It seems parties interested in Sri Lanka signing the Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) with the U.S., were keen on Sri Lankan troops learning human rights ironically, from another military known for grave violations of human rights.
Political column of Sri Lanka’s popular English weekly, Sunday Times alleges it was then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and then Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam who had pressured then Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi, to expedite the passage of ACSA. The column goes on to note that apart from services facilities being granted to US troops who will visit Sri Lanka, one of the other elements included in the agreement is to teach Sri Lankan troops human rights. “…Something that has been violated with impunity in some theatres of conflict by Washington’s own troops,” the political columnist notes, referring to one such controversial sites – the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Furthermore, the writer also points out the agreement signed with the U.S. in a haste in 2017, has conceded domestic ports and airports to the U.S., on totally one-sided terms. ACSA is an agreement that has established basic terms, conditions and procedures to facilitate reciprocal provision of logistical support, supplies and services, which allows a multitude of US military establishments covered by ACSA to use Sri Lanka’s air and sea ports for a fee. These facilities and services are to be returned to Sri Lanka should our troops visit the U.S. However, the prominent defense columnist who pens the weekly political column of ST notes, since Lankan troops are not equipped with the required assets to be able to use any of the American facilities, sea or airports, the agreement is one sided. “That itself was proof that the US wanted a strong military foothold in Sri Lanka through the agreement speaks of reciprocity. It was given to US on a platter.”
Glaringly, this agreement had also been tabled before the Cabinet for approval, without obtaining any feedback from the military commanders, even while then Navy Commander had raised red flags on certain sections of the agreement.
It is under these circumstances that the US is now pushing for the signing of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) which the U.S. now also identifies as the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), in a haste. The JVP and the NFF have raised grave concerns about the government proceeding with signing the agreement, stating it infringes the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, in a situation where the U.S. has not yet even lifted the travel advisory to Sri Lanka imposed since Easter attacks – despite many other nations lifting travel advisories by now- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Clarke Cooper is due in Colombo next week.