President Obama promised his era would be one of greater transparency and the Senate is following his lead on Sri Lanka. In an 18-page bipartisan report, two experienced Senators have argued for a more positive relationship with Sri Lanka and – with refreshing honesty – have argued that the primary reason is geo-political.
Timed to coincide with the two-day visit to the island by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Robert Blake – who as Ambassador under President Bush was responsible for relationship with the Government of Sri Lanka as it prepared for the “final solution” of the LTTE – has been slammed by two of the leading US specialists on Sri Lanka.
Rejecting the key conclusions of the report – that there be a “more multifaceted U.S. strategy” that would use the resumption of military aid, among other tools, to gain influence in Colombo and halt its “strategic drift” toward China – senior spokespeople at the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch have spoken out in unusually transparent language as well.
“This report is an incredibly shoddy, ill-informed piece of work that grossly overstates the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the United States and woefully understates the degree of abuses carried out by the government there,” said Robert Templer, director of the Asia programme at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG).
And according to Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch: “Maybe the people who wrote the report don’t know anything about Sri Lanka or maybe they’re of the school that says that everything on the planet is strategic…The huge human-rights and humanitarian problems that continue there are not small; they’re central to any principled diplomatic engagement with Sri Lanka at this point. So (the notion) that we are in a competition with China, which I think is driving this, is misplaced.”
The IPS news service notes that “The report comes amid growing concern among many activists that President Barack Obama’s policy of diplomatic engagement with abusive or authoritarian governments, such as China, Burma, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, is being pursued at the expense of human rights.”