More US military assistance to Sri Lanka

US has increased its military assistance to Sri Lanka despite the island nation government not delivering its commitments on war crimes justice.

A US committee that scrutinize funds to foreign nations heard that military to military assistance to Sri Lanka has 'expanded slowly and incrementally'.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Alice Wells told The House Foreign Affairs Committee that Sri Lanka government’s "commitment to a reform agenda has prompted growing interest in expanding engagement with the U.S., including in military-to-military relations".

While the assistance secretary of state was pleased about Sri Lanka's progress on reform, human rights watchdogs alongside the UN have raised concern about ongoing human rights violations against Tamils, including abduction, torture and sexual violence.

Sri Lanka accused of war crimes committed itself to establish a transitional justice mechanism and prevent the recurrence of the violence and abuses in a resolution unanimously adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in 2015 and the timeframe to deliver was extended by another two years in March 2017.

Specific steps towards reform

Assistant Secretary Wells was proposing to spend 3.4 million dollars in the coming year on Sri Lanka that would focus on "strong support for security cooperation and enhanced strategic trade controls".

The funds were sought out even though the Sri Lanka government has not taken the specific steps for transitional justice that the assistant secretary highlighted in her submission to the committee.

"Specific steps include constitutional reform devolving more administrative power from the central government to Sri Lanka’s regions, the replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a law that meets international standards of fairness and due process, the return of land seized by the military during the war, and the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a truth and reconciliation commission, an office for reparations, and a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes," said Alice Wells.

The only mechanism made into law is the OMP, which is yet to become operational since its passage through parliament more than a year ago.

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has declared that constitutional reforms will be a priority over transitional justice.

Leading international rights watchdogs have expressed their frustration over the lack of progress on both the constitutional reforms and the transitional justice mechanism.

Increased training

Meanwhile, the US and Sri Lankan  navy divers concluded a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) on US Naval Base Guam in August. The five day training session was conducted 'in preparation for the upcoming Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Sri Lanka exercise later this summer', said a report published on the US Navy website.

The bi-lateral  training programme has taken place as both governments have revealed their plans to renew the controversial military logistical agreement for another 10 years period. The two countries entered into an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in March 2007, which is primarily designed to 'benefit the interest of DoD forward deployed commands and forces' according to official website of the US Department of Defence (DoD).

Addressing the Indo-Pacific Regional Architecture Indian Ocean Conference in  Colombo, on 1st September, Acting Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G Wells announced that first ever joint US-Sri Lanka naval exercise is planned to kick off in October at the eastern port city of Trincomalee.

"Through joint capacity building and exercises, we can share the security burden in this increasingly complex region”, Wells said.

CARAT is an annual, ten-country bilateral naval exercise series between the United States and Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor Leste, designed mainly to enhance maritime security skills and operational cohesiveness of the US Navy.