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US message at Sri Lanka Defence Seminar

Speaking at a controversial “Defence Seminar” organised by the Sri Lankan government, the Chief of the International Engagement Branch for United States Army Pacific, spoke on the importance of ensuring that a military acts with "respect for human rights and international humanitarian law" and holding "transgressions to account".

Extracts from Colonel James Robinson's address have been reproduced below. See his full speech here.

"Protecting the population includes not only complying with the law of armed conflict, but also consistently respecting and protecting the human rights and basic dignities of the populations we serve. Failure to treat civilians with respect risks alienating the population and re-animating old or new grievances that can give rise to renewed conflict."

"This is the first lesson I’d like to speak about, the need to engage legitimate authorities as early as possible. In our experience the engagement of legitimate civilian authorities includes working with civilian authorities both within our own government, and, more importantly, outside of it – with local experts."


"Finally, before closing, I want to make one last overarching point that encapsulates the themes discussed here today -- the critical importance of imbuing military culture with respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Acting within these principles and obligations is a core element of military professionalism and international legitimacy. Failure to do so can compromise a military’s reputation and effectiveness. This means that if a military conducts itself outside these principles and obligations, there has to be a meaningful process for having its conduct examined, and for holding those who commit transgressions to account."

"This is why the United States ensures these principles are embedded not only in our own military ethos, but in our cooperative engagements with foreign militaries."

"One way my government emphasizes the principles I’ve just discussed – the role of legitimate civilian governance, representative armed forces, and human rights – is through our requirement, stemming from a provision of U.S. law known as the Leahy Amendment, to vet all program candidates to ensure they have not been implicated in gross violations of human rights."