Congressional subcommittee baffled by shabby treatment of Sri Lanka.
A congressional sub-committee hearing on “why Asia matters” saw former US Ambassador and State Department Assistant Secretary Robert Blake trying to explain why Sri Lanka had been shabbily treated by the US—a primordial quest never fully explained so far.
The US House Sub-committee hearing chaired by Henry Cabot with Ranking Member Eni Faleomavaega throwing pointed darts at the Blake and Joseph Y. Yun, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau East Asian and Pacific Affairs regarding the main theme of the hearing “The Rebalance to Asia: Why South Asia Matters.” It was noted with near disparagement that the sub-region of South Asia has been neglected in the plans for strategic stability.
Opening remarks by Chairman Henry Chabot and Ranking Member Faleomavaega focused on the strategic importance of Americas 'pivot' toward Asia, and what the future of U.S. engagement in the region entails.
South Asia the missed opportunity
Judging by some of the comments, the committee seemed peeved that opportunities had been missed and things allowed to go unchecked. Yet the oft-repeated clarifications and rationalization got re-stated.
This hearing and a subsequent hearing to follow both serve as an important examination of how the Administration plans to enhance U. S. relationships in the region as part of its larger strategy in Asia.
Here are some of the exchanges. During the Question and Answer period, Sri Lanka was brought up on two occasions. First, Chairman Chabot focused the first portion of his allotted time to the U.S. involvement in Sri Lanka. Chabot asserted that attempts at reconciliation have been disappointing in many respects – particularly with leaders talking about repealing the 13th amendment. He suggested that U.S. policy has not been successful in bringing reconciliation to fruition. He would urge the government of Sri Lanka to move towards a more genuine reconciliation with the Tamil community, and inquired as to what steps the U.S. Administration was taking to that effect.
Response by Blake
In his response, Assistant Secretary Blake reiterated prior statements on the U.S. position regarding Sri Lanka. He maintained that the U.S. supports the domestic Sri Lankan process (manifest in the LLRC) with the understanding that there would be rapid progress thereafter.
Blake suggested that progress on implementation of the LLRC recommendations has been slow and that the Administration is disappointed that the government of Sri Lanka has failed to take a number of steps toward political reconciliation, including not proceeding with elections in the Northern province for provincial councils in the near four years since the end of the conflict, and little progress on devolution of power.
He also raised concerned with a backward trend on democracy, referencing the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the concerns with regard to the 13th amendment, etc. Ambassador Blake confirmed that the Administration proposes continued diplomatic and additional pressure from the upcoming resolution at the UNHRC to support implementation of LLRC recommendations and progress on reconciliation within Sri Lanka's own domestic process.
Double standards by US
Ranking Member Eni Faleomavaega reiterated a number of his points from his opening remarks, raising concern over the double standard with which the U.S. Administration seems to approach human rights in the context of its foreign policy. He asked Ambassador Blake why the U.S. is picking on a small country like Sri Lanka, citing a number of instances of questionable human rights records in the U.S.(including the U.S. civil war, Vietnam, Iraq/Afghanistan, etc.).
Faleomavaega particularly highlighted the ruthless nature of the international proscribed terrorist organization, the LTTE, and questioned the general U.S. policy towards Sri Lanka.
In his response, Ambassador Blake reiterated that the U.S. maintains an uncompromising view with regards to terrorist LTTE. He cited a number of areas of cooperation between the U.S. and the government of Sri Lanka including radar and naval assistance in defeating the LTTE. Ambassador Blake concluded that justice and reconciliation must prevail in order for the people of Sri Lanka to achieve closure.
Most analysts felt that the hearing seemed a forerunner of what the US would be arguing in Geneva. The probability of a changed focus on South Asia seemed a far cry.
- Asian Tribune –