Saturday, November 30, 2013

‘Relief operations are no justification for increased presence of US troops’

– progressive groups
‘While we welcome all aid extended to our brothers and sisters in the Visayas, we don’t see the necessity of deploying missile cruisers and missile destroyers and, amphibious assault vehicles and other warships.’ – Cristina Palabay, Karapatan
Marya Salamat November 26, 2013
Two weeks after the strongest supertyphoon to make landfall pounded much of Central Philippines and neighboring countries, the number of dead Filipinos are estimated to reach as high as 7,000 (of which more than 5,400 have so far been confirmed), more than 14 million were displaced, about P24-billion ($558 million) worth of infrastructure and agriculture were destroyed, water and electricity services remain cut off in most places — and all these figures may still go higher as the reckoning is not yet over. Local government officials in the affected areas say it would take years to rebuild and rehabilitate. Frameworks for doing that are still being conceptualized as we write, with the United Nations slated to come up with a proposal.
To this day though, the basic and immediate need for relief is still to be addressed. According to peoples’ organizations whose members have been going to Eastern Visayas to distribute relief, conduct medical mission and help in rehabilitation efforts, some villages are being reached only now by aid. reporters noted that despite the heavy presence of able-bodied soldiers, cadavers and ruins still litter various areas, and only the roads and highways could be described as ‘clear’……..

US soldiers bring warships, warplanes, take control and command – officially until Nov 26 – of ‘Operation Damayan’ in storm-ravaged central Philippines (Photo by Pom Cahilog-Villanueva /
On top of the slow and seemingly controlled flow of relief to the victims (the Philippine military and the Department of Social Welfare have reportedly been taking steps to make sure that much of the relief and donations would first pass through them or are centralized to them), the Aquino government is further intensifying militarization in the storm-ravaged areas. The AFP website said that as of Nov. 16, there are ‘12,000 troops on the ground under the Central Command,’ aside from what it called as 3,400 ‘external troops’ and ‘follow on forces’ for augmentation, in Eastern Visayas.
Statements coming from the Communist Party of the Philippines, who claim to have guerrilla bases in the typhoon-ravaged areas and who has commanded its army, the New Peoples Army (NPA), to extend its ceasefire and prioritize rehabilitation work, condemned the Aquino government for continuing to undertake military offensives both in the storm-ravaged areas and in other parts of the Philippines…….
‘Justice and govt accountability, not US bases or more militarization’
‘What the aftermath of Yolanda shows is not the need for greater US military presence in the country, but the need for accountability from the Aquino government. We demand justice over this government’s criminal incompetence in handling Yolanda, not more US troops,’ said Elmer ‘Bong’ Labog, chairman of KMU……
Read more

Monday, November 25, 2013

Our politicians have failed yet again – it’s time we fixed the mess with Indonesia

25 November 2013, 6.00am AEST

Every so often over the last 50 years, Australia’s relations with Indonesia have hit stormy waters. The present tensions over the spying scandal may not be the most serious, but they are serious enough. Much Australian commentary on this latest unfortunate episode has been typically shallow – itself…


Joseph Camilleri

Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University - Article from The Conversation 25 November 2013

Australia must develop a stable, close and mutually respectful relationship with Indonesia, its government, its leaders, and its people. EPA/Adi Weda.

Every so often over the last 50 years, Australia’s relations with Indonesia have hit stormy waters. The present tensions over the spying scandal may not be the most serious, but they are serious enough.

Much Australian commentary on this latest unfortunate episode has been typically shallow – itself a symptom of the underlying problem. Much has been said about the personalities involved, the implications for the government’s “stop the boats” policy, and the psychological impact of the release of the Snowden documents. But with a few notable exceptions, the most critical questions have been largely overlooked.

No doubt eavesdropping on foreign leaders - a questionable practice at the best of times - has been found wanting both in this specific case and in the many other cases involving the United States' wiretapping operations. A thorough review of such operations is well overdue.

However, the most pressing question raised by the spying fiasco is whether or not Australia is ready and able to develop a stable, close and mutually respectful relationship with Indonesia, its government, its leaders, and its people. How we answer this question will help determine how we negotiate the so-called Asian century. The key here, as we shall see, is cultural and political literacy.

In 1994, prime minister Paul Keating declared:

Prime minister Paul Keating recognised the importance of working closely with Indonesia. Idpercy.

No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia.

