In an age of ‘creeping authoritarianism,’ Sri Lanka since presidential elections in January last year has emerged as a ‘global champion’ of human rights and democratic accountability, top US Diplomat Ambassador Samantha Power said during key trade meeting in Washington on Thursday.
Addressing the US-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council Meeting, US Ambassador to the United Nations Power said President Sirisena’s government has passed an amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution that reintroduced a two-term limit and reduced the power of his own office. “To cite another example, Sri Lanka demonstrated last year its emerging leadership in UN peacekeeping, when President Sirisena announced new substantial military and police commitments – including infantry battalions, special forces, and combat logistic units – in a manner that’s going to benefit regional and global peace and security,” she told those in attendance at the meeting.
Ambassador Power, who is also a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, told the meeting that the US President placed significant importance on the country’s relationship with Sri Lanka. Ambassador Power said the US President and his administration were committed to Sri Lanka’s continued progress and were determined to support President Sirisena in his efforts to ensure this progress delivers socio-economic benefits to the Sri Lankan people.
Power said the difference in the political and the security climate since January 2015 was felt across the island. “When I visited in November, the change since my last visit in 2010 was palpable. People told me that it felt as though a repressive climate of fear had been lifted and that they could breathe again. Activists felt safe to work openly and, of course, to criticize the government with new fervor. 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.
Having travelled to many places undergoing transition and change post-conflict, Ambassador Power said she had never seen a country take such swift strides in so little time as in Sri Lanka. “And I think it’s extremely important that, when a country takes such steps, the United States is there with you and has your back because it’s certainly not easy,” she said.
She cautioned, however, that the wounds of war run deep. “There is 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. And we are very clear-eyed about the challenges ahead,” Ambassador Power said.
The US Diplomat added that the United States would seek to leverage its assistance this year to further support broad-based economic growth. “Sri Lanka’s acceptance as a threshold member of the Millennium Challenge Corporation will provide another means through which we can provide financial and development assistance. But I know from my visit and from talking to Sri Lankans that this kind of forum is where most believe the action is, because this is where the kinds of agreements and changes that can be secured can pay lasting dividends and get into the fiber and the DNA of Sri Lankan society,” she said.
Ambassador Power opened her remarks at the meeting expressing her love of Sri Lankan food and claimed she had been misled into believing the fare at the meeting would include string hoppers, curries and pol sambol. (DB)