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A Tamil woman holds a photo of her husband who disappeared during the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war.

A University of Sydney academic has urged delegates at a human rights conference to go soft on the Sri Lankan government, which has refused to investigate war-time atrocities that allegedly occurred at the end of its civil war five years ago.

Danielle Celermajer, an associate professor at the university, told 100 delegates they should be “mindful of the heightened sensitivity and fragility” at the conference in Bangkok after Sri Lankan authorities threatened to withdraw its military and police participants.

“While we will all no doubt find ourselves on occasion wishing to question the legitimacy of claims being made by Sri Lankan authorities, I would ask us to keep in mind the minimal positive impact that such confrontations would in fact have and their potentially deleterious effect on the conference,” Dr Celermajer said in a confidential letter to delegates obtained by Fairfax Media.

Tangaraja Rajeshwari with a photo of her son who disappeared during the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war.
“The stark reality is that if the Sri Lankan authorities feel themselves under attack, they will leave. They have made this clear to us,” she said.

The Sri Lankan government has refused to comply with repeated United Nations resolutions to allow an international investigation into allegations of serious abuses by both sides in the country’s quarter-century civil war, where in the final six months of the conflict up to 40,000 civilians were killed and another 6000 forcibly disappeared, according to Human Rights Watch.

Sri Lankan authorities told organisers of the Enhancing Human Rights and Security in the Asia-Pacific conference that its military and police delegates would withdraw because Sri Lankan non-government organisations had been invited to attend.

The organisers relented and asked two organisations – Right to Life and Right Now – to withdraw their delegates.

“As you can imagine, this was a decision we made with considerable consternation,” Dr Celermajer said.

“This conference represents a very unique opportunity to have security sector representation from about 15 countries in the room talking about human rights with some NGOs and scholars present,” she said.

“Its success will very much depend on how all parties conduct themselves but it is to you that I can appeal for partnership in this regard.”

The University of Sydney said one of the main objectives of the conference, to be held September 15-17, was to discuss the development of more effective strategies for protecting human rights in armed forces across the Asia-Pacific.

Military and police from Sri Lanka and Nepal have been directly involved in the project while other representatives had been invited from countries including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

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