Govt. needs to step up on promised domestic mechanisms: US

Thursday, 28 January 2021 01:52 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • US concerned over lack of meaningful progress, says Ambassador 
  • Warns unless minority grievances addressed, SL future will be ‘cloudy’ 
  • Latest commission does not necessarily present progress 
  • Notes Govt. has missed opportunities to address rights concerns 

By Asiri Fernando

Sri Lanka needs to follow through on the promised comprehensive reconciliation strategy through domestic process, the United States said this week, urging the Government to carry forward with the promises it has already made and come with a meaningful plan at the upcoming UNHCR sessions.

“We would like to see some follow-through on that... Although, at this point, there is a degree of concern that we have not seen meaningful progress that everyone had hoped for a year ago, when these pledges were made,” US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Alaina B. Teplitz said at a round table discussion on Tuesday. 

“...the seeds of grievance and the seeds of conflict are still planted in the ground here, and really need to be unearthed. There needs to be some opportunity to look at those problems and challenges as they relate to governance and as they relate to different communities, as they relate to equal access to justice. Without doing that, Sri Lanka’s future is going to be a little bit cloudy.”

The top US diplomat welcomed the new commission appointed by the President to look into the progress of past commissions on wartime allegations and reconciliation mechanisms. “But I wouldn’t say that a commission on commissions necessarily represents a lot of progress against the commitments the Government has made,” Teplitz added. 

The United States will continue to support the promotion of human rights and the rule of law as they are enduring policies, the Ambassador said commenting on the upcoming United Nations Human Rights (UNHCR) sessions and Sri Lanka. Teplitz pointed out that although there has been a change of administration in Washington, the United States’ interest regarding human rights in Sri Lanka remains unwavering.

“We support these issues because they are part of who we are as Americans, and our enduring values as a democratic country. We also have our international agreements, so we are following through. In that sense, the Biden administration will inherit the Trump administration’s interest on human rights in Sri Lanka. It has been an unwavering interest and that interest is definitely going to continue,” Teplitz stressed. 

“This is why the US and other countries have offered to help Sri Lanka; it is not about bullying Sri Lanka. It is about helping Sri Lanka realise the pledges it has made to its own people and as a country.” 

The US diplomat opined that democracies need to respect the rights of all of their citizens and have a robust dialogue on what went wrong, pointing out that Sri Lanka was not alone in facing such challenges, indicating that the issues the US faced domestically last year was an example of the need to have “painful and difficult discussions on righting the wrongs of the past”.

The United States takes seriously the recommendations made by the Special Repertoire on Human Rights and encourages Sri Lanka to do the same, Teplitz stated. 

“There are many issues to be addressed, and while we respectfully understand that there may be divergence of opinions about these issues or these allegations or even the remedies that should be applied, we know that something needs to be done. And, in that sense, we turn to Sri Lanka’s pledge to bring in a domestic mechanism,” the Ambassador argued, pointing out that progress has been slow. 

The Ambassador said that looking back, there have been some missed opportunities to build stronger communities in Sri Lanka, not only with the Tamil community but also with the Muslim community. 

“There are so many challenges facing Sri Lanka right now. I am hopeful that this is one that can be resolved promptly. In a time of tragedy, when thousands of families world-wide and here in Sri Lanka are facing the loss of a family member due to COVID-19, we have an extra obligation that we do not add to that tragedy,” Ambassador Teplitz said in response to a question on the stance of the United States on the continued cremation of patients who succumb to the virus by Sri Lankan authorities. 

The US diplomat pointed out that the Embassy had issued a statement regarding the issue, calling on Sri Lanka follow an approach supported by science and adhere to best practices laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We have spoken to the Government about this. Conveyed our concerns about the mandatory cremation policy and the need to respect the traditions of all communities while accounting for public health,” she said, adding that it needs to be addressed swiftly. ​