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‘US policy on Sri Lanka needs a reset’

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US policy on Sri Lanka has over emphasised growing military relations “to the detriment of human rights accountability,” writes J S Tissainayagam in the Asian Correspondent this week.

“The policy of western democracies – led by the United States – of over-emphasising military-to-military relations with Sri Lanka to the detriment of human rights accountability, has weakened their hand to play a constructive role in this crisis,” said Tissainayagam.

“While Washington, with Europe and India were busy enhancing military relations, they lagged on persuading the Colombo to make good on its promises on human rights and democracy.”

See extracts from his article reproduced below.

See the full piece here.

“Rather than impose stricter conditions on Colombo on implementing the resolution, UNHRC member countries granted Sri Lanka another two years with no additional benchmarks or timelines to complete the task.”

“Among the countries in the UNHRC willing to let Colombo off the hook were the US and European democracies.”

“But if the US’s reticence at the UNHRC on human rights atrocities was a tactic to wean Colombo from China’s orbit, it failed. Because, despite Wickremesinghe’s promise to halt development of a Chinese financed and controlled Port City near Colombo, he later gave the green light for its resumption.”

“With the project of decoupling Colombo from Beijing sluggish at best, persuading Colombo to strengthen human rights would have enhanced Washington’s influence in Sri Lanka.”

“As a cosponsor of the UNHRC resolution and as countries promoting human rights and democracy western democracies under US leadership could have done much to either repeal entirely, or at least remove the sections of the PTA that stifled freedom of expression."

"And, by pushing Colombo towards demobilisation the US and the Europeans could have reduced the military’s presence in Tamil civilian life. They were not prepared to ensure either."

"Washington has not been able to achieve its goal of entirely unentangling Sri Lanka from China’s grip by forging a close military relationship with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. It also lost much of its standing with Sri Lanka’s citizens because it did not lend a strong support to the voices of those calling for democracy and human rights.”

“Going forward, whether it be Wickremesinghe or Rajapaksa that eventually consolidates power, balancing military relations with democracy promotion might be a more prudent way to go.”