Twenty years later this remains a distant aspiration. Prime minister Tony Abbott, who glibly promised “more Jakarta, less Geneva”, now finds his government’s policies on Indonesia floundering barely two months into his prime ministership.

The tensions created by the spying episode are not simply of Abbott’s making. The previous Rudd and Gillard governments share a good deal of the responsibility – either they themselves authorised Australian spies to eavesdrop on Indonesia’s most senior leaders, or they failed to apply adequate monitoring and accountability procedures. Labor’s lame response to the events of the last week suggests they may be culpable on both counts.

This said, the Abbott government’s handling of the Indonesian relationship has been unusually clumsy and short-sighted.

Even before coming to office, the Coalition made it clear that stopping the boats was critical to protecting Australian sovereignty. Abbott and immigration minister Scott Morrison were adamant that the boats would be turned back to Indonesia, even though Indonesian leaders repeatedly said that such a step would violate their country’s sovereignty.

The clear inference of the Abbott strategy was that Australian sovereignty was somehow superior to Indonesian sovereignty, and that, if necessary, Australia would act alone.

This barely disguised cultural and moral arrogance was then reinforced by the way Abbott handled the spying row – not just refusing to apologise, but claiming that all countries were engaged in such conduct – a patently false claim. Most governments don’t eavesdrop on the conversations of foreign leaders.

To add insult to injury Abbott went on to insinuate that Indonesian leaders should be grateful to find themselves spied upon, because all of this was being done with their interests at heart. Australia, it seems, knew what was in Indonesia’s interests better than Indonesians did.

This profound cultural insensitivity was compounded by media comment (shared by a number of politicians) that Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s verbal response and his decision to downgrade military co-operation could somehow be discounted, because he was merely playing to his domestic gallery.

The Rudd and Gillard governments share a good deal of responsibility for Australian spies eavesdropping on Indonesian leaders. AAP/Eka Nickmatulhuda.

Such an interpretation can mean only one of two things: either the Indonesian president lacked sincerity in expressing his displeasure; or that popular anger within Indonesia was not in reality shared by the president, and could therefore be discounted. It is as if we were telling Indonesians it didn’t matter what they thought so long as we had the president on side. Not exactly how to win friends and influence people.

Where to from here? The relatively simple first step must be to offer Indonesia an unreserved apology and clear assurance that such spying will stop. But other more demanding steps will need to follow.

For too long, Liberal and Labor governments have approached our ties with Indonesia in a purely instrumental fashion. The relationship is viewed as valuable insofar as it can serve Australia’s immediate interests: access to Indonesia’s expanding market, support for counter-terrorism strategies and co-operation on people smuggling.

Australian economic aid thus becomes the price we have to pay for Indonesian compliance with Australian priorities. Likewise with military aid and support for Indonesia’s territorial integrity (including turning a blind eye to human rights violations in West Papua). We do these things largely because they make it more likely that Indonesia will accede to our requests and reduce the risk of any future Indonesian threat to Australia’s security.

It is time for Australia to adopt a different approach – one in which self-interest plays, and is seen to play, a less prominent role. We need to cultivate a deeper understanding of our neighbour’s interests, attitudes and perceptions, and a willingness to give them due attention.

What might this mean in practice? First and foremost, a drastic improvement in the presently abysmal level of Indonesia literacy in this country. Complementing the study of Indonesian - which has been languishing for years in our schools and universities - must be greater knowledge of Indonesian society, its history, its culture, its values, and above all its ancient and still living wisdom.

Australia and Indonesia are strategically placed to act collaboratively on a range of important regional issues. EPA/Made Nagi.

To this end, a ten-year nationwide strategy is needed, integrating all key stakeholders: educational institutions, federal and state governments, parliaments, the media, business and the professions.

Australia must also seek - as a matter of high priority - Indonesia’s advice and support in responding to the emerging regional and global challenges facing our region. To this end, we must embark on a far-reaching dialogue that engages the two societies, not just the two governments.

A time must come, sooner rather than later, when Australian political leaders are in the habit of consulting with Jakarta as intensively as with Washington before determining Australian policy on such difficult international issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Afghanistan, as well as global financial regulation, nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

In the meantime, Australia and Indonesia are strategically placed to act collaboratively on a range of important regional issues, notably maritime tensions in the South China Sea and the rapid and potentially destabilising arms build-up in southeast Asia.

The two countries are, of course, well-placed to exercise joint leadership in pressing for a regional solution to the protracted asylum seeker and refugee crisis based on firm and interlocking commitments for asylum, resettlement and repatriation.

