Ahead of US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, visit to Sri Lanka, the country’s opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has urged the government to push for a repeal on the US travel ban imposed on Sri Lankan army commander, Shavendra Silva, and his immediate family.
Premadasa told parliament this morning that the Sri Lankan government must "discuss this matter and obtain a statement from him (the US State Secretary) about lifting the travel ban".
“This ban was imposed upon the betrayal of our war heroes by the previous government in Geneva,” Sri Lanka's foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardana said in response to the opposition leader’s suggestion, maintaining that he should have raised concerns with the previous foreign minister, whilst he held a ministerial post.
Premadasa has previously vowed to “stand by" Silva, calling him “one of the heroic field commanders who spearheaded the national effort to eradicate terrorism”.
The US travel ban was initially imposed on the army commander in February 2020, due to concerns over “gross human rights violations”. In particular, the US report highlighted “extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009”. The 58th division, engaged in a brutal military assault that saw hospitals repeatedly bombed, widespread sexual violence, torture, and the execution of surrendering Tamils.
In February, the US State Department stated that:
“His designation underscores the importance we place on human rights in Sri Lanka and globally, our concern over impunity for human rights violations and abuses, as well as our support for promoting accountability for those who engage in such acts. We urge the Sri Lankan government to promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security sector reform, and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation.”
Pompeo’s visit during escalating tensions
Pompeo is expected to arrive on 27 October, he will be “the highest-level US government official of cabinet rank to visit the country since one of his predecessors, John Kerry, visited Sri Lanka in 2015”, reports the Sunday Times.
This visit follows escalating tensions between the US and China over Sri Lanka’s trading relationship. US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz warned Sri Lanka against trade with China due to their lack of transparency. Chinese officials responded by alleging that the US was guilty of upholding a hypocritical double standard.
During the meeting between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Yang Jiechi, Director of China's Central Committee's Foreign Affairs Commission, the Chinese diplomat pledged to defend the country at “international fora including United Nations Human Rights Council”.