This is my Nation  


‘Meena’ documentary failed to generate any furore

In the media this week in Australia, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting is being held in Perth, there were two people making headlines: Queen Elizabeth II and President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Queen, of course, was visiting Australia for the purpose of inaugurating the CHOGM. Given that she is eighty-five years old, there was widespread speculation in the Australian media that this could be her ‘last’ visit to that country and this generated a groundswell of goodwill for the British monarch.
Not so for President Rajapaksa, though. The tone was set even before he arrived Down Under. An Australian television network last week broadcast a documentary depicting a Sri Lankan Tamil woman, ‘Meena’ claiming that war crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan military.

The programme was exactly on the same lines of the infamous Channel 4 documentary broadcast in Britain and its airing a week before President Rajapaksa’s visit raises suspicions as to whether it was a well-orchestrated move. Nevertheless, it did not generate much of a furore. 
A few days later and also before the President arrived in Australia, a Sri Lankan born man who is now an Australian citizen, Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran, styling himself as ‘Jegan Waran’, filed a case in a court in Melbourne, accusing the President of war crimes.

It is unlikely that this too was an isolated incident. There was a similar move against the President when he visited New York for the United Nations General Assembly a few weeks ago. It seems this is the latest strategy of the Eelamist lobby: to try and embarrass President Rajapaksa internationally.
Jegatheeswaran’s actions were picked up by the Australian media in anticipation of a legal showdown. But it was not to be. Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland intervened to stop proceedings stating that the President, as a visiting head of state, enjoyed diplomatic immunity.       
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, now 81, waded into the debate saying that in light of the war crimes allegations being levelled against the Sri Lankan government, the decision to host the next Commonwealth summit in Colombo in 2013 needs to be reviewed.

It was Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, himself a former Prime Minister, who squashed that suggestion saying if there were such concerns they should be addressed diplomatically-and that changing the venue of CHOGM was not an option. Rudd said that even boycotting the summit was not the solution.
Then there was also a move to appoint a Commonwealth Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights. It was felt that this was yet another move to highlight allegations of war crimes against Sri Lanka which in turn lobbied other countries against supporting this proposal.
India saw it fit to oppose the move publicly, stating that the proposals undermined the functions of the Secretary General of the Commonwealth while also duplicating some functions of the United Nations. Considering the level of opposition expressed by India, it is unlikely that the proposal will proceed.

In an unrelated incident but also this week, A Sri Lankan Tamil refugee committed suicide at a detention Centre in Sydney. He had been granted refugee status but was awaiting security clearance to be released from detention to the community. Needless to say, the spotlight was again on Sri Lanka.
It was against such a backdrop that President Mahinda Rajapaksa met Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Given the build up to the event, there was much speculation in the Australian media as to what would transpire at the meeting.
The official communiqué states that Ms. Gillard said, “Australia believed Sri Lanka must pay regard to United Nations reports on human rights abuses during the military's successful campaign to defeat the Tamil Tigers in 2009”. In diplomatic parlance, this could be as good as it gets, for Sri Lanka.
It must be noted that the Australian Prime Minister has refrained from using phrases such as ‘expressing grave concerns’ in voicing her sentiments; this is the usual diplomatic jargon used by western nations such as Britain and the United States when referring to issues related to Sri Lanka.

Gillard also expressed her satisfaction about Colombo’s strenuous efforts to curb the flow of refugees from Sri Lanka, through co-operation with the Australian authorities. This has been a major irritant for the Prime Minister domestically, where she is heading a government with a wafer-thin majority.
It does appear that Australia had decided not to allow the powerful pro-Eelamist lobby in that country to dictate terms with regard to the President’s visit. While they were certainly allowed to have their say, the Australian government clearly had their way.
This was apparent in the pre-emptive intervention of the Attorney General in squashing proceedings against President Rajapaksa - unlike in the United States, where an attempt was made to serve summons on him, although that did not materialise eventually.

The early announcement by Foreign Minister Rudd that the decision to hold the next CHOGM in Colombo stand also prevented further debate on the issue. Had there been a change of venue, it would have proved to be a major embarrassment to Sri Lanka.  
In this respect, Australia’s stance vis-à-vis Sri Lanka has been different to other western nations which have adopted a more hostile attitude. Canberra has traditionally had cordial relations with Colombo, the only bad blood being between the cricketing supporters of the two countries!         
All things considered, Sri Lanka could be satisfied that the President attended the CHOGM and emerged unscathed despite attempts to sully his and Sri Lanka’s image. In cricketing parlance, Sri Lanka may not have won the match, but they have averted a follow-on: there will be no consequences. 
The CHOGM, however, should also be a lesson to Sri Lanka. It can expect the Eelamist lobbies in the major capitals of the world to try and upstage and embarrass the country whenever its leaders arrive in those cities. Cases may be filed and documentaries may be broadcast, in a bid to generate publicity.
Now, after the CHOGM in Perth, Colombo should know what to expect and what to do. If the officialdom of the External Affairs Ministry and the Presidential Secretariat have grasped that, the CHOGM 2011 in Perth would not have been in vain.