Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Nominee for US ambassador to Sri Lanka Says Human Rights Top Priority

by Associated Press in The Washington Post, June 6, 2012

Sison said the U.S. was looking for “near term progress” by Sri Lanka, particularly in setting a date for provincial elections in the country’s north and demilitarization of former conflict zones.

Amb. Michelle Sison June 6 2012WASHINGTON — The nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka says human rights will be at the top of her agenda.

Michele Sison said Wednesday that serious allegations of violation of international human rights law committed during the island nation’s civil war have yet to be investigated and have slowed reconciliation.

“One cannot have true reconciliation,” Sison told her Senate confirmation hearing, “without that accountability.”

Sri Lanka’s quarter-century civil war killed more than 80,000 people. It ended in May 2009, when government forces crushed the rebels who had fought for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.

The island is now at peace, but reports of rights violations persist and the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is under international pressure to probe abuses by both sides in the final months of the war. A U.N. report found that thousands died and that Sri Lankan troops deliberately targeted civilians. It said Tamil rebels used civilians as human shields.

Democrat Sen. Robert Casey urged an independent investigation into alleged war crimes, saying the issue would not go away “until the world sees results.”

He said Sri Lanka has yet to implement recommendations made six months ago by its own reconciliation commission, and cited figures from the Switzerland-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, that nearly 100,000 Tamils are still displaced. He said the military presence in the island’s north and east was obstructing their resettlement.

Sison said the U.S. was looking for “near term progress” by Sri Lanka, particularly in setting a date for provincial elections in the country’s north and demilitarization of former conflict zones.

Sri Lanka has resisted calls from human rights groups to allow an international probe into the war crimes allegations.

Sison has served as ambassador to Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. She is currently assistant chief of mission for law enforcement and rule of law at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

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(Begin Transcript)

Casey: I want to ask you about the so called LLRC and Sri Lanka. This is a two-part question. One is: Sri Lanka in relation to the LLRC, the implementation of the result or pointedly the position of accountability and the individuals' actions at the end of the civil war. No. Two: why hasn't or will the United States and other countries in the international community insist upon independent investigation?

Sisson: The LLRC recommendations were of course front and center of the top of our agenda when Sri Lanka foreign minister met with Secretary Clinton here in Washington. We asked the GSL to provide regular and public updated on the implementation of the government's own commission, particularly with regard to de-militarization of the north, setting a date for the provincial council elections in the north, focus on human rights protection including increased base for the civil society to operate freely and increase focus on media freedom.

I agree, we do need to see in the more specific terms, benchmarks met on the recommendations of the 'action plan' set out by the LLRC.

Casey: As a result of that meeting was there any - were we enlightened by - any indication that there is a program, momentum, results, deadlines because we got - its being six months - and the concern here is obviously it is the human nature when you have that kind of conflict - in the winner in this case - the Sinhalese side of the debate - they win, they have power, and their commission that was set up - question is will they ever be able to implement recommendations or should there be an international investigation?

Sisson: Not just the United States but many international partners of course voted in March in Geneva in the UN Human Rights Commission on US-sponsored resolution on reconciliation and accountability - has been an international call for progress on for reconciliation and accountability - and one cannot have true and genuine reconciliation without accountability.

There are credible, serious allegations that crimes committed by both sides in violation of the international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).

So we look for a near-term progress, benchmarks to be met particularly on setting a date for the provincial council elections in the north and de-militarization in the north.

I will absolutely commit to you (meaning the Senate Foreign relations Committee) that human rights issue, the civil society and the media to do their job will be on top of my agenda and I do believe that we can have a constructive dialogue to keep human rights protection, rule of law at the forefront. (End Transcript)

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Reconciliation in Sri Lanka linked to investigation of war crimes, says next US envoy Michele Sison at Senate hearing

Daya Gamage - US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, DC. 07 June (Asiantribune.com):

 

Michele SissonMichele Sison, the nominee to be the next United State ambassador to Sri Lanka, at the US Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday June 6 reiterated that "serious allegations of violation of international human rights law committed during the island nation's civil war have yet to be investigated and have slowed reconciliation."

She echoed the State Department's confirmed policy toward Sri Lanka declaring "One cannot have true reconciliation without that accountability."

The next American ambassador to Sri Lanka Ms. Sison almost agreed when Democratic Senator Robert Casey, a senior member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee remarked that Sri Lanka has yet to implement recommendations made six months ago by its own reconciliation commission and urged an independent investigation into alleged war crimes, saying the issue would not go away "until the world sees results."

Sri Lanka has resisted calls from human rights groups to allow an international probe into the war crimes allegations.

The Senator cited figures from the Switzerland-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, that nearly 100,000 Tamils are still displaced. He said the military presence in the island's north and east was obstructing their resettlement.

The next U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka said before the US Senate that human rights will be at the top of her agenda.

Sison said the U.S. was looking for "near term progress" by Sri Lanka, particularly in setting a date for provincial elections in the country's north and demilitarization of former conflict zones.

