In light of another visit by senior U.S. government officials, Colombo should clarify a few transitional justice issues.
Another high-level U.S. visit to Sri Lanka occurs this week. Since the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in January, there seems to be no limit to the number of times that senior State Department officials visit the island nation.
Counselor Thomas Shannon will be in Sri Lanka from December 14-16. He’ll spend a couple days in Bangladesh prior to his arrival. Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs will join him, as will Manpreet Singh Anand, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia.
A brief State Department media note mentions the following about the Sri Lanka portion of the trip:
In Sri Lanka, Ambassador Shannon will meet with senior government and parliamentary leaders, business leaders, and civil society, as well as tour a USAID-funded livelihoods project in the Eastern Province. During his visit, Ambassador Shannon will reaffirm U.S. support for Sri Lanka’s reform agenda and explore greater cooperation in development, security, economic growth, and regional connectivity.
The media note doesn’t mention transitional justice or human rights specifically, but let’s hope that these topics receive the attention that they deserve. More specifically, during the visit, the Sirisena administration could take the opportunity to speak in detail about its special court to handle alleged wartime abuses. The creation of this court was announced a couple of weeks ago, yet Colombo still hasn’t followed up with any more information. It’s been mentioned that the court could commence its work as early as the end of this month. If that’s indeed the case, then it seems reasonable to assume that at least a few specifics would have been decided upon at this point.
Relatedly, U.S. officials could discuss how consultative processes surrounding transitional justice have been going. There are well-founded concerns that Colombo isn’t serious about consultations, which are an essential component of a genuine and credible approach to transitional justice.
Unsurprisingly, the most delicate subjects may receive greater attention during private discussions. Nevertheless, Washington’s failure to speak clearly (and publicly) about controversial issues would send the wrong message to Sri Lanka’s new government.