Following reports in Australian media that Sri Lankan High Commissioner, the war crimes accused ex-Navy chief Thisara Samarasinghe had overseen efforts to stop Tamil asylum-seekers fleeing by boat to escape the massacre by the GoSL’s military in 2009, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has called on the Australian government to ask the Sri Lankan Government to recall its High Commissioner, or move to expel him, in a media release dated July 17. Referring to a recent ruling by the Canadian Federal Court to deport a SL Navy officer alleged of war crimes, Senator Rhiannon’s release said “This Canadian ruling should sound a large warning to the Australian government not to turn a blind eye to the High Commissioner’s role during the Sri Lankan civil war.”
A report in The Daily Telegraph reported that Samarasinghe had said he had first taken action in stopping asylum boats in 2009 after being “given new orders”, following the visit of the then foreign minister of Australia Stephen Smith to Sri Lanka.
"After that meeting we had a national strategy to stop what was happening before 2009. Stopping boats leaving is part of that process," The Daily Telegraph quoted Samarasinghe.
“These boastful claims by the High Commissioner are embarrassing to the Australian government and raise the question of why Mr Samarasinghe continues to hold his position while allegations of involvement in war crimes hang over his head” said Senator Rhiannon in the release, adding that in a recent Australian Senate budget estimates, he had confirmed that the Federal Police are evaluating a brief that reportedly contains allegations against Samarasinghe.
“Mr Samarasinghe was a high ranking Sri Lankan Naval chief at the time when the military committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka,” the statement further read.
“If the Prime Minister has information which clears the High Commissioner of any complicity in the war crimes then she should share this with the Australian people.”
“If not, the Australian government should immediately ask the Sri Lankan Government to recall its High Commissioner, or move to expel him” said Senator Rhiannon in the release.
Separately, in an interview to AM’s Tom Nightingale on Monday, when asked about whether the navy had used force to deter asylum seekers, Samarasinghe has said “When we stop they have no other option than turn round with us, I mean they can’t keep on going. It’s a matter of they get arrested, they surrender, and they turn the boat around. That’s simple as that. When the boat is turned away they are being questioned as to why they wanted to leave or what motivated them to leave and who are the people whom they made contact.”
Despite claims of Samarasinghe that the SL Navy has been ‘stopping’ asylum seekers, earlier reports have exposed how Sri Lankan agents involved in human trafficking, supported by influential individuals in the state machinery, have economically exploited a psychologically harassed Tamil population by ‘assisting’ them to flee the island.