SRI LANKA; Congressional Record Vol. 155, No. 83
(Senate - June 04, 2009)

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[Pages S6180-S6181]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                               SRI LANKA

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, the recent defeat of Sri Lanka's Tamil 
Tigers, otherwise known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or 
LTTE, is a very welcome development. Led by a reclusive, cult-like 
figure who apparently saw no evil in forcibly recruiting and 
brainwashing young children to become suicide bombers, the LTTE long 
ago forfeited any legitimate claim to representing the interests of the 
Tamil population. This resounding victory offers the possibility--after 
30 long years of conflict, including ruthless acts of terrorism by the 
LTTE and other atrocities against civilians by both sides--of lasting 
peace for all inhabitants of that small island nation.
  I first became interested in Sri Lanka when a good friend, James 
Spain, was the U.S. Ambassador there. He often told me of the beauty of 
the country and its people, and it has been painful to observe the 
suffering that has befallen them. That suffering was further 
exacerbated by the tsunami which crashed ashore in December 2004, 
causing immense destruction and loss of life. A member of my staff was 
in Sri Lanka at that time, but far enough inland to escape harm.
  I have strongly supported humanitarian aid for Sri Lanka, and 2 years 
ago, as chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I 
included additional funding for economic development in the north 
eastern region of the island after the LTTE were forced to retreat from 
that area. I look forward to being able to support additional 
reconstruction aid, so the northern communities that have been trapped 
in poverty and devastated by the conflict can recover. But for that to 
occur, several things need to happen.
  The war claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Sri Lankan 
soldiers, LTTE combatants, and civilians. The tremendous loss and grief 
suffered by the families of both sides needs to be acknowledged in 
order for reconciliation to occur.
  The government should immediately account for all persons detained in 
the conflict. It should provide access by international humanitarian 
organizations and the media to affected areas

[[Page S6181]]

and to populations of internally displaced persons who remain confined 
in camps, which should be administered by civilian authorities. These 
people should be allowed to leave the camps as soon as possible so they 
can start to rebuild their lives.
  As soon as possible, the government needs to begin implementing 
policies for the devolution of power to provincial councils in the 
north and east as provided for in Sri Lanka's Constitution. This and 
other steps are needed to demonstrate that all Sri Lankans can live 
without fear and participate freely in the political process. It must 
address the longstanding, legitimate grievances of the Tamil population 
so they can finally enjoy the equal rights and opportunities to which 
they, like other Sri Lankan citizens, are entitled.
  There is also the issue of accountability for violations of the laws 
of war. The LTTE had a long history of flagrant violations of human 
rights, including kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, 
and deliberately targeting civilians. The Sri Lankan military engaged 
in similar crimes. Although the Sri Lankan Government prevented access 
for journalists to the war zone in order to avoid scrutiny of the 
military's conduct, video footage was smuggled out. And as the smoke 
has lifted from the battlefield there are reports that thousands of 
Tamil civilians who were trapped in the so-called safe zone perished in 
the last months of the war. There is abundant evidence that they were 
deliberately targeted with relentless shelling and aerial bombardments, 
despite repeated appeals by the international community that they be 
spared. There are also growing fears of retaliatory attacks against 
those who criticized such tactics.
  The recent decision of the United Nations Human Rights Council 
rejecting calls, including by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High 
Commissioner for Human Rights, for an international investigation of 
these violations is unfortunate but not surprising. Several of the 
Council's members routinely arbitrarily imprison and torture political 
opponents in their own countries. The Sri Lankan Government, which 
seeks international aid to rebuild, insists that what occurred there is 
an ``internal'' matter and that for outsiders to call for an 
independent investigation and justice for the victims is an 
``infringement of sovereignty.'' To the contrary, the denial of basic 
rights and freedoms is a legitimate concern of people everywhere, 
whenever it occurs.
  It is now incumbent on the Sri Lankan authorities to demonstrate that 
the rule of law is respected, that sweeping security measures that have 
been used to silence journalists, doctors, lawyers and other citizens 
who have criticized government policies are revised or repealed, that 
the government takes seriously its duty to defend the rights of all Sri 
Lankans irrespective of religious affiliation or ethnicity, and that 
those responsible for crimes against humanity or other violations of 
human rights are held accountable.
  Thankfully, a long, bloody chapter of Sri Lanka's history has ended. 
But it is the next chapter that will determine whether justice and 
lasting peace can be achieved. If the Sri Lankan Government seizes this 
opportunity to unite the Sri Lankan people in support of an inclusive 
effort to address the causes of the conflict, the United States will be 
a strong partner in that effort.