Indonesia and Australia could greatly benefit from sharing their experiences as highly diverse, multicultural societies, and from developing the Asia-South Pacific profile of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). Under UNAOC auspices, a range of joint projects could be devised involving extensive state and civil society cooperation. The forthcoming sixth UNAOC global forum to be held in Bali in August 2014 offers an important signpost for future bilateral and regional collaboration.

Australians have to negotiate an uncertain future in which US power and influence will steadily decline. In the emerging multi-centric world, different centres of power and influence reflecting different histories and worldviews will have to learn to co-exist and co-operate. A creative, culturally sensitive, long-term approach to our relations with Indonesia may be an indispensable asset as we navigate though turbulent waters of change.

Monday, November 18, 2013


5 November 2013

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the many Australians who believe in the importance of protecting people fleeing persecution, we write to voice our objection to the Australian Government’s recent decision to refer to asylum seekers who enter Australia by boat as “illegal maritime arrivals”.

You and members of your Cabinet are well aware that seeking asylum is not illegal under Australian or international law. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention makes it clear that contracting states, including Australia, must not impose penalties on people who arrive without authorisation to seek refugee protection. This Article recognises that very few of the world’s refugees get the opportunity to cross borders with prior permission and that rules which regulate normal migration flows must be suspended where those crossing the border believe they have a well-founded fear of persecution.

The Refugee Convention was drafted in the aftermath of World War II as the world reflected in horror on the fate of people who had their paths blocked as they attempted to flee Nazi persecution in Europe. The fundamental principles of the Refugee Convention are as important today as they were when drafted in 1951. Nations which value freedom must ensure that those fearing persecution have the opportunity to get to a place of safety and have their cases for protection considered fairly.

When you were sworn in as Prime Minister, it was pleasing to hear you speak about your plans to govern for all Australians, to work for the good of the nation and to do your best not to leave anyone behind. You would be well aware, from your previous experience as a Minister, that the Australian community’s expectations of a Government are far higher than its expectations of an Opposition. A Government’s leadership – whether positive or negative –has a profound impact on the nation.

While some people may believe there is political value in engaging in negative rhetoric about asylum seekers arriving without valid visas, the long-term implications of this approach must be considered very carefully. We cannot see how the Government’s use of harsher rhetoric against people seeking asylum will assist Australia to remain a cohesive and diverse nation.

Like many Australians, we have grave concerns that legitimising the use of “illegal” in this context may incite fear and hatred in the community. Already aware of a disturbing number of acts of violence against asylum seekers this year, we are worried by the prospect of intolerant elements of Australian society being emboldened to increase their bullying of vulnerable new arrivals.

We are particularly concerned to hear that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection instructed his Department to tell staff and contractors to use the term “illegal maritime arrivals” when referring to asylum seekers who arrived by boat. It is deeply disturbing that people of good conscience should be required, for political purposes, to use such dehumanising language.

While your Government continues to take a tougher line against asylum seekers, we note a shift in sentiment in Europe towards people fleeing by boat, illustrated by the decision of the Italian Government to declare a national day of mourning after the recent tragic loss of 366 lives at sea. We hope this small shift grows, reversing the strong trend over the past decade of wealthier nations pushing responsibility for the protection of refugees back to poorer nations. Pope Francis succinctly described this phenomenon when he visited Lampedusa in July and warned of a culture of comfort in which we become deaf to the cries of the suffering and part of a “globalisation of indifference”.

The Australian Government does have a choice. It can listen to the most strident voices in Australian society and implement its policies in a harsh and punitive manner or it can work towards its objectives in ways that place a much higher value on cooperation, diplomacy, respect and honesty. We ask you, for the sake of highly vulnerable people and for the good of our nation, to take the better path.

This letter is supported by the following organisations:

