US Ambassador Samantha Power heaped praise on Sri Lanka as a “as a global champion of human rights and democratic accountability,” in a speech delivered in Washington on Thursday.
Speaking at the signing of the United States-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council, Ms Power said Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s administration “has made extraordinary progress” towards seeking “a durable peace, an accountable democracy, a new relationship with the outside world, and expanded opportunities for all”.
The ambassador also reiterated the “importance President Obama, himself, places on the United States’ bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka”.
“More specifically, our commitment – and his commitment – to Sri Lanka’s continued progress, and our determination to support President Sirisena in his efforts to ensure that this progress delivers socio-economic benefits for the people of Sri Lanka,” she added.
“Sri Lanka has, since January 2015, emerged as a global champion of human rights and democratic accountability,” the ambassador stated.
Her remark comes amidst unrest in the Tamil North-East, as the Sri Lankan government launched a spate of arrests under the much criticised Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Speaking on her visit to the island in November last year, Ms Power said that the change on the island “was palpable”. “Journalists reported freely; political prisoners were being released; land was being returned to the people; and the internally displaced were beginning to go home in new numbers,” she said.
Ms Power also outlined the Sri Lankan government’s commitment to deal with accountability for mass atrocities committed during the armed conflict, stating that “as part of its determination to deal with the abuses of the past, moreover, the government had committed to justice and reconciliation processes to try to serve all Sri Lankans”.
In 2015, the Sri Lankan government signed on to a UN resolution mandating the creation of an accountability mechanism which would involve international judges and prosecutors. However in the months since the resolution was passed, Sri Lankan leaders including the president and prime minister, have repeatedly rejected the notion of foreign involvement.
“Now, the wounds from the war run deep, of course, in people’s hearts and souls, the political headwinds that one faces, particularly when one is trying to execute as ambitious an agenda as President Sirisena and his government are doing – those headwinds can be very intense – and there’s a ton of work left to be done, including on such goals as transitional justice, promoting lasting reconciliation, improving the quality of governance, clearing out the red tape, all of the issues that you all are trying to work through,” said Ms Power.
“And we are very clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, including the one that brings us together today, which is ensuring that the progress extends to Sri Lanka’s economy, and that it leads to improvements in daily lives.”
“I think it’s extremely important that when a country takes such steps that the United States be there with you and have your back because it’s certainly not easy,” she added.
See the full text of her speech here.