March 29, 2016, Water’s Edge, Colombo
Thank you so very much to all of you for attending. Honorable and respected Prime Minister, Honorable and respected Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Secretary-General, distinguished and Honorable Ministers and Members of Parliament, resource persons; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I wish you a very hearty good morning and I thank you very much for giving me the great honor of inviting me to speak at this meeting.
Sri Lankans are rightfully proud of their long democratic history, influenced by its own unique traditions, relationships, and working institutions. You have confronted challenges in terms of conflict and natural disaster, changed governments in a vibrant multi-party system, and embraced progress toward transparency.
Last year, the people of Sri Lanka exercised their democratic rights again and voted twice for good governance, accountability, and equal opportunities for all. Your Government has responded by passing laws and empowering independent commissions, journalists, and civil society for feedback and guidance.
The United States and Sri Lanka have a longstanding partnership dating back a hundred years before this country’s independence. This friendship is based on our peoples’ shared democratic values and strong economic and cultural ties. It is also the reason we have vowed – and I will quote Secretary of State John Kerry in this – to “stand with you by your side as you build a stronger democracy and a future that is marked by peace and prosperity after so many years of suffering and hardship.”
Like Sri Lankans, Americans believe certain human rights are universal, including the right for every child to an education; for the rule of law to prevent arbitrary detention, guarantee due process, and ensure justice; for every citizen to speak their mind or protest peacefully without fear; to practice their faith peacefully and publicly; and to freely choose their own elected leaders.
I wish to stress: we also recognize that every country must chart its own course and shape its own model as fitting its own history and culture. That is why all of you are gathered here today, representing the people who voted for you, to bolster accountability and transparency, strengthen the justice system, and determine your own path forward on constitutional reform.
The United States supports the people of Sri Lanka because we are linked by similar ideals about the basic rights of citizens. As President Barack Obama recently stated on his historic visit to Cuba, “those ideals find their truest expression in democracy. Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not. And we – like every country – need the space that democracy gives us in order to change. It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts, to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make it better.”
It is on these shared values that the United States Government – through its development arm, – the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – supports professional and technical training for Members of Parliament and their staff. We will partner with your public servants to help them increase responsiveness to citizens, more effectively deliver policy solutions, and carry out oversight responsibilities.
Our assistance builds on continued and consistent partnership with the people of Sri Lanka over the past 60 years. USAID programs have supported a wide range of sections, including agriculture, business development, environment, health, education, infrastructure, civil society, strengthening good governance, and humanitarian assistance.
The Government of Sri Lanka has already taken many commendable steps to promote and protect the civil and political rights of all Sri Lankans – including the right to freedom of expression, respecting the independence of government institutions, and upholding rule of law. There remain difficult challenges to address related to reconciliation, accountability, and a government that reflects the will of the people. But these are decisions for the people of Sri Lanka and for you as their elected representatives.
Friends, as a fellow democracy, the United States will be ready to support you as you chart a future for Sri Lanka that is peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous. U.S. assistance and cooperation should help forge new partnerships, new dialogues, new exchanges, and be based on mutual respect and inclusive consultation.
I wish you all a very highly successful seminar and I congratulate the Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Prime Minister’s Office on this fantastic initiative.
Thank you all so very much.