“Sri Lanka would be asked to comment by ICC on the war crimes communication concerning Amb. Kohona says Australia’s First Assistant Secretary for North Asia”
Deputy Chair of Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (FAD&T) Legislation Committee, Russell Trood (Liberal, Queensland) during deliberations last week of February queried with David Stuart, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia and Middle East Division and Peter Rowe, First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division, the communication sent to International Criminal Court (ICC) urging investigations on alleged war-crimes against Australian-Sri Lankan dual national Palitha Kohona and the appointment of ex-Navy commander Admiral Samarasinghe, as the next High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, the official publication Hansard said.
First Assistant Secretary for North Asia Division, Mr. Rowe, said that Australia would be monitoring the progress of the matter with ICC and added “in the normal course the Sri Lankan government would be asked to comment or be involved in these investigations”.
Relevant excerpts from the Hansard as follows:
Senator TROOD—I have received representations, as I suspect other members of this parliament have, with regard to a suggestion that an individual may be nominated by the Sri Lankan government as the high commissioner, of whom some groups disapprove. In fact, the allegation is that this individual has been involved or participated in war crimes in a broad sense. Are you familiar with these allegations?
Mr Richardson—I am familiar with what I saw in the media, but Mr Stuart will be more familiar than I.
Mr Stuart—Yes. Our practice is that we do not discuss nominations of such positions. That is a longstanding practice of Australian governments.
Senator TROOD—My understanding is that the foreign minister has been contacted about this matter. Is that true?
Mr Stuart—There have been representations, especially by the Tamil community.
Senator TROOD—So you are familiar with those representations?
Mr Stuart—I am.
Senator TROOD—Do you know the individual concerned?
Mr Stuart—We do not discuss nominations.
Senator TROOD—Can you tell me: is the position of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia currently vacant?
Mr Stuart—I must say that I am still doing my introductory call, but I believe so.
Mr Richardson—Yes. I met the charge d’affaires yesterday.
Mr Stuart—I have been a bit distracted by things in the Middle East part of my vast kingdom!
Senator TROOD—Yes, it is a vast kingdom, but this is an issue of some moment. You have not had reason to consider an application from Colombo about this; is that right? Have you received a request to consider a future high commissioner to Australia?
Mr Stuart—It is not the government’s practice to talk about nominations, whether they have been made or the substance of the nominations.
Senator TROOD—Presumably, at some point, there will be a request from the Sri Lankan government to invite us to decide whether or not we should receive a new high commissioner? Is that a fair proposition?
Mr Richardson—It is, but unless the nominating country made the nomination public—and some countries do that; for instance, Indonesia very often makes a nomination public before a decision is taken. The Australian government does not comment publicly on who may or may not have been nominated.
Senator TROOD—You are obviously reticent to make any observations about it. Perhaps I can make the point that neither I nor any other member of parliament ever has much of an opportunity to make any observations on these matters as well, that I have received considerable representation about this and it reflects a deep degree of concern within parts of the Sri Lankan and particularly the Tamil community, and that we should be very careful about any appointment that we consider in the light of those concerns. Thank you.
I have one other question in relation to Sri Lanka, which concerns a potential International Criminal Court action in relation to Tamil Tiger deaths. It relates to several Tamil organisations having made some allegations of war crimes to the International Criminal Court concerning an Australian citizen, Dr Kohona. Are you familiar with that matter?
Mr R Rowe—Yes. I am aware that two Tamil groups have sent a communication to the International Criminal Court asserting war crime claims against Dr Kohona, who is a dual Sri Lankan-Australian citizen.
Senator TROOD—Do you know whether the court has taken up this matter?
Mr R Rowe—The International Criminal Court will deal with this communication in the sense that it will consider whether there is sufficient information to warrant the opening of an investigation, which would be determined by the Office of the Prosecutor. The matter is in the hands of that office. I would comment that, of course, that office receives many hundreds of communications with assertions of various crimes having been committed by individuals, but the onus is on the office at the moment to make a determination whether or not the situation that has been referred warrants an investigation in terms of the statute.
Senator TROOD—So we are a long way from any consideration of a charge being propounded or a warrant or anything of that kind being issued for the arrest of this person?
Mr R Rowe—That is correct. As I said, there would be a decision and then an investigation.
Senator TROOD—Do you know if Dr Kohona is a resident of Australia?
Mr R Rowe—Dr Kohona currently occupies a position as Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.
Senator TROOD—And he is a dual Sri Lankan-Australian citizen?
Mr R Rowe—That is correct.
Senator TROOD—So, if there were to be a pressing of charges of some kind, we would have an interest in the matter?
Mr R Rowe—We would certainly monitor the matter. As I said, the onus is on the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office at the moment, and I think it would be fair to comment—and I cannot speculate too much obviously because much will depend on what decision the Office of the Prosecutor takes—but I would note that the assertions that have been referred to the Office of the Prosecutor relate to activities that allegedly occurred in Sri Lanka, and in the normal course the Sri Lankan government would be asked to comment or be involved in these investigations.
Senator TROOD—I do not have any further questions on that subject. Thank you.
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA ~ Proof Committee Hansard
~ SENATE ~ FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE ~ ESTIMATES ~ (Additional Estimates) ~ THURSDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2011 – CANBERRA ~ BY AUTHORITY OF THE SENATE [PROOF COPY]