Read the entire report
Daya Gamage - The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, a bipartisan endeavor, on Sri Lanka released December 07 was a thorough review of the failed U.S. policies and approach toward Sri Lanka in recent years and recommends that the U.S. needs to adopt a fresh approach to this South Asian nation declaring “the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.”
The report shared by the Senate Committee chairman Democratic Party’s John F. Kerry and the committee’s ranking member Republican Richard G. Lugar further observes: “This strategic drift will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Along with our legitimate humanitarian and political concerns, U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests. Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.”
The United States during a decade or so which exerted pressure on successive Sri Lankan governments and intensified during the current Rajapaksa administration that the nation needs to totally focus on Tamil issues, predominantly Tamil provinces in the north and east, Tamil economic woes and grievances of the 12% Tamil ethnic minority has taken, in this Foreign Relations Committee evaluation, a realistic view most professionals have urged for several years in taking a novel approach saying “U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.”
The Kerry-Lugar Report shows how disturbed the United States is to the newly organized global alliance the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration pursued in creating a strategic environment conducive to defeating the Tamil Tigers.
In fact, the report acknowledges that the three Rajapaksa brothers were instrumental in adopting a strategy to defeat a ruthless terrorist group.
Indirectly admitting the shortsighted policies the United States has adopted towards Sri Lanka in recent years the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommends to the Obama administration to “Take a broader and more robust approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests. Such an approach should be multidimensional so that U.S. policy is not driven solely by short-term humanitarian concerns but rather an integrated strategy that leverages political, economic, and security tools for more effective long-term reforms.”
Here are some of the excerpts of the Senate Report titled Sri Lanka: Recharting U.S.Stratergy After the War, authored by Senators Kerry, the Chairman of the Committee and Lugar, the Ranking Member of the Committee.
“The Government considers the bilateral relationship with Washington to be on a downward trajectory. Most U.S. criticisms of Sri Lankan actions at the end of the war and treatment of IDPs have fallen on deaf ears, with Sri Lankan authorities dismissing the U.S. posture as ‘‘no carrots and all sticks.’’ U.S. assistance to Sri Lanka, although delivered in grants and not loans, has attracted criticism from the Rajapaksa Government for its emphasis on political reform. This growing rift in U.S.-Sri Lanka relations can be seen in Colombo’s realignment toward non-Western countries, who offer an alternative model of development that places greater value on security over freedoms.
“Indeed, Sri Lanka’s geopolitical position has evolved considerably. As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.
“This strategic drift will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Along with our legitimate humanitarian and political concerns, U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests. Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia. The United States, India, and China all share an interest in deterring terrorist activity and curbing piracy that could disrupt maritime trade. Security considerations extend beyond sealanes to the stability of India, the world’s largest democracy. Communal tensions in Sri Lanka have the potential to undermine stability in India, particularly in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million Tamils. All of these concerns should be part of our bilateral relationship.
“The United States cannot afford to ‘‘lose’’ Sri Lanka. This does not mean changing the relationship overnight or ignoring the real concerns about Sri Lanka’s political and humanitarian record. It does mean, however, considering a new approach that increases U.S. leverage vis-à-vis Sri Lanka by expanding the number of tools at our disposal. A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.
“The Obama administration is currently weighing a new strategy for relations with Sri Lanka. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has closely followed events on the ground this year, including a hearing in February and a staff trip to Sri Lanka in November. In an effort to stimulate a larger debate on U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka, the committee staff prepared this bipartisan report examining recent developments and proposing recommendations for U.S. policy towards Sri Lanka. The recommendations include a broader and more robust U.S. approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests; continuation of de-mining efforts in the North; and promotion of people-to-people reconciliation programs throughout the country.
“Indeed, the end of Sri Lanka’s long-running separatist war opens up enormous opportunities to move the country forward on multiple fronts: political reform, economic renewal, and international re-engagement. For the country to make the transition from a postwar to a post-conflict environment, Sri Lankan leaders must be prepared to take difficult steps to bring the country together and resolve underlying political and socio-economic tensions that led to the conflict. While there have been some success stories such as reducing the number of child soldiers and rebuilding the East, it is not clear that the current leadership understands exactly how to shift from a mindset of conflict and suspicion to a peacetime approach. Moreover, the Government’s paranoia about criticism and the way some government officials equate criticism with support for the LTTE complicates efforts to move forward. Strikingly, the whole Rajapaksa Government strategy seems to be still driven by security concerns.
