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Samantha Power accused of ‘ignoring history’ in Sri Lanka

Senior US policy figure Samantha Power has been accused of ‘ignoring history’ during her visit to Sri Lanka last month, after she spoke at an event praising current finance minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Power was seated at the front row of the event, alongside several other Sri Lankan leaders, including former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who oversaw the military offensive that killed tens of thousands of Tamils.

“Sri Lanka has been a true partner of the United States, and I am grateful that many of the relationships I was able to form while working with your country have endured, and become very meaningful friendships,” Power said in the opening of her speech. She went on to call Samaraweera “one of the most remarkable people I encountered during my eight years serving in the US government”.

She referenced Martin Luther King Jr, the unknown protestor at Tiananmen Square, Nelson Mandela and the mothers of the disappeared across the island, in her speech celebrating Samaraweera’s 30 years in parliamentary politics. Power also made just one reference to Rajapaksa in her address, pointing only to his work with Samaraweera in forming the ‘Mother’s Front’ in 1990, for Sinhala mothers of the disappeared. 

Immediately after her speech, she faced much criticism from activists and political commentators, including across social media.

Writing on her speech in The National Interest, Taylor Dibbert said,

“More broadly, Sri Lanka’s supposed transitional justice roadmap has left a lot to be desired. Even the little that has happened has been done in a rather opaque fashion. And Colombo has resisted vital international assistance that would help make the process more credible.” 

“Power is no longer the human-rights supporter that she claims to be. During Obama’s tenure, she was part of the problem regarding U.S.-Sri Lanka policy. Unfortunately, even with her being out of government, she is still a problem."

See the full piece by Dibbert here.

Power, who has held several senior US positions including ambassador to the UN, was a key figure in the Obama administration. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for her book 'A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide', which examined US foreign policy in response to genocide.


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