Sydney University bows to request from Sri Lankan military and police
Saturday, 13 September 2014 01:31
Invitations withdrawn from two Sri Lankan NGOs to an international conference
The University of Sydney has withdrawn invitations for two Sri Lankan human rights organisations to an international conference at the request of the Sri Lankan military, angering campaigners, the Guardian newspaper reports.
The university is due to host a two day event in Bangkok from Monday (15) along with the University of Colombo, which will see delegates from around the world discuss the enhancement of human rights in the Asia Pacific region, the Guardian report said.
Delegations from the Sri Lankan military and the Sri Lankan police are expected to attend the conference. Leaked correspondence, seen by Guardian Australia, shows that these delegations had originally requested that all non-government organisations (NGOs) from Sri Lanka be uninvited, and organisers subsequently rescinded two invitations.
Guardian Australia has also seen a letter discussing the reasons for rescinding the invitations to the two NGOs sent by the conference’s director, University of Sydney associate professor Danielle Celermajer.
“With about 130 people from across the region confirmed from the conference, it would be a disaster for all members of the Sri Lankan forces, who have been at the heart of the project, to withdraw,” it states.
“In fact, should they do so, the conference would be unviable. Moreover, we believe that to insist that the NGOs come would place the CSHR (The Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Colombo) and potentially those NGOs at risk of being punished for this decision.”
Guardian Australia has seen a copy of the running order of the conference. Sri Lankan military officials are due to speak at a number of events, with one titled: ‘Facing the challenge of human rights protection in the security sector in the Asia Pacific’.
Australian newsgroup Fairfax has reported further correspondence from Celermajer, telling conference delegates to avoid any confrontation with Sri Lankan military officials at the conference.
The UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has published an open letter to all other conference guests urging them not to participate in the event.
“By allowing the Sri Lankan Army to dictate who can or cannot attend, the organisers of this conference are, in effect, acceding to that wish, thereby potentially making themselves complicit in the Sri Lankan government’s systematic attempts to suppress dissent and intimidate critical voices within civil society, and to legitimise that policy internationally,” the letter reads.
“We consider this wholly unacceptable, and believe that the conference, in its current form, will do damage to human rights in Sri Lanka – damage that will outweigh any good it might achieve,” it adds.
Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Brad Adams said rescinding invitations to the two NGOs was ‘very disturbing’.
“By caving to pressure from security forces this is sending the signal that the voices of security forces are more important than the voices of civil society. It also sends the message that universities can be strong-armed by the Sri Lankan government to drive the agenda and participation of an academic conference, which is very disturbing,” Pearson said.
“Defending human rights is about protecting victims, not giving in to intimidating tactics,” she added.
The University of Sydney said it continued to back conference organisers.
“Associate professor Celermajer’s ongoing project involves taking new and considered approaches in its attempt to improve what are often intractable situations in the region,” a spokeswoman said.
“These issues are inevitably complex, but intellectual and political breakthroughs require ground-breaking research. The University of Sydney supports academic freedom for all of its staff and encourages them to freely express their views.”
It is understood a number of attendees are considering a withdrawal.