Strategic Interests In Sri Lanka
“Sri Lanka has been a friend and democratic partner of the United States since gaining independence in 1948 and has supported U.S. military operations overseas such as during the first Gulf War. Commercial contacts go back to 1787, when New England sailors first anchored in Sri Lanka’s harbors to engage in trade. Sri Lanka is strategically located at the nexus of maritime trading routes connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia. It is directly in the middle of the ‘‘Old World,’’ where an estimated half of the world’s container ships transit the Indian Ocean.
“American interests in the region include securing energy resources from the Persian Gulf and maintaining the free flow of trade in the Indian Ocean. These interests are also important to one of America’s strategic partners, Japan, who is almost totally dependent on energy supplies transiting the Indian Ocean. The three major threats in the Indian Ocean come from terrorism, interstate conflict, and piracy. There have been some reports of pirate activity in the atoll islands near Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka’s geopolitical position has changed in recent years. The United States has developed closer ties with India while Sri Lanka moved towards China. India has been very concerned with instability in Sri Lanka and has worked quietly behind the scenes to push for faster resettlement for Tamils. India directly suffered from the spillover from the Sri Lankan conflict in 1991 when a LTTE female suicide bomber assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, reportedly in response to Ghandi’s decision to send an Indian Peace Keeping force to Sri Lanka in 1987.
Communal tensions in Sri Lanka have the ability to undermine stability in India, particularly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million Hindu Tamils. India’s large Tamil population just across the Paulk Strait fuels fears among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese community, who represent 80 percent of the Sri Lankan population and are concentrated in the lower two-thirds of the country, that they could be- come a minority under siege. While India has no apparent interest in stoking conflict in Sri Lanka, Indian officials are reportedly increasingly concerned about their strategic role in the Indian Ocean and China’s growing presence in Sri Lanka.
“Chinese activities in Sri Lanka are largely economic, focusing billions of dollars on military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development. While these are loans that will need to be repaid and do not contribute much towards the local economy, they come without any political strings, a fact which makes them attractive to the Sri Lankan Government. According to the Congressional Research Service, ‘‘Chinese activity in the region appears to be seeking friends like Sri Lanka to secure its sea lines of communication from the Straits of Hormuz and the western reaches of the Indian Ocean region to the Strait of Malacca to facilitate trade and secure China’s energy imports.’’
“For instance, in 2007, China reached a billion dollar deal with Sri Lanka to develop a deepwater port in the south at the sleepy fishing village of Hambantota. In 2008, China gave Sri Lanka nearly $1 billion in economic assistance according to the Congressional Research Service. In 2009, China was granted an exclusive investment zone in Mirigama, 34 miles from Colombo’s port. Even for those that dismiss China’s ‘‘string of pearls’’ strategy as overblown, there is concern about growing Chinese influence on the Sri Lankan Government. During the closing stages of the separatist war, for example, China blocked Western-led efforts to impose a truce through the United Nations Security Council and continued supplying arms to the Sri Lankan Government. Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the United States, China, and India is viewed by some as a key piece in a larger geopolitical dynamic, what has been referred to as a new ‘‘Great Game.’’ While all three countries share an interest in securing maritime trade routes, the United States has invested relatively few economic and security resources in Sri Lanka, preferring to focus instead on the political environment. Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance to American interests has been neglected as a result. The Sri Lankan Government says American attitudes and military restrictions led it to build relationships with China, Burma, Iran, and Libya.
The Minister of Science and Technology and All-Party Representative Committee Chairman Tissa Vitarana Minister told committee staff, ‘‘We have the United States to thank for pushing us closer to China.’’ According to Vitarana, President Rajapaksa was forced to reach out to other countries because the West refused to help Sri Lanka finish the war against the LTTE. These calculations— if left unchecked—threaten long-term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.
Recommendations On Sri Lanka
The Obama administration should:
1. Take a broader and more robust approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests. Such an approach should be multidimensional so that U.S. policy is not driven solely by short-term humanitarian concerns but rather an integrated strategy that leverages political, economic, and security tools for more effective long-term reforms.
2. Continue support de-mining efforts in the North. De-mining will be a major factor in successful resettlement of the North.
