By Daya Gamage –
A group of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, some of them in the influential Foreign Relations Committee, have taken up Sri Lanka’s issues connected to human rights, rule of law, transparency and accountability with President Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
On eve of Washington re-joining the UNHRC and now as an observer, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressing the UNHRC on February 24 encourage it to support the forthcoming resolution advocating Sri Lanka to undertake accountability for the actions during the Eelam War IV.
Blinken in his address referring to Sri Lanka said “We encourage the Council to support resolutions at this session addressing issues of concern around the world, including ongoing human rights violations in Syria and North Korea, the lack of accountability for past atrocities in Sri Lanka, and the need for further investigation into the situation in South Sudan.”
A letter signed by nine U.S. House Members to Secretary Blinken urged “the United States to center human rights and democracy in its diplomatic engagement with Sri Lanka and make every effort to promote and international accountability process for Sri Lanka”.
The letter further said “The Rajapaksa government has, over the past year, elevated individuals implicated in war crimes to senior government posts; reversed key democratic reforms and consolidated power behind the office of the president; obstructed efforts to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes; engaged in surveillance and harassment of human rights advocated. The Human Rights Council expressed “serious concern” over “deteriorating” human rights in Sri Lanka.
“The (March UNHRC) resolution recognizes the lack of accountability for past gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.
Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Greg Meeks in a special statement on Sri Lanka’s resolution at the UNHRC said “I welcome the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption of the U.S.-cosponsored resolution promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka. A peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka can be a key partner for the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
Congressman Meeks further noted “This resolution highlights the need for a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into allegations of serious violations of human rights law, and I strongly urge the Sri Lankan government to demonstrate its commitment to engaging in a meaningful accountability process”.
These deliberations clearly indicate that Sri Lanka issues have seriously entered the Congress foreign affairs committee at a time Sri Lanka has not taken notable endeavors to strategize its overseas diplomacy.
The most influential Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Robert Menendez too has been a hostile congressman who Sri Lanka has so far failed to make diplomatic representations.
Last year at a Senate hearing on MCC and the Compact with Sri Lanka Robert Menendez declared that Sri Lanka elected a war criminal. His remark can be found in the official Record of the December 4, 2019 Senate Hearing on page 11/12.
The Biden administration has placed number of officials in pivotal bureaus to handle human rights and war crimes to which Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry is still unaware as its lacks diplomatic strategy.
An Indian-American (Ms) Sumona Guha has been placed at the White House National Security Council as its Senior Director for South Asia. She will be working closely with the Biden White House team, and with Dr. Susan Rice, Biden’s Domestic Policy director.
Another Indian-American (Ms) Mala Adigar is now the Policy Director in the Biden White House. Under Obama she served as Director Human Rights on the National Security Council.
(Ms) Shanthi Kalathil, another Indian-American, is now the Coordinator for Human Rights and Democracy in the White House.
Biden administration has appointed Uzra Zeya, another Indian-American, as Under Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights in the State Department.
Sri Lanka seems to be facing this hostile group of people from U.S. Congress to the White House.
President Biden has already made a key appointment to handle ‘South Asian Affairs’ in the National Security Council, the body that formulates foreign policy and defense matters; another appointment to handle human rights in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under whose purview the Bureau of Human Rights and War Crimes function placing serious emphasis on human rights, war crimes and rule of law in foreign countries. Dr. Susan Rice who was National Security Advisor to President Obama who had constant dialogue with Tamil Diaspora representatives during Sri Lanka’s Eelam War has been appointed Presidential Advisor on Domestic Affairs, a position that covertly work on foreign affairs to suit the White House domestic agenda.
Sri Lanka is now on the agenda of the Biden administration with the State Department taking note of this South Asian nation’s scenario. The communication from leading U.S. Congressmen to Secretary of State Blinken is the latest.