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Australian Prime Minister Downplays Sri Lankan Torture Allegations

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott visits the Sri Lanka Navy vessel Sayura in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Chamila Karunarathne, Copyright @Demotix (11/17/2013)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott visits the Sri Lanka Navy vessel Sayura in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Chamila Karunarathne, Copyright @Demotix (11/17/2013)

Australians have been flabbergasted by the contrast between two conservative Prime Ministers over Sri Lanka’s human rights record, namely their own PM Tony Abbott and the UK’s David Cameron.

Cameron put Sri Lanka on notice over war crimes allegations. PM Abbott was far more conciliatory:

The Australian Government deplores any use of torture. Sometimes, in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen. The important thing is to act as quickly as you can to bind up the nation's wounds.

Many onliners took these remarks at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo [CHOGM] to be tacit approval of human rights violations including torture. These tweets were typical of the initial responses:

There was the inevitable parallel with the Nazis [Godwin’s law] and misquote:

Abbott's contentious words were reinforced by the Australian government’s gift of two patrol boats to the host country to help stop asylum seekers fleeing down under.

Bloggers have been slow to take up the issue but TURNLEFT2013 was quick off the mark. Tony Abbott condones Torture: Music And Politics features a song by Welsh band Manic Street Preachers ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next':

If we tolerate torture of others, our children may one day be next.

Sample lyrics:

The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
So if I can shoot rabbits
Then I can shoot fascists …

And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next
And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next

Jeff Sparrow, editor of progressive magazine Overland, wrote an opinion piece, Refugees and human rights abuses: we can’t pretend that we do not know, in Guardian Australia’s Comments are free section:

…we have a responsibility to oppose Australia’s shameful refugee policy, it’s not simply for the sake of asylum seekers caught up in our jurisdiction, but because of the consequences for oppressed people elsewhere.

It received some comments arguing for a ‘realpolitik’ approach to human rights in Asia. TheGreatCucumber argued:

I'm afraid that worries about universal human rights have become a luxury that the developed world is increasingly unable to afford. The UK has enough trouble in maintaining our current level of development for our citizens without having to worry about saving the world's waifs and strays.

Another comment by trevofbillysville on the same post echoed the earlier responses on twitter:

Abbott, mouth in gear as usual ,brain not.Slogans are all he knows .What a shocker.

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