Refugee Council of Australia (letter coordinator)
ACT Council of Social Service Inc
ActionAid Australia
Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Australia Ltd
Anglicare NT
Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS)
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
Australian Council of Social Service
Australian Jewish Democratic Society
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Australian Lutheran World Service
Australian National Committee on Refugee Women
Australian Refugee Association Inc
Australia-Tamil Solidarity
Ballarat A.R.A. Circle of Friends
Ballarat Catholic Diocesan Social Justice Commission
Ballarat Community Health
Balmain for Refugees
Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group
B'nai B'rith Australia / New Zealand
Border Crossing Observatory
Bridge for Asylum Seekers Foundation
Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project
Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Network
Buddies Refugee Support Group, Sunshine Coast
Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia
Canberra Refugee Support
CASE for Refugees
Castlemaine Rural Australians for Refugees
Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Office of Justice and Peace
Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Justice and Peace Office
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, Social Justice Council
Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Social Justice Office
Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba, Social Justice Commission
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Brisbane
Catholic Religious Australia
Catholic Social Services Australia
Centacare Catholic Family Services, Adelaide
Central Victorian Refugee Support Network
Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University
Centre for Refugee Research, University of NSW
Christian Brothers Tasmania
Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD)
Communify Queensland
Companion House Assisting Survivors of Torture and Trauma
Darwin Asylum Seekers' Support and Advocacy Network
Doctors for Refugees
Edmund Rice Centre, Sydney
Edmund Rice Network Tasmania
Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria
Faithful Companions of Jesus Sisters, Province of Asia-Australia
Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
Footscray Community Legal Centre
Friends of the Earth Australia
Geelong Refugee Action and Information Network
God's Dwelling Place Bethany City Church Inc
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
Horn of Africa Relief and Development Agency
House of Welcome Ballarat
Humanitarian Crisis Hub
Humanitarian Research Partners
Indo-China Refugee Association
Indooroopilly Uniting Church
Institute of Sisters of Mercy, Australia and Papua New Guinea
International Commission of Jurists Australia
International Society For Human Rights Australia Inc
Islamic Council of Victoria
Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
Jesuit Social Services
Jewish Aid Australia
Kommonground Inc
Lentara UnitingCare Asylum Seeker Program
Liverpool Women's Health Centre
Lutheran Church of Australia
Lutheran Community Care SA & NT
Marist Sisters
Melaleuca Refugee Centre Torture and Trauma Survivors Service of the NT
Melbourne Zen Group
Mercy Refugee Services (Mercy Works Ltd)
Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia (MRCSA)
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart
NSW Council for Civil Liberties
NSW Council of Social Service
NSW Teachers Federation
NT Council of Social Service
Oxfam Australia
Pax Christi Australia
Pax Christi Australia (NSW Branch)
Pax Christi Queensland
Pax Christi Victoria
Peace and Social Justice Network, Victoria Regional Meeting, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Presentation People for Justice, Ballina
Presentation Sisters in Western Australia
Presentation Sisters Lismore
Presentation Sisters Queensland
Queenscliff Rural Australians for Refugees
Refugee Advice and Casework Service
Refugee Advocacy Network
Rural Australians for Refugees, Bendigo
Rural Australians for Refugees, Daylesford and District
Sanctuary Australia Foundation
SCALES Community Legal Centre
Settlement Council of Australia
Sisters of Charity of Australia
Sisters of Mercy, Brisbane Congregation
Sisters of the Good Samaritan
Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Sophia's Spring, Uniting Church, East Brunswick
South Australian Council of Social Service
South Australian Refugee Health Network (SARHN)
St Anthony's Family Care
St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
Surf Coast Rural Australians for Refugees
Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service (STTARS)
Sydney Multicultural Community Services Ltd
Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support
Tasmanian Catholic Justice and Peace Commission
Tasmanian Council of Social Service
Townsville Multicultural Support Group
Union of Australian Women Victoria
Uniting Church in Australia, Northern Synod
Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Western Australia
Uniting Church SA
Uniting Justice Australia
Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE)
Welcome to Australia
Western Australian Council of Social Service
Western Sydney Community Forum
Wyndham Community and Education Centre
Wyndham Legal Service

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Update on Shurat HaDin lawfare attack on Professor Jake Lynch

Update on Shurat HaDin lawfare attack on Professor Jake Lynch
On Tuesday Oct 29th, 2 Israeli based organisations and three individuals made an application to the Australian Federal Court against Professor Jake Lynch. The case is Shurat HaDin – The Israel Law Center & Ors v Jake Lynch, NSD2235/2013.
The applicants are: Shurat HaDin, Green Freedom Limited (Israel Company Number 514 331 479), Andrew Hamilton, David Hans Lange and Jonathan Rose. 

The following media alert was released as a result of this action and prior to a press conference on Wed Oct 30th led by Professor Stuart Rees and Associate Professor Peter Slezak (Professor Jake Lynch is currently overseas on sabbatical leave).

