Power says Obama places importance on ties with Sri Lanka

The US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power says US President Barack Obama places importance on the relationship the US has with Sri Lanka.Speaking at a United States-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council Meeting, Power said that the US is committed to Sri Lanka’s continued progress and is determined to support President Maithripala Sirisena in his efforts to ensure that this progress delivers socio-economic benefits for the people of Sri Lanka. “When I visited in November, the change since my last visit in 2010 was palpable. People told me that it felt as though a repressive climate of fear had been lifted and that they could breathe again. Activists felt safe to work openly and, of course, to criticize the Government with new fervor. Journalists reported freely; political prisoners were being released; land was being returned to the people; and the internally displaced were beginning to go home in new numbers. As part of its determination to deal with the abuses of the past, moreover, the Government had committed to justice and reconciliation processes to try to serve all Sri Lankans. I’ve traveled to a lot of places going through transition and change, many of which have gone through conflict – of course every conflict is different from every other conflict – but conflict that also has left deep scars in a nation, as it has Sri Lanka, and I can say I have never seen a country take such swift strides in so little time. And I think it’s extremely important that when a country takes such steps that the United States be there with you and have your back because it’s certainly not easy,” she said.She also noted that Sri Lanka has, since January 2015, emerged as a global champion of human rights and democratic accountability. She also said that the the principles laid out in the Joint Action Plan between Sri Lanka and the US and the initiatives they facilitate will help further break down the barriers for women entrepreneurs, and again, that’s to the benefit of all Sri Lankans. She noted that in the sixteen months since that election, President Sirisena’s administration has made extraordinary progress toward these goals and the difference in the political and the security climate is felt across the island. “In an era when you just open a newspaper and see yet another world leader trying to change their constitution, expand the powers of whatever office they hold, here you have a situation where President Sirisena’s Government has passed an amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution that reintroduced a two-term limit and reduced the power of his own office. To cite another example, Sri Lanka demonstrated last year its emerging leadership in UN peacekeeping, when President Sirisena announced new substantial military and police commitments – including infantry battalions, special forces, and combat logistic units – in a manner that’s going to benefit regional and global peace and security. This was one of the most impressive and significant pledges made at President Obama’s peacekeeping summit. And finally, Sri Lanka is in the midst of joining the Open Government Partnership, which will help it put in place some of the best practices that have been learned around the world in improving transparency, enhancing democratic accountability, and, critically, fighting corruption,” she added.Power, who is a member of Obama’s cabinet, said that a lot remains to be done in Sri Lanka, including on such goals as transitional justice, promoting lasting reconciliation, improving the quality of governance and clearing out the red tape.“And we are very clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, including the one that brings us together today, which is ensuring that the progress extends to Sri Lanka’s economy, and that it leads to improvements in daily lives,” she said. “Of course, the fact that we are all here in an incredibly positive atmosphere reflects just how much has changed in Sri Lanka since January 2015. That was the month where Sri Lankans cast their votes for a new era: one in which their leadership committed to seeking a durable peace, an accountable democracy, a new relationship with the outside world, and expanded opportunities for all,” she said. Power says the United States will seek to leverage its assistance this year to further support broad-based economic growth. Sri Lanka’s acceptance as a threshold member of the Millennium Challenge Corporation will provide another means through which the US can provide financial and development assistance.Power added that everyone wants Sri Lanka to be a country that is peaceful and democratic, where every citizen has a fair chance to build a better life. (Colombo Gazette)