Australia - A Safe Haven for Sri Lankan War Criminals?

By Dr. Victor Rajakulendran


“Hundreds of suspected Nazi war criminals living in Australia will never face a jury, with the nation’s strongest prosecutions case stamped ‘closed’. A Latvian-Australian man accused of being part of a death squad involved in World War II genocide has been granted freedom from prosecution. Jewish leaders in Australia said at least 300 war criminals were living in Australia, safe in the knowledge that lack of political will would see them safe from prosecution”.
            - Charles Miranda in Canberra; “The Advertiser” [17 March 1997]

“A Nazi war crimes suspect, thrown out of several countries on suspicion of participating in mass killings arrived today back in his adopted home country, Australia. Konrad Kalejs arrived on a Singapore Airlines flight in Melbourne’s airport, where dozens of Jewish students gathered to protest what they said was the government’s failure to do more to investigate the allegations against him. He was helped through customs, by airport officials. A spokeswoman said, and ushered away without passing through any public areas. But that did not deter protestors. ‘We are here to prove to that he is not welcome here in Australia,’ said one demonstrator, Josh Gladwin.”
                - Associated Press, New York Times [January7, 2000]

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Laxshman Kadirgamar and his cabinet colleagues must have read reports like the above, before they decided to choose Canberra to hide their own War Criminal Major General Janaka Perera, disguising as the Sri Lankan Ambassador, robed with additional protection of diplomatic immunity.

Konrad Kalej allegedly was a platoon commander and lieutenant in the Latvian Arajas Kommando, a murder squad believed responsible for killing at least 26,000 men, women and children. The squad allegedly was involved in guerilla warfare and the extermination of Jews by firing squad on Nazi orders in 1942 and 1943. Mass graves were uncovered after the war. He was born in Riga, the Latvian capital, in 1912 and came to Australia on a ship, the Mozzafari, in 1949 and took Australian citizenship in 1956. In 1959 Kalej moved to the US, where he lived for 35 years (1959-1994). During this time he made millions in the real-estate business, but then details of his wartime past were revealed. Instead of being prosecuted, he was deported from the US in 1994 and went back to Australia. Under renewed pressure from Jewish groups in Australia he fled to Canada, from where he was deported again for war crimes in 1997.

Back in Australia, he had to face an investigation into his past, which was dropped later due to “insufficient evidence”. He was not even stripped of his citizenship. Prime Minister Howard then explained the decision thus: “We can’t take away his citizenship without passing retrospective law, and that would open up a whole, huge debate, and I don’t want to do that”. The World Socialist Website reacted to Prime Minister Howard’s comment as follows: “This was not surprising, since hundreds of war criminals made their way to Australia through the International Refugee Organization, set up under the auspices of the allied powers, often going on to assume prominent positions in their new home”.

Kalejs disappeared again but soon to be tracked down by Nazi hunters to a nursing home in central England. Latvian government requested him to be extradited to Latvia. Before Kalejs was allowed to leave Britain to avoid deportation on January 5, 2000, both British Home Secretary Jack Straw and the British labour government knew that he would be protected in Australia, where he was given refuge in 1950 and citizenship in 1957. British Home secretary refused to even examine the evidence against Kalejs because - like Australia, the US and Canada before - Britain fears an examination of the role of the allied governments in allowing so many Nazis to evade prosecution. At the same time Australia, the US, Britain and Canada are now home of many who survived the atrocities committed by the same Nazis.

Following a request by Latvia that he be extradited on charges of genocide and war crimes, Kalej was arrested in Melbourne on the 13th of December 2000. He appeared before a magistrate and was released on bail on condition he surrender all passports, not try to leave the country and notify authorities of any change of address. Moves have been under way to secure his extradition for more than a year following his deportation from Britain in January 2000. Australia signed even a new extradition treaty with Latvia in July 2000. When Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone was asked, how long the extradition process could take, she said: “The process very largely depends on whether the person being sought agrees to be extradited back to the country seeking them. If they don’t agree, if they choose to challenge matters in the court at every turn, it can take 18 months, two years.”

People like Kalejs were taken into countries like Australia, Britain, Canada and the US because at that time these countries needed to recruit scientists, sources of intelligence and labourers to work in their mines and farms. In Australia, under the “White Australia” immigration policy leaders were determined to populate the continent with European stock, particularly those who would undertake or supervise arduous labour in remote locations. As a result, people like Kalejs have held important positions in the Australian society, made enough money and have become politically influential. This makes it difficult for Australia to enact laws that could facilitate extradition of these people. It is obvious that Australia like to see these people disappear naturally from the face of this earth. Obviously, it is the case with Kaleij, who is 87 and said to be suffering from prostate cancer, dementia and blindness. Australia will hope the same with the Latvian witnesses who have given evidence against him.