Australian academic faces lawfare attack
The right to criticize the policies of another country is at stake

Today an Israeli based law centre, Shurat HaDin, filed a case in the Federal Court of Australia, against Professor Jake Lynch from the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. They claim that he has supported policies which are racist and discriminatory by his specific endorsement of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions and individuals within them, because of these institutions’ support of the illegal occupation of Palestine and their close connections with the Israeli armament industry.

This lawfare attack against academic freedom and freedom of speech has been condemned by over 2000 Australian and international human rights advocates from some 60 countries, who have all signed a pledge supporting BDS and offering to be co-defendants in any legal action taken against Lynch. 

Shurat HaDin has taken many similar actions internationally against groups who supported the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Professor Stuart Rees comments,
“It seems that this firm, Shurat HaDin works in the civil courts as a proxy for the Israeli government and security forces, seeking to shut down any criticism of the state and its ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international law.”

In August, Shurat HaDin lodged a complaint in the Human Rights Commission against Jake Lynch’s refusal to sponsor an Israeli academic from the Hebrew University because of that institution’s links to the Israeli military and the ongoing Occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

This overseas firm now wants to silence this highly regarded academic, by taking their complaint to the Federal Court. This challenges the right to take non violent action in support international human rights law and the rights of the dispossessed Palestinians. Australians for BDS condemns racism in all forms, and specifically anti-Semitism.

“Israel’s occupation and ethnic cleansing machinery continue unabated but the moral force that used to drive that process is fast eroding and, as out of touch as the Abbott government and anti-BDS activists in Australia may be, there is an undeniable shift in the balance of moral power. .. International civil society is holding Israel to account in a way no government has ever been able to do”......Randa Abdul Fattah, Palestinian lawyer and writer resident in Sydney
Professor Jake Lynch released the following statement which was read at the press conference on Wed Oct 30th in Sydney.

“I am confident we will successfully fight off this despicable attack on freedom of expression, which is backed ultimately by the Israeli security state. The Shurat HaDin law centre has links to the Israeli National Security Council, and the Mossad, and has admitted in the past being directed by them as to which targets to pursue. That makes this attempt to subvert political debate in Australia all the more sinister.

In respect of the claims by Shurat HaDin, the boycott policy I wrote for CPACS, after a public meeting held at the University of Sydney, was carefully conceived to avoid discrimination, being confined to a request to the Vice Chancellor to revoke institutional links with two Israeli universities. And when I turned down the request by Professor Dan Avnon, to use my name on his application under one of those same schemes, I was (a) not in a position to prevent his coming to Sydney, since he had only to collect two names as host academics out of 3,000 at the University and (b) using my discretion - in effect, being asked for a favour. The law cannot require me to use my discretion in a particular way or it ceases to be discretion!”
A number of opinion pieces have been published recently outlining the issues raised by this action and we have posted links to them below. 

Your support and pledge to be a co-defendant in this case represents a strong stand against this unfounded and spurious lawfare attack by Shurat HaDin. It is unlikely that this organisation will desire to co-join any other defendants, but your ongoing support is crucial as Australians for BDS fights this foreign organisations’ attempts to gag free speech and academic freedom in Australia.
Please encourage others to sign onto the pledge and leave their comments on the site.

 And if you are an academic, please encourage your colleagues to sign on with their title eg. Prof, Dr., as we will be contacting all academics shortly to sign a statement of support for Professor Jake Lynch.
Thank you for your support. We will keep you posted as this case develops.
Antony Loewenstein To support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is not antisemitic
Prof Stuart Rees Op Ed in New Matilda – Two Thousand Defendants for Human Rights rights ">
Randa Abdel-Fattah – Who's afraid of BDS? Israel's assault on academic freedom – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics...
Randa Abdel-Fattah – Who's afraid of BDS? Israel's assault on academic freedom – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics...
Dr Peter Slezak - Is It Anti-Semitic To Protest Injustice?
Samah Sabawi – Israel and the erosion of democracy : An Australian Story

This message was sent by Australians for BDS using the system. You received this email because you signed a petition started by Australians for BDS on "Defend free speech and human rights and support the BDS." does not endorse contents of this message.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sri Lanka still unsafe for many

Published: 3 November 2013
By: Paul Dobbyn

Cause for concern: Peter Arndt (front) in Vavuniya in Sri Lanka's north with local clergy and Justice and Peace Workers. Beside Mr Arndt in traditional attire is the mother of a Tamil man whom she said died in detention.

BRISBANE archdiocese's social justice advocate Peter Arndt has heard many claims about the infringement of Tamils' rights in Sri Lanka since the bloody ending to that country's civil war in 2008.

