Sri Lanka’s HR record worrisome, U.S. says

Apr 06, Washington D.C.: Sri Lanka’s worrisome record on human rights, weakening democracy and the accountability during the final months of war have limited United States’ ability to fully engage with Sri Lanka, a high ranking U.S. official said.

While recognizing Sri Lanka is a strategic interest to the United States due to its location on the international shipping routes, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South, and Central Asian Affairs, Robert O. Blake, Jr. said the security corporation with Sri Lanka should remain limited until the Sri Lankan government makes progress on those fronts.

In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia on Tuesday (05), Blake, the former Ambassador to Sri Lanka said Sri Lanka must take concrete steps for a true and lasting national reconciliation.

The Administration believes and Congressional Appropriations language specifies that our security cooperation, in many forms, should remain limited until progress has been made on fundamental human rights, democracy and governance issues, and the concrete steps necessary for a true and lasting national reconciliation,” Blake told the Subcommittee.

Assistant Secretary Blake, while welcoming the establishment of their Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and its implementing body the Inter Agency Advisory Committee by the Sri Lankan government and the reconciliatory measures taken by the government, said more need to be done.

He warned that failure to take credible and meaningful steps towards accountability is likely to generate pressure for an international commission.

The U.S. official reiterated his government’s assistance for programs aimed at increasing post-conflict stability in the North of Sri Lanka and providing economic opportunities to those affected by the conflict.

Assistant Secretary Blake in his conclusion told the subcommittee that South Asia is one of the most vital regions in the world for the United States and its importance will only grow.

“The recent histories of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives show that they are joining India in consolidating democracy, on a path towards full human rights, and contributing to the peace and security of the larger world. They may seem small, but they understand the need to think big and the importance of working with the United States,” he concluded.

Excerpts of Blake’s testimony on Sri Lanka:

Off the coast of southern India sits Sri Lanka, still recovering from the 26-year conflict with the LTTE.

Positioned directly on the shipping routes that carry petroleum products and other trade from the Gulf to East Asia, Sri Lanka remains of strategic interest to the U.S. An important contributor to global peacekeeping operations, Sri Lanka stands poised to be a capable and willing partner to effectively combat violent extremism, trafficking and piracy, and thereby help to ensure the maritime security of the region.

But the Governments worrisome record on human rights, weakening of democratic institutions and practices, and the way in which it conducted the final months of its conflict against the Tamil Tigers hamper our ability to fully engage.

The Administration believes and Congressional Appropriations language specifies that our security cooperation, in many forms, should remain limited until progress has been made on fundamental human rights, democracy and governance issues, and the concrete steps necessary for a true and lasting national reconciliation.

The United States welcomed Sri Lankas establishment of their Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and its implementing body the Inter Agency Advisory Committee. Sri Lanka also has taken some steps forward on reconciliation such as resettling the vast majority of the nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons at the end of the conflict, demining 5 million square meters, reducing the reach of High Security Zones, and hiring 335 Tamil-speaking police, and beginning a dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance but more needs to be done. We have urged Sri Lanka to take credible and meaningful steps towards accountability and have warned that a failure to do so is likely to generate pressure for an international commission.

Our assistance programs aim to increase post-conflict stability in the North of Sri Lanka by promoting reconciliation, enhancing local governance, building civil society capacity, increasing economic opportunities to those affected by conflict, and assisting the continued resettlement and reintegration of displaced persons.

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