3. Engage the United Nations (World Food Programme and other agencies) and the Sri Lankan Government in developing a realistic resettlement strategy for 2010 that reassesses food and nonfood needs to support returnees’ efforts at reestablishing their livelihoods.
4. Promote people-to-people reconciliation programs to build bridges between the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim communities. A people-to-people approach should be linked to political reforms and processes that support transitional justice. Funding for such programs is available on a competitive basis under section 7065 (‘‘Reconciliation
Programs’’) of Public Law 111–8, and additional funding will be included for such purposes in the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2010.
5. Expand U.S. assistance to include all areas of the country, particularly in the south and central areas so that Sinhalese and other groups also benefit from U.S. assistance programs and reap some ‘‘peace dividend.’’
6. Tighten visa restrictions and revoke U.S. citizenship for any persons who are shown to have committed war crimes in Sri Lanka, whether they acted on behalf of the LTTE or the Government of Sri Lanka.
7. Expand the USAID/Department of Justice police program and provide judicial advisors to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Justice in order to support critical police reforms and implementation of current law.
8. Publicly commit to reinstating Peace Corps operations in Sri Lanka as soon as the emergency regulations are removed. Peace Corps volunteers could focus on teaching English and information technology training.
The U.S. Congress should:
Authorize the U.S. military to resume training of Sri Lankan military officials to help ensure that human rights concerns are integrated into future operations and to help build critical relationships.
The international financial institutions should:
1. Encourage all international financial institutions to systematically factor in the role of conflict, as the World Bank does through its conflict filter for Sri Lanka, to ensure that IMF and development bank financing does not inadvertently exacerbate conflict. Specifically, World Bank staff should be commended on its development of a conflict filter for Sri Lanka, and the World Bank should expand its use in other countries.
2. Proactively review military spending as a component of its financial programs with conflict countries.
The Sri Lankan Government should:
1. Treat all internally displaced persons in accordance with Sri Lankan and international standards, including by guaranteeing their freedom of movement, providing access to war-torn areas and populations by humanitarian organizations and journalists, and accounting for persons detained in the conflict.
2. Recognize the importance of a free and fair press, for both its own democratic traditions and for sharing accurate information with the international community. In showing its commitment to freedom of the press, the Government should welcome back journalists that have fled the country; pardon those such as J.S. Tissainayagam who were indicted under emergency laws; cease prosecuting cases against journalists based on emergency law; and actively investigate threats, abuses and killings of journalists.
3. Take steps to repeal emergency laws that are no longer applicable now that the war is over. This will send a strong message that Sri Lanka is ready to transition to a post-conflict environment.
4. Share its plans for resettlement and reconstruction in the North with Sri Lankan civil society and international donors, who are well-positioned to support such efforts if there is greater transparency and accountability.
5. Commence a program of reconciliation between the diverse communities in Sri Lanka.
6. Engage in a dialogue on land tenure issues, since they affect resettlement in the North and East.
© Asian Tribune
U.S. May Lose Sri Lanka as Ally, Senate Report Says - Bloomberg
US-SRI LANKA: Senate Report Urges Warmer Ties - Inter Press Service
Uncle Sam regains wisdom? - The Island Editorial
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report: Dayan Jayatilleke - Daily Mirror
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
US Senate Report on Sri Lanka: 'U.S. Cannot Afford to Lose Sri Lanka due to its Strategic Importance'
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
The U.S. diplomat responsible for south Asia landed in Sri Lanka on Tuesday after a U.S. Senate committee urged the United States not to "lose" its relationship with the strategically located island nation.
Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake is on a three-day visit to discuss political matters and reconciliation in Sri Lanka after the end of a 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in May.
Blake served as the U.S. ambassador in Colombo until his promotion in May, and he arrived as President Barack Obama's administration is reassessing its approach toward the island nation in the face of strong Indian and Chinese influence.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday issued a report that encourages the Obama administration to recalibrate its approach to post-war Sri Lanka to include more economic, political and security aid to protect U.S. interests.
"While humanitarian concerns remain important, U.S. policy cannot be dominated by a single agenda. It is not effective at delivering real reform, and it shortchanges U.S. geostrategic interests in the region," the report says.
After the war ended, the United States and other Western nations criticized President Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration for civilian casualties, attacks on the media, and restrictions on hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Tamil minority.
