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US responds to Sri Lanka protest over Clinton rape remark

The United States has responded after Sri Lanka protested over the US Secretary of State including Sri Lanka in a list of countries where rape is used as a weapon of war.


"Now, reading the headlines, one might think that the use of rape as a tactic of war only happens occasionally, or in a few places, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Sudan,” Hilary Clinton said, addressing a session of the U.N. Security Council that was looking at rape in war.


“That would be bad enough, but the reality is much worse. We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere," Clinton said.


“In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks," the US Secretary of State added.


Sri Lanka responded when its prime minister went on live radio to say that Clinton has apparently forgotten the Monica Lewinsky affair and should tend to her own backyard before alleging that women are being maltreated in other countries.


Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake fielded a number of questions on a SLBC program, including one to which he responded that Ms. Clinton should put “her house in order without trying to live in a glass house and pelt stones at others,” reported the Sunday Times.


The Prime Minister’s office later issued a statement based on Mr. Wickremanayake’s comments to SLBC. However, the references about Monica Lewinsky were left out. It only said that Ms. Clinton should put her house in order.


Sri Lanka also lodged a ‘note of protest’ with the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, complaining about Clinton's suggestion that Sri Lankan security forces used rape as a weapon of war.


"We vehemently reject and condemn the irresponsible statement made by US State Secretary Hillary Clinton," the country's defense spokesman was quoted as saying in the state run Daily News.


The United States responded by lodging a “strong protest” to Sri Lanka over remarks by Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, on state radio.


Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Jaliya Wickremasuriya, was summoned to the Department of State to be told of the US Government’s displeasure.


Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs, had expressed ”great concern” over the remarks and wanted to know whether this was the official position of the Government of Sri Lanka.


The United States also responded to the protests from Sri Lanka in a letter addressed to Sri Lanka's Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama from the State Department.


It clarified that "numerous cases of rape and sexual violence in Sri Lanka, particularly acts committed against women held in detention by the government" had been detailed over the years by the US government and international human rights groups.


However, the letter signed by Melanne Verveer, ambassador at large for global women's issues at the State Department said that "in the most recent phase of the conflict, from 2006 to 2009 ... we have not received reports that rape and sexual abuse were used as tools of war, as they clearly have in other conflict area around the world."


"We hope that this clarification puts the issue in its proper context," the letter said, adding that Washington remains concerned about extrajudicial killings, disappearances and detainee abuse in Sri Lanka.


"Secretary Clinton believes that Sri Lanka must focus to the future and move forward on the promotion of peace and the protection of human rights," the letter said.


Clinton had been speaking during a UN resolution calling for an end to sexual violence in armed conflict. She was also speaking on the last day of the US’s turn at the rotating presidency of the 15-member body.


"The physical and emotional damage to individual women and their families from these attacks cannot be quantified nor can the toll on their societies," she said.


"The dehumanizing nature of sexual violence doesn't just harm a single individual or a single family or even a single village or a single group.  It shreds the fabric that weaves us together as human beings.  It endangers families and communities, erodes social and political stability, and undermines economic progress.  We need to understand that it holds all of us back."

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