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US reiterates need for Sri Lanka to prosecute alleged war crimes

In her submission to the Congress Subcommittee on Asia-Pacific’s hearing on US influence in South Asia, the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Alice Wells on Thursday reiterated the need for Sri Lanka to implement a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes and fulfil the commitments outlined in the UN Human Rights Council resolution co-sponsored by both countries.

Assuring the US’ commitment to work with Sri Lanka towards fulfilling the resolution, Ms Wells highlighted what she described as “specific steps” towards the resolution commitments including: “constitutional reform devolving more administrative power from the central government to Sri Lanka’s regions, the replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a law that meets international standards of fairness and due process, the return of land seized by the military during the war, and the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a truth and reconciliation commission, an office for reparations, and a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes.”

Commenting on how the US’ military engagement with Sri Lanka has increased since the present coalition government made commitments towards a reform agenda, Ms Wells noted “all along, however, we have recognized the need for Sri Lanka to take concrete steps toward its reform objectives. In accordance with limits set by Congress, our modest military-to-military engagement has therefore expanded slowly and incrementally.”

Full extract of her submission on Sri Lanka is reproduced below:

Since its historic January 2015 elections ushered in a path to reform and reconciliation, the United States has been partnering with Sri Lanka to make its workers more skilled and its citizens more empowered, while ensuring the Government continues its ambitious reform agenda.

Our cooperation continues in economic development, governance, trade, and security. We are working together to fulfil the steps to which our nations agreed in a resolution (30/1) at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2015, and which were reaffirmed in a further HRC resolution (34/L.1) in March 2017. These resolutions committed the Sri Lankan government to transitional justice and prevention of the recurrence of the violence and abuses experienced during the nation’s 26-year conflict through constitutional, legislative, and security sector reforms. Specific steps include constitutional reform devolving more administrative power from the central government to Sri Lanka’s regions, the replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a law that meets international standards of fairness and due process, the return of land seized by the military during the war, and the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing

Persons (OMP), a truth and reconciliation commission, an office for reparations, and a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes. The United Nations will continue its oversight of the implementation of these steps through March 2019.

The current coalition government’s commitment to a reform agenda has prompted growing interest in expanding engagement with the U.S., including in military-to-military relations. All along, however, we have recognized the need for Sri Lanka to take concrete steps toward its reform objectives. In accordance with limits set by Congress, our modest military-to-military engagement has therefore expanded slowly and incrementally.

Our FY2018 request of $3.4 million in foreign assistance focuses on strong support for security cooperation and enhanced strategic trade controls, while contributing to Sri Lanka’s progress toward becoming a mine-impact-free nation by 2020.

Additionally, the MCC is developing a compact with Sri Lanka after it successfully passed the MCC policy scorecard in 2016. In June, MCC approved an initial $7.4 million to study potential projects and conduct due diligence work in the transport and land sectors. MCC is working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka to bring a compact for Board approval in 2018.