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Pallone to Foreign Affairs Committee: U.S. Must have Oversight on Crises in Sri Lanka

Location: Washington, DC


U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka, submitted testimony at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing yesterday. The title of the hearing was "Political Crises in South Asia: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal".

"Thank you, Chairman Ackerman for holding this very important hearing on the political crises in South Asia. I want to also thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify before your Subcommittee today. As the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka, I have serious concerns regarding the worsening conflict in Sri Lanka.

"As you know, the military of the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have resumed a two-decade ethnic conflict in which nearly 70,000 people have been killed since 1983. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and more continue to die in Sri Lanka as a result of the violence. Both sides have chosen a military approach, to the detriment of civilian distress. It is clear that neither side is committed to peace.

"Over the past 20 months, more than 1,000 people are believed to have 'disappeared' and another 4,500 people have been killed. Last month's murder of two volunteer aid workers by unidentified gunmen came ten months after the execution-style murder of 17 local staff members of the aid agency Action Contre la Faim. This was the worst attack against humanitarian workers in memory.

"Three hundred thousand civilians have survived the violence, only to face months of constant displacement. Hundreds more have been detained under newly strengthened emergency regulations that give the government broad powers of arrest and detention without charge. Security forces have expelled hundreds of Tamils from Colombo. LTTE and the Karuna faction continue to engage in recruitment of children as combatants, extortion, abductions and assassinations.

"Meanwhile, the government has established a new institution to investigate allegations of human rights abuses -- the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. However, it has failed to reduce impunity human rights abuses. In fact, its credibility and effectiveness has been challenged by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons.

"As the war grows more vicious, there is a pressing need for a more concerted effort by the international community to pressure both sides to stop fighting and bring them back to the negotiating table. The recent violence has not crossed the boundary into genocide or war crimes. But we must not wait for these atrocities to occur before we act.

"While the Group of Eight has attempted to mediate the conflict in the past, a recent report by the International Crisis Group has described the international response to Sri Lanka's human rights problems as 'disjointed, lackluster and tardy.' Instead there should be an international role in human rights monitoring in the ground. This support should not be seen as invasive but as an effective way to help the state protect its citizen's rights. There should also be a strengthened crackdown on LTTE fundraising, arms procurement and coercive control of Tamil civilians outside Sri Lanka.

"If America is going to live up to the standards we set for ourselves and continue to lead the world in affirming human rights everywhere, we need to facilitate a renewed international effort in Sri Lanka. We must maintain political engagement through high-level contacts and visits, including a visit by Members of Congress that could be sponsored as a CODEL through the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Mr. Chairman, I have introduced a resolution that supports an increase in U.S efforts to the region. It also strongly urges a resumption of peace talks by all parties immediately. There is no military solution to this conflict. The LTTE must denounce terrorism as a means to its political aspirations. Over 25 years of terrorism has not improved the lives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. All efforts must be focused on restoring and sustaining peace and all pertinent parties must return to the negotiation process.

"It is my hope that following this hearing, my resolution can be a basis for further examining the conflict, and possibly the vehicle used for final legislation that allows this Congress to go on record supporting further U.S. involvement in Sri Lanka.

"The United States has a strategic interest in promoting peace in Sri Lanka and throughout South Asia. It is time we take some oversight on the crises occurring in Sri Lanka. We have an obligation to work toward achieving a lasting peace and U.S. diplomatic engagement is a necessary step toward this goal. Without it, there are plenty of reasons to fear that things can get much worse."

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