Sri Lanka was cited in year 2000 by the UN, as having the second highest number of unresolved disappearances in the world. Major General Janaka Perera has been implicated in most of these disappearances. He has been implicated in ethnic cleansing, ordering shelling of civilian areas and torture.

When he was a Brigadier, Major General Janaka Perera has been accused of being responsible for several of the mass killings of innocent Sinhalese youths in the southern Sri Lanka during the pre-Chandrika regime. When President Chandrika Kumaratunge got elected (1995) on a campaign promise to render restitution for these human rights violations, Major General Perera was said to have been in the list of 200 members of the Sri Lankan army personal slated to be fired by the then newly elected President Kumaratunge for their role in these killings. She took this decision after several mass graves containing the remains of several youths including Sinhalese school children (suspected supporters of the Sinhalese militant group JVP) were discovered by her new government in a place called Sooriya Kanda. Members of President Kumaratunge’s government took part in the excavation. Major General Perera was one of those implicated in the commission of inquiry reports into these disappearances that was chaired by lawyer Manouri Muttetuwegama. It is alleged that President Kumaratunge later had to withdraw this plan at the urging of her Deputy Defence Minister Anuraddha Ratwatte, on the grounds that such action would have an adverse effect on the armed services’ morale in fighting the LTTE.

After the “Riviresa operation” by the Sri Lankan security forces (1996), the then newly captured Jaffna peninsula came under the control of Brigadier Sri Lal Weerasuriya (later he became the head of the Sri Lankan army). Under his command, the Jaffna peninsula was divided into two regions. Brigadiers, Janaka Perera and Karunatilake functioned as commanding officers of these two regions. Brigadier Janka Perera was in charge of the area where nearly thousand Tamil civilians disappeared (Amnesty International confirmed 600 of these), many of whom are believed to be buried in mass graves in an area called Chemmani. According to witnesses, these murders were committed in different army camps in the vicinity and the bodies brought in trucks to be buried in Chemmani. It is obvious that such large numbers could not have been killed and buried without the knowledge and approval of the commanding officer. The six soldiers accused and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of the Tamil schoolgirl Krishanthy Kumarasamy, murder of her mother, brother and their neighbor whose bodies were recovered at Chemmani in shallow graves only revealed in courts the existence of Chemmani Mass Graves. They also claimed that they were only carrying out orders of their commanders. Again no action was taken against the then Brigadier Perera, instead he was rewarded with a promotion to the position of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan army and later retired this year after serving as the Chief of Staff.

In the mid-1980s, when he was stationed in the Manal Aru area in the Tamil homelands, Perera is credited with the wholesale uprooting of Tamil villages and with mass murder to facilitate Sinhalese settlements. In this ethnic cleansing exercise, thousands of Tamil Homes were bulldozed and hundreds of villagers were massacred to make the rest flee in fear. Major General Perera is also an egomaniac, who even had a Tamil village in this area renamed after him (the village “Mankindimalai” became “Janaka Pura” - meaning Janaka Place).

Major General Janaka Perera is a war criminal and his criminal activities span over 2 decades. While the Tamil Diaspora is gathering relevant information to indict him for his war crime activities, the Sri Lankan government is trying to hide him in Canberra under diplomatic immunity. With a possible peaceful resolution to the conflict in sight, particularly with the involvement of the international community (with an international monitoring committee already proposed to be present in Sri Lanka), Sri Lankan government will be forced to hide more Generals in their diplomatic missions overseas, using the diplomatic immunity.

The way Australia dealt with Kalejs’s case and the lack of strong Laws to deal with such cases in Australia might have prompted Sri Lanka to conduct their first experiment in Australia, using Major General Perera as the Guinea pig.

Will the Sri Lankan government succeed in this experimentation?

Major General Perera is not an Australian citizen, for the Australian government to go out of the way to help him to stay in this country. Australian government has already recognised that people in Sri Lanka were affected by the actions of people like Major General Perera, by creating a Special Assistant Category visa (215) for the affected people to migrate to Australia. There are many people, from both Tamil and Sinhalese communities, now living in Australia who were affected by the brutal activities of Major General Perera. These people will join forces to press the Australian government not to accept his appointment as the Sri Lankan Ambassador that is being proposed by the Sri Lankan government. All the fair-minded Australians would expect the government in Canberra to avoid getting bogged down in another unnecessary, long drawn out, legal battle by rejecting this appointment. However, only time will tell whether the Australian Foreign Minister and his government will make the move in the correct direction as these many Australians wish.

9 April 2001