That infuriated the Sri Lankan government, which felt it should have been congratulated for defeating the Tamil Tigers, which the United States and more than 30 other countries listed as a terrorist group.
"The challenge for the United States will be to encourage Sri Lanka to embrace political reform without pushing the country toward Burma-like isolation," the report says.
Tellingly, Rajapaksa's first state visit after the end of the war was to Myanmar, the former Burma, and members of his government have publicly said they do not need U.S. help given the billions invested by China and India into the country.
"While the United States shares with the Indians and Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector," the Senate report says.
The report says that all three countries are concerned about deterring terrorist activity and piracy in sea lanes.
It also warns that a failure to bring ethnic reconciliation between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority could give rise to instability in India's Tamil Nadu state, home to 60 million Tamils.
"The United States cannot afford to 'lose' Sri Lanka. This does not mean changing the relationship overnight or ignoring real concerns about Sri Lanka's political and humanitarian record," it says.
Washington should increase its leverage by opening up military and economic aid, and increasing aid to the entire country instead of the conflict-afflicted areas in exchange for broader reforms by the government, the report says.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
India should increase its presence in the Indian Ocean Region, through which most of its energy and trade supplies pass, in order to compete with China and not get worked up on the land border issue, feel experts.
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which straddles from Africa to Australia, is the region where India needs to yield influence as energy security is needed to sustain high growth rate, the analysts said at a seminar organised by the National Maritime Foundation.
Eighty percent of China's and 65 percent of India's oil is shipped through this region.
'The Indian Ocean Region is our theatre of competition with China and not the border. So we should not get excited about the Line of Actual Control, but should focus more on the IOR,' Nitin Pai, expert on strategic affairs and a fellow at the Takshashila Institution, said at the seminar.
Pai was referring to the recent media hype over reported Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two countries.
'The IOR is important because most of our energy and trade supplies flow through it and needs to be protected... We need to be ready to redeploy our forces to protect our strategic interests, especially asChina continues to play its strategic games,' Pai added.
The IOR, the third largest body of water in the world and with 33 littoral states, is strategically important as a large percentage of global trading ships pass through it.
China has been increasing its presence in the IOR by following what is popularly termed as the 'Strings of Pearl' strategy of encircling India by investing in assets and ports in Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Other experts said Indian influence in the region has dwindled over the years.
'India has allowed its influence generated post the 2004 tsunami to dilute due to its continued absence in Southeast Asia and the region,' said National Maritime Foundation's director Commodore (retd.) Uday C. Bhaskar.
When the tsunami struck in December 2004, in which India suffered over 15,000 deaths and vast destruction, the Indian Navy was quick to rush aid to the Maldives as well as the worst-hit Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
About 1,000 Indian relief personnel and five naval ships were sent to Trincomalee, Galle and Colombo ports in Sri Lanka, with medical teams and immediate relief material.
'China has emerged as a key economic partner for most Asian economies, including Japan and South Korea. It has overtaken India as an economic partner of South and Central Asian economies as well, and is well on its way to emerging as a major economic partner for African countries,' Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to the prime minister, said.
'Force projection is of utmost importance. We are visible in East Africa due to our successful anti-piracy missions. We have to show our presence in theIndian Ocean Region by rethinking the way we deploy our forces,' Baru added.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
By Sarah Dingle - Six months after the Sri Lankan Government won its war with the Tamil Tigers, allegations are surfacing of war crimes committed in the final months of the conflict.
Last month the US Department of Homeland Security tried to question the Sri Lankan presidential candidate and US citizen, General Sarath Fonseka, about possible war crimes.
But the Australian Government has made no such moves to question a prominent dual Sri Lankan-Australian citizen about his activities.
In the last days of the civil war, it is alleged two political leaders of the rebel Tamil Tiger fighters were killed as they tried to lay down their arms and surrender.
The men led about a dozen men and women under a white flag to waiting Sri Lankan army troops.
A Tamil eyewitness said the soldiers fired on them with machine guns. Everyone in the group was killed.
The incident is mentioned in a 2009 US State Department report to Congress, on possible violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, from January until the end of May this year.
The report says "the leaders, Nadesan and Puleedevan, spoke to international and domestic figures, who acted as intermediaries with the then foreign secretary, Dr Palitha Kohona, to negotiate a surrender. Nadesan requested a UN witness but was told he had the Sri Lankan President's guarantee of safety".
