Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under criticism for defending former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa in regard to the action taken to end Sri Lanka’s civil war and ignoring Sri Lanka’s human right violations in order to stop asylum seeker boats coming to Australia.
In an essay to the 26 March issue of Quadrant Online, Abbott said as prime minister, he was determined to advance Australia’s interests, protect its citizens and uphold their values around the world and the best way to do this was usually to be as practically helpful as possible in the dealings with other countries. “That meant putting aside the moral posturing of the Rudd years to be a country that said what it meant and did what it said,” Abbott said referring to the previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government.
“I’m sure that the Sri Lankan president was pleased that Australia didn’t join the human rights lobby against the tough but probably unavoidable actions taken to end one of the world’s most vicious civil wars,” Abbott said in his essay.
He underscored that both countries became even stronger partners in the Abbott government’s most urgent initial task: to end the people-smuggling trade that had resulted in more than 1200 deaths at sea, more than 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat and more than $10 billion in border protection budget blow-outs. “A country that can’t control its borders sooner or later loses control of its future,” Abbott said defending his decision to overlook Sri Lanka’s human rights violations.
During the Rajapaksa administration Australia and Sri Lanka had strengthened bilateral relations and the two countries have cooperated in curbing human smuggling to Australia across the Indian Ocean.
When Canada and India decided to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in 2013 on the grounds of Sri Lanka’s human rights record, Abbott affirming his participation in the summit said the “most important civil right is the right to live without the threat of death or violence through a civil war” and that he will not “lecture Sri Lanka on human rights.”
Australia did not co-sponsor the third UN resolution against Sri Lanka in 2014 although Australia has supported the previous two resolutions adopted in the UNHRC in 2011 and 2012.