Caritas grieves murder of Catholic priest; renews calls for Australian engagement

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Sydney, April 21, 2008. Caritas Australia is calling on the international community, including the Australian Government, to assist the Sri Lankan Government in challenging the culture of impunity operating throughout Sri Lanka, after the death of Father MX Karunaratnam in a roadside bombing on Sunday.

AP is reporting 'a roadside bomb set off by government soldiers in rebel-held territory in Sri Lanka has killed a Roman Catholic priest who was also a human rights activist'. 'We pray for Fr Karunaratnam, the head of North East Secretariat on Human Rights. We are richer for his courageous work in maintaining a focus on the rights of the marginalised', said Caritas Australia's Acting CEO Jamie Isbister. Fr Damian Fernando of Caritas Sri Lanka said, 'Caritas Sri Lanka is deeply saddened by the untimely demise of Fr. Karunaratnam. He was an example of courage and humanity and will be missed by all.

As long as violence prevails in the country, more innocent lives will be lost and this situation has to end. It is therefore fundamental that the conflicting parties come to some agreement and reach a peaceful compromise which will bring a lasting solution for Peace in Sri Lanka.'

Mr Isbister said, 'the vicious fighting and ongoing human rights violations by all parties are going unchallenged and uninvestigated and remain a crucial issue to be addressed by the Sri Lankan Government, the LTTE and the international community. More than 3000 people have died since the collapse of the ceasefire in January 2008'.

'The cultural of impunity that is operating in Sri Lanka needs to be urgently addressed, as virtually none of the killings, abductions and human rights abuses that continue to occur in Sri Lanka are ever brought before the courts'.

'Since the collapse of the peace process earlier this year, the situation has deteriorated for millions across Sri Lanka. The current threat to the Madhu Shrine and the murder of human rights activists like Fr Karunaratnam illustrate the need for international pressure to get the parties back to the table', said Mr Isbister.

'We saw the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, formed to observe an inquiry into 16 cases of serious rights violations, (including the August 2006 massacre of 17 local employees of the French charity, ACF), pulled out in March 2008 because of a lack of political will to investigate and bring to justice these tragedies'.

'Australia as a regional power and with a growing Sri Lankan diaspora, has a unique opportunity to build a politically powerful contact group of India, the EU and the USA, to ensure parties return to the table', said Mr Isbister.

Caritas Australia continues to work through its local partners with all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka supporting grassroots initiatives including trauma counseling, delivering food aid and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

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