Against the backdrop of impeachment of the Sri Lankan chief justice, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake has said the country is moving backwards on democracy.

“We have been disappointed that there have been some backward movement on democracy things like the 13th amendment but also recent impeachment of Sri Lanka’s chief justice (Shirani Bandaranayake),” Blake told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

“We’ve been disappointed that there hasn’t been a conclusion of the dialogue between the Tamil National Alliance, the umbrella group for the Tamil groups, as well as for the TNA to dialogue with the government on devolution.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had last month signed the decree removing Chief Justice Bandaranayake from her post after the country’s Parliament impeached her.

Responding to questions, Blake also said that progress on the part of the Sri Lankan government in implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has been slow.

“The US decided that it would support a Sri Lankan domestic process to try to get to the bottom of that and to investigate that and to develop what has now been called the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission process. But we did so with the understanding, that there would be rapid progress towards reconciliation and accountability,” he said.

“So for that reason, last year we supported a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council to put additional pressure on Sri Lanka to implement its own lessons learned and reconciliation report.

“We did so with the support of countries like India that voted yes and a large majority of other countries in the Human Rights Council. I think there’s good support thus far to have another vote this year to continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement its own report, and that’s why we’re pursuing that again this year,” he said.

He also recalled that at the end of the Sri Lankan war there were many questions raised about the number of civilians killed during the conflict. “At the very end of the war the question is, what happened to those 10,000 to 40,000 civilians who were killed?” he asked.

“I think everybody in Sri Lanka believes that there needs to be closure on that question, and closure needs to be achieved through this Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission process. It’s a domestic process so it should have the support of the government, and we hope that that will continue and that’s the purpose of this resolution,” he said.

“But there needs to be justice for there to be closure.

And there needs to be reconciliation between these communities. So that’s what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

(This article was published on February 27, 2013)
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