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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Sri Lanka’s failed public diplomacy results in reduction of U.S. Economic Assistance and suspension of Military Aid for 2008

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune Analysis

Washington, D.C. 23 August (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lanka does not seem to be having a coherent diplomatic strategy that involves a comprehensive understanding of her own internal and external interests and that of the ‘mindset’ of U.S. Foreign Service Officers based in Colombo and their superiors in the South Asian and Central Affairs Bureau of the State Department in Washington.Senator Patrick Leahy : “Sri Lanka is a divided country, but its people, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, are as gentle, industrious and peace loving as any in the world. The Tamils have legitimate demands, but the LTTE’s tactics are deplorable. Senator Patrick Leahy : “Sri Lanka is a divided country, but its people, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, are as gentle, industrious and peace loving as any in the world. The Tamils have legitimate demands, but the LTTE’s tactics are deplorable.

Nor this South Asian nation doesn’t seem to have access to the principal players in the U.S. Congress to whom Sri Lanka could present cogent analyses of the country’s situation vis-à-vis the threat to her sovereignty and territorial integrity. But it certainly possesses several ‘foreign policy spokesmen’ that prevent the Rajapaksa administration from developing a cogent diplomatic approach for the United States to view Sri Lanka’s internal crisis in a different perspective.

The obstacles are created within the Sri Lankan administration that do not help U.S. foreign and development policy officials in Colombo and Washington to view the country’s internal situation in a different perspective, and through them, for the U.S. lawmakers to clearly understand the grave threat Sri Lanka is currently facing due to home grown terrorism which has an international network, independent of the threat the United States is facing, that has prevented this South Asian nation from achieving a sustainable economic growth.

Within the Sri Lankan administration are several foreign policy advocates who give interpretations to foreign policy, defense and diplomatic developments that are construed as official policies of the Rajapaksa administration. The foreign minister had to step forward on several occasions to assure the international community that those were not the official interpretations of the administration. Leading members of the administration make contradictory statements on policy decisions which are in connection with foreign affairs and defense. Instead of cogent diplomatic approach to issues at hand those ‘rhetoric’ and ‘obnoxious’ language are undoubtedly unhelpful to get the international community, especially the United States, to move toward a position that will view Sri Lanka’s internal situation in a different perspective.

Devoid of a single foreign policy spokesman surrounded by a group of erudite personnel who thoroughly understand both the interests of Sri Lanka and that of the United States which could be in a strong position to facilitate a penetrating diplomatic approach toward the State Department and principal players in the U.S. Congress who possess enormous authority under the Foreign Assistance Act have cost Sri Lanka significantly in the International Affairs Budget for 2008 now before the Capitol Hill for ratification.

It is to the utter detriment of Sri Lanka that the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs of the Senate Judiciary Committee took a hard line view of Sri Lanka when the joint State Department and the USAID International Affairs Budget came before the Senate two months ago.

On the other hand, the Appropriation Bill for 2008 jointly prepared by the State Department and the USAID clearly reflects a reduced economic assistance package for Sri Lanka clearly sending a signal to the potential foreign investors to look for other areas.

It is interesting to note here the jurisdiction of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs extends to all functions of the State Department and the USAID which are tied to human rights, good governance, rule of law, independent judiciary and democratic freedoms of recipient countries of American assistance. The Subcommittee is chaired by the sixth most senior member of the Senate Patrick Leahy who is also the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anti-Terrorism Assistance, Foreign Military Financing Program, International Military Education and Training (IMET) Program, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Economic Support Fund and Development Assistance, among a very long list of subjects, are some of the principal functions of the Senate Subcommittee. And, it has the authority to override and/or change the language of the State/USAID Appropriation Bill before ratification.

It was Patrick Leahy, as the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, who vetoed the State Department US $100 million grant under the Millennium Challenge Fund for Sri Lanka a couple of months ago to the stage of suspension highlighting the human rights situation.

And, it is the same Patrick Leahy, on the Senate floor on 18 September 2006 declared: “Politically motivated killings, the recruitment of child soldiers, indiscriminate raids on civilians, targeting of international aid workers, and torture in policy custody are only some of the human rights abuses that have been recently committed as reported by Amnesty International and Human rights Watch…… Road, air and sea links to the Tamil population in the north have been cut, and food, water and fuel shortages are severe.”

The Senator continued: “Sri Lanka is a divided country, but its people, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, are as gentle, industrious and peace loving as any in the world. The Tamils have legitimate demands, but the LTTE’s tactics are deplorable. The government has been divided, and it has not been able to provide the sustained leadership necessary to reconcile the interests of the conflicting parties.”

Then he went on saying in the same breath: “There is also the issue of the United States support to Sri Lankan Government security forces, who have been responsible for violations of human rights. The Department of State needs to be doubly sure that the Leahy Amendment, which prohibits U.S. assistance to units of foreign security forces who violate human rights, is being strictly complied with.”

