Sri Lanka

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic that is fractured by the ethnic conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an organization advocating a separate ethnic Tamil state. In 2008 government security forces expelled the LTTE from the north and pushed them to a small pocket of land on the northeast coast. Tens of thousands of internally displaced Tamil civilians trapped by the conflict are at serious risk of death and injury in the fighting. Despite LTTE threats that they will be killed if they leave the LTTE land, thousands of Tamil internally displaced persons (IDPs) have escaped into government-controlled territory. Most, however, are trapped in a government-declared "safe zone" located within the LTTE-controlled area. Over the last year, respect for human rights has markedly declined countrywide, especially in the conflict-affected regions. Areas under government control have very high numbers of abductions, killings, threats and attacks on both the media and civil society organizations, and there has been a failure to bring anyone to justice for past and current abuses. The LTTE attacked and killed a large number of civilians and continues to engage in torture and arbitrary arrest and detention. The LTTE also denied fair, public trials, arbitrarily interfered with privacy, and denied freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. In addition to practicing forced recruitment, including of children, the LTTE attacked civilian and military targets, including buses and trains, and conducted political assassinations and suicide attacks.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

U.S. Government efforts to promote human rights and democracy focus on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and the protection of human rights, their defenders, and civil society organizations. The United States' major priorities are to persuade the government to pursue a political solution to the ethnic conflict, encourage it to launch a political dialogue with Tamils and Muslims, stabilize conflict regions and assist recovery, and promote conditions under which reconciliation can take place. At the same time, the U.S. Government presses the government to explore scenarios for power sharing and aims to strengthen governance to ensure accountability and transparency. Finally, the United States aims to defend those vulnerable to abuses, especially IDPs and minorities; to assist in ending the use of child soldiers; and to promote freedoms of the press and religion and respect for the rights of workers, women, and children. 

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. programs to advance democracy include providing technical assistance and training for national and sub-national initiatives to promote an independent and credible political voice for minority groups that will contribute to the development of a political framework to resolve the conflict, including support for the Peace Secretariat for Muslims, and expanding citizen participation programs to support human rights monitoring, good governance, and reconciliation. The United States also provides technical assistance and training to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process to enhance the capacity of these institutions to prepare for a future political process to resolve the country's conflict.

In 2008 a U.S.-funded program conducted technical assessments in the conflict-affected Eastern and North Central provinces in four key sectors--human rights, local governance, peace building, and media--and will begin technical assistance and training to 11 partner local government authorities in the Eastern Province this year with the goal of establishing citizen-community partnerships to promote transparent and accountable local governments. U.S. officials also engage civil society actors to support citizen participation to promote reconciliation and improve citizen oversight of government.

U.S. efforts to promote freedom of speech and the media include diplomacy and technical assistance programs. U.S. officials regularly meet influential media personalities from a wide range of outlets to hear their concerns about pressure on the media. In interviews with the media and in public speeches, U.S. officials speak about the need to improve the observance of human rights, to support free media, and to put forward a political settlement that would address the legitimate aspirations of all local citizens. The United States continues to fund a regional media program and media houses in both the South and the East that provide training and production support to journalists and community organization staff members. A U.S.-funded implementing partner broadcasts current affairs programs in both vernacular languages weekly on three regional radio stations in the South, East, and Central hill country.

U.S. officials consistently urge the government to halt all human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable. U.S. officials also repeatedly urge the government to establish effective monitoring mechanisms, such as through the presence of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to buttress local human rights institutions that fail to prevent or adequately report human rights problems. The United States will continue to provide financial support for civil society to document human rights violations to improve case sharing and coordination among human rights advocates and providers of legal aid and other services. Training focusing on respect for human rights is a key component of all military programs. The U.S. Government provides training to the military to improve respect for human rights, rule of law, and civil-military relations. In 2008 a joint military law exchange conducted a seminar on human rights, humanitarian law in military operations, rules of engagement, and military justice. Most military assistance is currently suspended as a result of congressional restrictions related to human rights and the use of child soldiers.

The United States works to prevent trafficking in persons, to promote religious freedom, and to defend the rights of workers, including migrant laborers. The U.S. Government funds two ongoing antitrafficking projects: one provides law enforcement training on trafficking-in-persons awareness and victim identification; the other is assisting in the creation of a case management database to allow more effective monitoring of trafficking crimes and victims. The U.S. Government regularly expresses concern to the local government about the negative impact anticonversion laws could have on religious freedom. Finally, a U.S.-funded four-year program is helping to create the National Plan of Action for Decent Work to promote good labor standards. Another U.S.-funded program aims to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.