Human rights groups have expressed anger at how Australia Federal Police responded to a former Sri Lankan general accused of war crimes after he was allowed to enter the country at least twice.
The Australian Centre for International Justice first sought an urgent meeting with AFP officers in June 2019, days after they became aware General Jagath Jayasuriya was in Melbourne and attending public events.
The former general is accused of overseeing military attacks on hospitals and killing and torturing thousands of people during Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009.
Lawyer and ACIJ executive director Rawan Arraf said police refused to meet with the organisation, instead telling it how to make a criminal complaint.
A 50-page submission, including witness testimony, was then provided to police on October 1 and there was a follow up phone call with officers on October 17.
The former general was able to re-enter the country at the end of October and again attending public events in November.
The AFP is not in charge of issuing visas or border control, with Ms Arraf instead calling on the organisation to begin a criminal investigation into the alleged war crimes.
“The problem isn’t whether the AFP knew (he was in Australia) or not. It’s the fact they were told and did nothing,” she said.
Ms Arraf said the lack of action proved that the police needed a dedicated war crime taskforce.
“We still don’t think any lessons have been learnt and it is unacceptable this war criminal is allowed to roam freely and talk about his experiences during the war,” she said.
AFP Deputy Commissioner of Investigations Ian McCartney told a Senate hearing it was an administrative oversight the force did not shy away from, but said it wouldn’t have changed decisions that were made.
“(The oversight) caused a delay in terms of the assessment and the response back to the complainant in relation to the matter,” he said.
“Whilst there was a delay and an administrative oversight, this wouldn’t have changed the decision that, in our view, the Sri Lankan domestic commission of inquiry and war crimes is the most appropriate body to assess this sort of allegation.”
The deputy commissioner also branded any potential investigations as complex with the alleged actions occurring in Sri Lanka when asked about the international law principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes.
“It’s one that we need to seek advice from the attorney-general’s department, and ultimately, if we were to take any action in relation to this matter, we’d need approval from the attorney-general,” he said.
The ACIJ has also called on the federal government to sanction the former general under new Magnitsky-style legislation.
“More than a decade after the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, no perpetrator has been held accountable for the atrocities committed in the war,” the ACIJ said in a statement.
“Targeted sanctions can therefore help fill the accountability gap and undermine the impunity enjoyed by the generals.”
The human rights groups are also calling for an inquiry into how the situation was handled by the AFP, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka.
“These serious failures demonstrate that a specialist investigations unit is urgently needed in Australia so that investigators with expertise in international crimes can respond swiftly and act promptly in such circumstances,” the ACIJ said.