Doesn’t seem like the Government of Sri Lanka had any idea of the important functions of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs and how influential its chairman Patrick Leahy was when almost a year later Leahy maintained the same perspective about Sri Lanka for him to approach a hard line to change the language of the State Department Appropriation Bill for 2008, now before the full senate for discussion before ratification, to read in SEC. 690: “None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘Foreign Military Financing Program’ may be made available for assistance for Sri Lanka, no defense export license may be issued, and no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Sri Lanka pursuant to the authorities contained in this Act or any other Act, unless the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the Sri Lankan military is suspending and the Sri Lankan Government is bringing to justice members of the military who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial executions and the recruitment of child soldiers.”

The joint State/USAID budget proposes US $ 850,000 for Foreign Military Financing and US $ 600,000 for IMET program. Sri Lanka received in 2006 US $ 3,615,000 for Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism and Demining but has been proposed US $ 1,150,000 for 2008.

Senator Leahy, on the Senate floor on 18 September 2006, referred to ‘Leahy Amendment’ which he strictly complied with in incorporating the above language. The "Leahy Law," a provision in appropriations legislation, prohibits U.S.military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Known by the name of its principal sponsor, Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the provision has become the most important legal tool used to promote respect for human rights through U.S. security assistance programs.

The Leahy Law's jurisdiction has slowly expanded since it first appeared as part of the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act (P.L. 104-208). Initially, the law applied only to the State Department's International Narcotics Control program. It was broadened in Fiscal Year 1998 to include all security assistance programs funded through the Foreign Operations Act, and in Fiscal Year 1999 was extended to include training programs authorized under the Defense Department Appropriations bill.

The Leahy Law in the 2001 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act (Sec. 563 of P.L. 106-429) states:

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.”

While the Foreign Operations law covers both training and assistance (such as weapons grants), the Leahy Law in the 2001 Defense Appropriations Act (Sec. 8092 of P.L. 106-259) covers only training, and states:

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the Department of State that a member of such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken.”

The Defense Appropriations version of the Leahy Law allows the Secretary of Defense to waive the provision if he determines that “extraordinary circumstances” require it. Within fifteen days of issuing such a waiver, the secretary must submit a report to the congressional defense committees “describing the extraordinary circumstances, the purpose and duration of the training program, the United States forces and the foreign security forces involved in the training program, and the information relating to human rights violations that necessitates the waiver.”

To implement the Leahy Law, each U.S. embassy has established a “vetting procedure” to review the backgrounds of military units for which assistance has been proposed.

It is in the interest of Sri Lanka to take note that a cogent diplomatic approach could reverse the trend. Sri Lanka needs to know the principal players who could facilitate and/or obstruct, and at least now approach them to develop a better perspective toward her. This is not a ‘startling discovery’ but nothing new to anyone who is interested in understanding the ‘functions’ of the U.S. Government, and how to transform those functions in one’s favor and identify those who preside over those vital functions that are collectively most important to a South Asian nation like Sri Lanka which is facing an internal crisis which has not been cogently explained to the international community, especially to the United States, because of its failure to understand her own interests and that of the others. For long, Sri Lanka has allowed the principal players in the international community to be influenced by adverse public diplomacy detrimental to her own existence and allow them to form their own opinion about the country because this South Asian island-nation even did not want to know that a person by the name Tim Reiser is the best conduit to the most influential senator in the United Stated Congress who acts as his confidante and Legislative Director.

The International Affairs Budget – 2008 is a joint presentation of the State Department and the USAID. A close scrutiny of the document clearly shows that Sri Lanka has received a raw deal for 2008. The United States has drastically reduced its foreign assistance package for Sri Lanka, and the trend started since 2005. The Budget is now before the Senate Subcommittee headed by that most influential senator Patrick Leahy.

The three United States Government offices in Sri Lanka that are jointly responsible for the Sri Lanka component of the economic assistance figures that are incorporated in the 2008 Appropriation Bill now before the Senate are USAID, Economic and Political Offices of the American Embassy. The Appropriation Bill of the Bush Administration is not the final product but subject to revisions and changes once the Senate peruses through it. It is Senator Patrick Leahy’s subcommittee which is greatly responsible in ratifying it before it is sent before the full senate.

What is the package the United States has given Sri Lanka for the Year 2008?

The proposed total aid component for 2008 is US $6,950,000 and for 2006 the United States gave US $14,527,000.

Take note of the language that has gone into the 2008 Appropriation document describing Sri Lanka’s fragile situation and the following paragraph is food for thought:

“Obstacles and Opportunities for Advancing Transformational Diplomacy

The conflict in Sri Lanka between the Government and the terrorist organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is preventing the country from transforming into a prosperous, stable democracy. Peace would reduce the threat of regional and international terrorism and stabilize Sri Lanka as a partner for the United States in South Asia.