Once a mid-level career foreign service officer of the state department during Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage's (2002-04) serious and personal endeavor to solve the 'Sri Lanka crisis', travelling with him to Sri Lanka, attending almost all diplomatic discourses in Washington and overseas which were connected to the Sri Lanka issues, learning the nuances of the broader issues, and being subject to the direct influence of the Armitage's 'understanding of the Sri Lanka crisis' was Michele J. Sisson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs in the State Department whose task was to provide policy oversights of US relations with Sri Lanka - Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal included.

The significance of posting Ms. Sisson to Sri Lanka at a time the U.S. is exercising pressure to implement the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution that envisages devolution of administrative, economic, internal security and land powers to the provinces, take meaningful steps to fulfill the aspirations of the minority Tamil people, bring accountability to unexplained military incidents that occurred during the final months of the battle between the state actor and the non-state actor, create a conducive atmosphere to establish good governance which include upholding human rights and rule of law can be attributed to her broad knowledge gained working very closely with Mr. Armitage who took an unusual interest in Sri Lanka's volatile situation.

Every move Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made, every understanding he gained in analyzing using broad resources, human and otherwise, what he learned from every tour he undertook to participate (as an observer) in many direct dialogues between GSL officials and LTTE representatives, every sensitive discussion he and GSL officials had were well shared with Michele Sisson, who as principal deputy assistant secretary was officially tasked to provide policy oversights of US-Sri Lanka relations.

The new American ambassador Michele Sison will find one of her old contacts in Sri Lanka when she presents her credentials to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka's Ministry of External Affairs; Professor G.L. Pieris who was one of the architects of the 2002 GSL-LTTE Ceasefire Agreement, which largelyy benefited the rebel group, promoted by Mr. Armitage and accepted by the Ranil Wickremasinghe government.

Ms. Sisson accompanied Richard Armitage in his official tour in Sri Lanka in August 2002 - a tour at the request of President Bush who previously met prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe at the White House along with Minister Milinda Moragoda - to engage in discussions with Wickremasinghe government officials, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's special envoy former foreign minister Laxman Kadirgamar , Tamil political party leaders such as R. Sampanthan and other civil society leaders/activists regarding the Sri Lanka crisis.

The visit, the first by Mr. Armitage as Deputy Secretary of State, was significant as it came just ahead of the direct talks between the GSL and the Tamil Tigers in Thailand in the following month March.

His tour included road travel through the devastated Chavakachcheri town, a stopover at Sarasalai, where demining was on with U.S. assistance, a trip to the forward defense lines at Muhamalai and a meeting with the representatives of the Tamil community led by Mr. Sampanthan at the Bishop's residence in Jaffna.

Muhamalai was the last Sri Lanka army base before rebel LTTE territory started.

Mr. Armitage was accompanied by the Sri Lankan Minister for Economic Reforms, Milinda Moragoda, the U.S. envoy in Colombo, Ashley Wills, Michelle J. Sison, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, the Bureau of South Asian Affairs, Washington, and other American and Sri Lankan officials.

This was an up close and personal experience for Michele Sisson as a mid-level State Department foreign service officer while being exposed to broader and different perspectives of the Sri Lankan crisis because of her work with Armitage.

Ms. Michele J. Sisson, who is expected to get Senate confirmation soon, working very closely with Mr. Armitage had undoubtedly been under his spell of thinking.

In November 2011 in Oslo, Norway where Richard Armitage attended a distinguish gathering to mark the release of the Norwegian government official report of the progress of Peace Talks in Sri Lanka, he declared : “I don’t think anyone disagrees that the Tamil people have been mistreated and are continuing to lack – across the board – fundamental freedoms, dignity."

He went on to say “Much to my dismay the government of Sri Lanka is still caught up in a chauvinistic attitude" and “I don’t think they’ve been far sighted enough in their approach to the north and east. There has been a somewhat lessening of violence there, somewhat lessening of the abductions and things of this nature, but not sufficient.”

“From the US point of view we are quite dismayed at the lack of progress in human freedoms, human rights.”

This sentiment was expressed by Ms. Sison at the Wednesday June 6 Senate hearing when she declared that her priority as American ambassador in Colombo will be human rights.

Mr. Armitage further declared at the Oslo conference “But what to do about it is the question. [Firstly] the international community is generally coalesced around the fact that the north and the east particularly need protections, and the government of Sri Lanka has to move in that direction. … That is the united message the international community gives.

“Second, I don’t think President Rajapaksa is going to be widely welcomed internationally – across the board – until there is some movement. Maybe that’s the wrong strategy, but that’s the way things are going.”

These are the nuances that will surround the diplomatic duties of Ms. Sisson in Colombo when she takes over as the new American ambassador.

To get even a wider perspective of Sri Lanka during the time she was in the South Asian Bureau, his immediate deputy was Donald Camp who served two terms in the Colombo American Embassy, first in the late seventies as the Labor Officer and then in the late nineties as the Chief of Political Section.

With this background, Ms. Michele J. Sisson arrives in Colombo as the new American ambassador with a rich knowledge of what Sri Lanka has been going through from the era of GSL-LTTE Ceasefire Agreement through 19 May 2009 onto the US-sponsored resolution at Geneva.