Colombo: US Secretary of State John Kerry today praised the “openness” of the new Sri Lankan government in its efforts to boost democracy, human rights and ensure reconciliation with the country’s minority Tamils.
Kerry was addressing the media following a bilateral meeting with Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera after the top US diplomat landed here today on a two-day trip. “One thing which struck me was the readiness of this government to open its doors, to open its minds to different ideas,” he said hailing “the enormous progress Sri Lanka has made in just a few months”. “You are working on creating an enduring peace and you are working on providing prosperity for all of your people,” Kerry said praising the new government for reaching out to the Tamil minority after the end of the three-decade civil war that killed over 100,000 people.
Kerry said both Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are not afraid of tackling tough issues. “They are willing to make difficult decisions and they are committed to keeping their promises,” Kerry said. He said many challenges and difficult decisions lie ahead of the new government which he discussed with Samaraweera. It was a reference to the human rights accountability and reconciliation areas in which the Sri Lankan government is expected to show results.
The US-led resolutions in the UNHRC mandated an international probe but Colombo has opted for a domestic mechanism. The US has noted Sri Lanka’s progress on restoring democracy and institutions for greater accountability through the nineteenth amendment, Kerry said. He said the US wants to work closely with Sri Lanka. “To that end the foreign minister and I agreed to establish an annual participatory dialogue between our two governments,” he said.
Kerry’s visit comes following years of strained relations between the US and Sri Lanka’s previous government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa had faced criticism from the West for refusing to cooperate with a probe into alleged war crimes committed during a crackdown on the LTTE. Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa was subjected to three consecutive US-backed UN Human Rights Council resolutions, the last of which mandated an global inquiry on alleged rights abuses by both government troops and the LTTE.
Sirisena’s government has opted for a domestic mechanism much to the displeasure of the Tamils. They feel given past Sinhala-majority governments’ attitude towards the minority, the investigation may end up as an eyewash. The US is expected to press the Sirisena government for a credible local mechanism.