Resolving the conflict through a political settlement requires moving the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to a durable cessation of violence and hostilities. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recently classified Sri Lanka as an eligible compact country. The Western Province, including the capital city, Colombo, meets Transforming country criteria. However, the north, east and south more accurately reflect the Rebuilding category.

The situation is unlikely to change in the near-term, as escalating violence has caused the peace process to break down and has led to an undeclared war with human rights violations and a humanitarian crisis. The international community is engaged in the peace process and is working toward bringing both sides back to negotiations. It is essential to monitor, investigate, and promote accountability for human rights abuses, as well as assist democratic institutions to help prevent abuses and conflicts in the future.

“Continued divergence between economic and social indicators in the Western Province and those in the rest of the country will only entrench inequalities. For this reason, supporting efforts toward peace and key democratic and economic reforms are of the utmost importance. A stronger and more geographically inclusive economy will contribute to the success of implementing and sustaining a peace agreement. Further, addressing good governance, decentralization, and poverty in the south, as well as economic opportunities for Tamils and Muslims in the north and east, are necessary for solidifying support for peace and eliminating the rhetoric of extreme elements.”

The United States gives assistance under four objectives (1) Peace and Security (2) Governing Justly and Democratically (3) Investing in People (4) Economic Growth.

Peace and Security, the U.S. consider, are necessary conditions for further political, economic, and social progress and under this objective, for 2008, the U.S. has proposed US $3,450,000 a significant reduction from US $ 8,822,000 in 2006.

Governing Justly and Democratically for the U.S. means effective, accountable, democratic governance is a vital foundation for sustainable progress. The U.S. objective is: “The 20-year conflict has weakened Sri Lanka's democratic institutions and civil society and contributed to an increase in human rights abuses. Programs will strengthen governance in Sri Lanka to address these serious concerns and in doing so enhance public commitment to and participation in the peace process. Development assistance will focus on creating participatory mechanisms for citizens at the local level, building the decision-making capacity of local authorities to address issues of governance and democratic weaknesses seen as root causes of the conflict, and enhancing local authorities' capacity to provide humanitarian assistance and basic protection for civilians. United States' support for strengthening civil society will focus on increasing its role in monitoring and preventing human rights abuses, holding the government accountable, fostering conflict prevention dialogues, advocating for democratic and economic reforms (including combating corruption and protecting minority rights) and participating more actively in public decision-making. Whenever possible, local-level efforts need to be logically and systematically integrated with international and nation level initiatives addressing the root causes of the conflict, building key democratic institutions, and protecting human rights.”

For the above program the 2008 appropriation is US $ 1,367,000 a drastic reduction from US $4,705,000 in 2006.

Investing in People: US $1,000,000 in 2006 to zero in 2008.

But, Economic Growth has been increased to US $2,133,000 and this will be used to fulfill the following US objectives: “A sustainable peace in Sri Lanka will depend on equitable distribution of the benefits of economic growth. Despite consistently positive economic growth over the last 20 years, the proportion of the population stuck in poverty remains the same because the Western Province, including the capital city, has benefited from economic growth disproportionately from the rest of the country. U.S. development assistance will target the most vulnerable populations from the conflict in strategic geographic areas outside of the Western Province. Assistance will be directed toward livelihoods and workforce development of vulnerable populations in demand-driven markets. It translates into workforce readiness (especially for individuals in the 17-25 age range), job creation for those conflict-affected populations, and development of niche markets and improved value chains for products from the conflict-affected areas. The private sector is eager to partner with the USG in workforce development efforts in these geographic areas as the workforce capacity still fails to meet its needs. In partnership with the private sector, U.S. assistance in workforce development will not only position the country's workforce for economic growth, but also address serious equity and poverty issues in all areas of the country.”

There is no allocation for Humanitarian Assistance for 2008. Under Economic Support Fund Sri Lanka received US $3,960,000 but the USAID/State has requested none for 2008.

“Washington is a difficult terrain to operate in. Your message has to be clear and crisp and precise to break through. You have to show creativity. You have to know your audience. You have to tailor your message to this audience. You have to have a multi-prong strategy that includes hard-core issues and soft issues,” according to Tshepo Mazibuko, public diplomacy counselor at the South African Embassy noting “embassies need to advance a wide-ranging strategy and connect various initiatives with an overarching message.”

Claes Thorson who was once worked for four years as Sweden’s press counselor in Washington advised “don’t forget word of mouth. It has an enormous importance in the communications chain. Walk your talk. That means walk a lot, move around and meet people in person.”

- Asian Tribune -

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