Dr Kohona is now Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United Nations. He is also an Australian citizen and, according to Hansard, a former senior official with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
When asked what his role was in arranging the surrender, he told the ABC he had "no role in arranging anything".
"Because I was in foreign ministry I had nothing to do with the defence ministry or the defence forces, and I don't think anything was arranged anyway," he said.
"I don't think anybody else was involved in such a surrender either.
"There was an attempt to wake me up in the middle of the night, and I told them that I was not the person to contact about those demands.
"There was a general query about surrendering and I told them that I was the wrong person, that I had nothing to do with surrendering and asked them to go and deal with the matter in the way it ought to be dealt with."
Three weeks after the shooting, Sri Lanka's army chief General Sarath Fonseka was reported as saying the military had to overlook traditional rules of war and kill Tamil Tiger rebels who had come under white flags to surrender.
Calls for an investigation
Don Rothwell, professor of international law at the Australian National University, says as a diplomat Dr Kohona has immunity from prosecution, but recently international law courts have begun to question this principle in the case of possible war crimes.
"There's nothing to suggest Dr Kohona was directly responsible for committing these alleged war crimes, though international law does recognise principles of what's called command responsibility, where if someone had direct command, whether it's legal or political, with respect to the commission of these types of offences," he said.
Mr Rothwell says in this case, there is enough material to launch a preliminary investigation.
"Dr Kohona is a dual Australian-Sri Lankan citizen. The fact that he is an Australian citizen automatically activates obligations for Australia to investigate this matter at the legal level, but the fact that he was a former high-profile official for the Australian Government representing Australia in international negotiations, I think perhaps places an even stronger responsibility on Australia to at least conduct the initial investigations into this matter," he said.
Mr Kohona says the allegations "first and foremost ... need to be substantiated [and] no country goes around investigating silly accusations based on innuendo and unsubstantiated facts".
Both the Federal Government and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) say they are aware of the US State Department's report.
The AFP says it has not received any referral to investigate Dr Kohona for alleged war crimes.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Department says investigation and prosecution by the country in which criminal conduct occurred is the most appropriate way to bring an alleged war criminal to justice.
© ABC News
Palitha Kohona deserves prosecution by Australia: Professor of Law - Tamilnet
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
The political parties and candidate’s participating in next month’s elections must make press freedom and the protection of journalists a priority, Reporters Without Borders said today, after a group of state TV journalists were roughed up while covering an opposition meeting during the weekend.
“These elections are crucial for the country’s future, but they will not be considered democratic if there is no press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government and opposition must, as a matter of urgency, undertake to guarantee that all the media, regardless of their editorial line, will be free to go anywhere and interview whomever they want.
“The state-owned print media and TV stations must also provide balanced coverage, which is definitely not the case at the moment. By forcing the government media to campaign against the opposition, the president is putting journalists in danger, because they are being associated with him and his allies.
“The continuing ban on media visits to the north and the violence against state TV journalists at a meeting held by the opposition United National Party bode ill for the climate in which these elections will take place,” Reporters Without Borders warned.
Seven journalists working for state TV stations Rupavahini and ITN were slightly injured and their equipment was damaged when they were manhandled outside the location where the UNP had been holding a convention in Colombo on 5 December. UNP parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake told Reporters Without Borders his party was not involved in the violence. At the same time, he confirmed that the journalists had not been invited to the meeting.
“As long as the state media continue to give a biased account of our activities, we will not invite them,” Karunanayake said. “We provided accreditation to about 100 journalists for this event and no one complained of any violence.” The opposition has even accused the government of orchestrating the incident for political purposes.
Reporters Without Borders added: “Opposition supporters may well be exasperated by the state media’s extremely biased coverage of political developments, but this kind of violence undermines their message.”
Media and information minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa called a news conference to express the government’s “anger” about the incident, which the police are investigating. His condemnation came just days after the government extended a ban on media visits to the north of the country, where tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have just been allowed to leave detention camps.
The three main Tamil dailies in Jaffna received threatening letters on 24 November accusing them of playing into the hands of the “terrorists.”
The Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam must also be released before the elections, as there was no hard evidence to support his conviction and his detention therefore threatens the freedom of expression of all Tamil journalists.
© Reporters sans frontières
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