jynzhg

[11] http://sydney.edu.au/arts/peace_conflict/research/sri_lanka_human_rights_project.shtml

[12] http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3577470.html

[13] http://jayasolutions.com/slreport/sl-Darusman-report-media-reaction.html

[14] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/arunachalam-jegatheeswaran-files-war-crimes-indictment-against-sri-lankan-president-mahinda-rajapaksa/story-fn3dxity-1226175920930

[15] http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2009/02/rapping_about_genocide_1.html

[16] http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/s3347070.htm

[17] http://www.eventzilla.net/web/event?EventID=201109294047

[18] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCxh_jynzhg

[19] http://www.cjpdonline.org/cj/en/page/66/Book%20Launch

[20] http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=31572

[21] http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6081

[22] http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/07/26/1090693902143.html

[23] http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/31655

[24] http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=16002

[25] http://www.actionaid.org.au/learn/about-actionaid/our-board-and-ceo

[26] http://www.actionaid.org.au/learn/about-actionaid

[27] http://www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2004-06-25/docs/iga_counter_terrorism.pdf