Recently the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer was able to observe the situation at first hand when he attended a networking meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of Justice and Peace Workers in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
What Mr Arndt saw and heard on his September 3-9 visit disturbed him.

The experience convinced him Sri Lanka was not yet safe enough for the return of Tamil asylum seekers from Australia.

Mr Arndt called on the Australian Government to follow the Canadian Government's lead and boycott this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka next month.

Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Australia Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe has taken issue with many of Mr Arndt's comments.

He challenged Mr Arndt and others who criticised his country's government "to consider the progress that Sri Lanka has made after 30 years of war, and compare it with the post-conflict situation in other jurisdictions".

Admiral Samarasinghe said now was not the time for the Commonwealth to isolate Sri Lanka.

"What Sri Lanka needs right now is the support of all members of the Commonwealth," he said.

"It is encouraging that Australia's lead in taking a pragmatic and constructive approach by engaging constructively with Sri Lanka at the upcoming Commonwealth summit.

"Attempting to isolate the country at this critical juncture will only reverse post-conflict gains.

"It will also undermine domestic efforts at reconciliation between ordinary Sri Lankans who are looking forwards to a future of security, freedom and prosperity, now that the long dark era of terror is over."

Mr Arndt was unconvinced and said he had gained first-hand experience of the sufferings of Tamils in Sri Lanka's north on his visit.

"I wish (Australian Prime Minister) Mr (Tony) Abbott and others could have met with the women I met whose husbands and sons have been detained, tortured and, in some cases, killed over the last four years," he said.

"I wish he could have heard the pain in their voices and seen their tears.

"The systematic way in which Tamil men are being arrested and detained indefinitely looks suspiciously like ethnic cleansing to me."

Mr Arndt said presentations on the human rights situation by Sinhalese and Tamil activists in Colombo and the north were validated with face-to-face encounters with families of those tortured and/or disappeared.

"We met with families of those who continue to be arbitrarily detained, and with those displaced through the military taking over their villages," he said.

Admiral Samarasinghe said Sri Lanka had embarked on its own comprehensive domestic reconciliation and accountability process - the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee.

"Extensive efforts made by the Government to restore normalcy in the former theatre of conflict demonstrates that the Government has addressed a number of challenges in a brief period of four years, including some requiring a longer period of gestation," he said.

"These efforts were not only about 'bricks and mortar' but a comprehensive process which included resettlement of the displaced, rehabilitation of ex-combatants, provision of vocational training, launching and implementation of the trilingual policy and improvements in health and education sectors, to name a few."

Mr Arndt and others among the 35 JPWs visited Mannar district which includes Vavuniya and Mahdu where some of the heavy fighting occurred.

He said the after-effects of a civil war - lasting three decades and finishing in May 2009 with as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians being killed in a final battle between rebel forces and Government troops in the country's north - were still being felt.

In Mahdu, Mr Arndt and other JPWs met with Bishop Reyappu Joseph of Mannar and a number of Tamil and Sinhalese priests ministering to the Tamil community where they were briefed on concerns.

They also visited the 400-year-old Shrine of Our Lady of Mahdu which draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims for August 15, the Feast Day of the Assumption and large numbers for Our Lady's birthday on September 8.

Mr Arndt's visit to Vavuniya allowed him to meet with the wives, mothers and other family members of 12 Tamil men detained in the past four years.

"The men are detained either locally or in Galle to the south," he said.

"In all our visits, we were able to observe there is little improvement, little livelihood opportunities and much fear, mourning and grieving for loved ones killed during the civil war.

"Healing is more difficult as the civil war killings are not officially acknowledged and no memorials and monuments are allowed by the Government.

"The encounters also gave a face to the oft-reported alleged militarisation, Sinhalisation and the blatant disregard of the Government for basic human rights in Sri Lanka, especially in the north."

Mr Arndt said justice and peace workers during the conference were aided by inputs on the Second Vatican Council and the Church and human rights by Fr Sheldon Reid Fernando.

At the end of the gathering, participants committed to focus on two major issues as regional priorities: Militarisation and Migration, and Human Trafficking.

As a collective action, the JPWs agreed to send a letter to the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to share their experiences and reflections with the bishops after the meeting.

"We also came away with a commitment to communicate and share findings and reflections with the Churches and peoples in each of our countries," Mr Arndt said.

"For me, it was a chance to see first hand the accuracy of reports I had been receiving from many sources for some years."