Thank you so much for joining us on this beautiful rooftop on an absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous evening here in Jaffna. I have a few prepared remarks.
The first thing I want to say – and I know I am going to get points off for pronunciation – is Vanakkam. And the second important thing I want to say is Ayubowan. And the third thing I want to say is Assalaamu alaykum. But most importantly, from my heart, I want to say good evening and greetings to all of you.
I am extremely honored and grateful that my distinguished and learned friend, the Honorable Leader of the Opposition Mr. Sampanthan, is here tonight. And that we also have so many members of the Northern Provincial Council here, and members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, and all of you cherished guests who can join the women and men, not only of the American Embassy in Colombo who are here today, but also the women and men of the United States Pacific Command who have come all the way from Honolulu, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Nevada, California, and so many other places to be here tonight for this reception.
It is a delight to be looking out over this beautiful city of Jaffna to see her churches, her temples, her beauty, the ocean that is very nearby, and to celebrate with you the enduring ties between the people of the United States and the people of Sri Lanka. And friends, it gives me particular pride and happiness to know that the relationship between the people of America and the people of Jaffna stretches back over two hundred years to 1813, with the arrival of American missionaries who established durable institutions of learning.
I have visited Jaffna several times and have heard the painful memories of how the people of the Northern Province suffered so greatly during the many years of war. While truth telling, reconciliation, and accountability are essential, these will not bring back the lives lost and lives destroyed. However, this island now has an opportunity to remember the past while focusing on the future. This reception gathers us to reinforce the ties that bind our people, and serves as a continuation of the Embassy and the United States Government’s outreach to all Sri Lankans, in every part of the country, as you tread the path of meaningful, national reconciliation and heal the wounds of war.
This morning, the Honorable Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan, Minister Mano Ganesan, and the Honorable Chief Minister, Minister Wigneswaran, helped inaugurate the United States Pacific Command’s “Pacific Angel” exercise here in Jaffna. Dozens of U.S. military doctors and engineers, some of whom are here tonight, partnered with their Sri Lankan colleagues to repair schools and libraries, and provide needed healthcare services at locations around this province. I had the fortunate privilege of visiting Idaikadu School this morning and witnessed Sri Lankan and American military personnel working closely with colleagues from Maldives, Nepal, and Bangladesh to help with civilian doctors and volunteers to assist communities in need, and to provide medical treatment free of charge to people in need. And I was reminded again of how much we can all accomplish when we work together.
Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Sri Lanka voted twice in 2015 to forge a society and a country that is more equal, more fair, more democratic, more open, and more prosperous. You came together and charged your electoral representatives to develop policies that foster reconciliation to ensure that all Sri Lankans, regardless of religion or ethnicity, are treated with equal respect and enjoy equal rights and equal treatment under law. In the past 19 months we have seen the return of Sri Lanka’s proud traditions of critical debate, free press, and independent civil society. A parliamentary constitutional reform process is underway to draft a more inclusive and representative social contract for this country.
Despite these initial positive steps, there is still much to be done before Sri Lanka can realize its full potential as a global example of how a post-conflict, ethnically-diverse society and country can achieve lasting peace. In eight months, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will report on the Government of Sri Lanka’s progress toward implementing its reconciliation and accountability promises made in Geneva last year. We support the government’s efforts to meet its commitments made in Geneva. And we will help. This will be difficult but it is necessary, and it is for the good of all Sri Lankans and for the happiness of all of her people.
We have already seen the government take positive steps with the decision to issue certificates of absence to the families of the missing and to return more land to internally displaced persons. We applaud the establishment in law of an Office of Missing Persons to help families who still grieve and seek answers. We know the government has committed to establish truth and reconciliation and judicial mechanisms to investigate war crimes; to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act; to charge or release the remaining security-related detainees; dismantle the culture of surveillance; end discrimination against minorities; return more land; boost an open and free society for journalists and civil society; and promote reconciliation and forge a reconciled, united, peaceful, prosperous Sri Lanka.
If we want to close permanently the dark chapter of the war, the Government of Sri Lanka cannot walk this path alone. All Sri Lankans can take advantage of this historic opportunity and make their voices heard by participating in the various consultative processes that are underway. For example, the Zonal Task Force consultations that are taking place nationwide to solicit public input on the proposed reconciliation and accountability processes will benefit from hearing from all of you.
Friends, the United States stands ready to support the people and Government of Sri Lanka in your shared vision for a reconciled, unified country. As Sri Lanka seizes on this golden moment of national reconciliation, we will remain your friend and partner. The whole world applauds the vision of a strong, unified, democratic, and prosperous Sri Lanka. We want to join hands with you and your government to help rebuild the economy, advance good governance, and ensure equal rights, equal opportunity, and the full benefits of post-conflict development for all, regardless of ethnicity or religion or gender.
Ladies and Gentlemen, to conclude my remarks, permit me again to thank you sincerely for gracing this occasion with your kind presence.