US Congressional Caucus on Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka Praised by USTPAC
United States lawmakers hoping to resolve ethnic conflict that has contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of mostly Tamil citizens
United States lawmakers form a Congressional Caucus on Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka, raising hopes for more active role by the United States in resolving the ethnic conflict. The Caucus is expected to push for accountability for the deaths of tens of thousands of mostly Tamil civilians and raises the stake for an equitable political solution bringing lasting peace to the island and stability to the region.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2013: The United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) welcomes the launch of the Congressional Caucus on Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka at the US Congress this week, and hopes this will be a turning point for the Tamils in the occupied North-East of Sri Lanka. The Caucus spearheaded by Congressmen Danny Davis (D-IL) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) will inform Members of Congress on human rights conditions in Sri Lanka and work towards a solution for the protection of Tamils, Muslims, Hindus and Christians in the strategic Indian ocean island.
Sri Lanka’s non-secular constitution confers the “foremost” place for its Buddhist people who are also ethnic Sinhalese. The Tamils and the Muslim peoples continue to face political, religious and ethnic discrimination by the Sinhalese-controlled government that enforces ethno-majoritarian will.
“USTPAC believes this bi-partisan Caucus will be an effective tool to highlight the systematic oppression faced by the Tamil and Muslim peoples,” said Dr. Elias Jeyarajah, President of USTPAC. “Congressional leadership, as it did for Burma, should help create awareness among law-makers regarding the importance of an international investigation into wartime abuses by parties to the conflict and continuing rights violations by the Sri Lankan state,” continued Jeyarajah.
The Sri Lankan state has been accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Tamil people. The US has sponsored two resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council urging the government of Sri Lanka to initiate an independent investigation, and noting calls for an international inquiry. During a recent visit to the island, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, noted Sri Lanka appeared to be heading in an “increasingly authoritarian direction”.
Recently, the Tamil National Alliance won an overwhelming mandate from the people in the Northern Provincial Council election, running on a platform urging an international investigation that included the charge of genocide. The New York Times published an editorial this week titled “Sri Lanka’s Climate of Fear” noting the “strength of the people’s desire for political rights.”
Marking the launch of the Caucus, a panel discussion entitled – “What’s next for Sri Lanka – progress or backpedaling – and the US-Sri Lanka relationship?” was conducted in the US House on Wednesday. Sadanand Dhume from the American Enterprise Institute moderated the panel that included Ashley Wills, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Lisa Curtis from The Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Nimmi Gowrinathan, a policy consultant. Both Representatives Johnson and Davis also spoke in the event attended by congressional staffers, NGOs and State Department officials.
Congressmen Davis recalled his visit to a heavily militarized Sri Lanka, and expressed the hope that the Caucus will provide an opportunity for more members of Congress to be engaged in promoting justice and peace in Sri Lanka. Congressman Johnson reflected on the “shocking videos” he has seen of attacks on civilians in the “no-fire zones,” and urged the importance of ensuring all those responsible for war crimes and human rights violations are held accountable. He asserted that the Caucus would try to shed light on Sri Lanka as a “critical issue of human rights.”
Appreciating Congressman Davis and Congressman Johnson for their dedicated efforts in creating the Caucus, USTPAC President expressed the hopes of Tamil Americans that the Caucus will lead to justice for all and liberty for the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka.
“Tamils living in Sri Lanka share one of the longest and unique bonds with America starting from the period of American independence. This Caucus furthers that historical bond and gives us hope that the US government will work to establish an international investigation for Sri Lanka, and promote a political solution that offers guaranteed protection and autonomy to the Tamils living in the North-East of Sri Lanka,” concluded Dr. Jeyarajah.