November 21, 2015
Mr. Minister, it’s wonderful to be here in Sri Lanka. I just touched down a few hours ago and I already feel immersed in the warmth and hospitality of your dynamic country – your dynamic and welcoming people. You reminded me in our meeting that we only met for the first time in February of this year, and I had to pinch myself because I feel in such a short time we have together been able to cooperate already on so many issues both bilaterally – through the relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka – but also on shared collective security and how to reach out to the broader international community.
Sri Lanka has been a real partner of the United States at the United Nations. The Sri Lankan president came to President Obama’s summit on peacekeeping in September and made one of the most ambitious announcements and set of commitments of any leader – extremely important. On issues of human rights and democratic accountability around the world, Sri Lanka has become, again, a close partner and someone we can count on to also stand up for the aspirations of people who aren’t doing so well elsewhere in the world.
So, again, I can’t believe it’s been only nine months that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the Foreign Minister. But it’s really great to be here to discuss the future of the partnership between the United States and Sri Lanka, which I think is taking off in a wholly new and fresh way.
This is my first time in Sri Lanka since 2010 and it is very refreshing to see some of the changes and to see the spirit of the people that has been demonstrated now in I think two elections where the Sri Lankan people came out and chose democratic and accountable governance, chose the path of reconciliation over division, and chose a path of hope over fear. As you know President Obama ran eight years ago on a campaign slogan of hope. Even in recent days, with some of the terrorist attacks around the world, President Obama has appealed to the American people and to communities everywhere to not succumb to fear, but instead to think about human dignity and to think about the aspirations of peoples around the world, which are universal in so many respects.
So I’m going to very much enjoy my time here, I’m going to reach out to broad swaths of Sri Lankan society as best I can in the time I’m here. Of course I’ve arranged government meetings that I’m looking forward to. And I also will meet with the opposition, with civil society leaders, with human rights defenders, journalists, and I’m very pleased I’ll be visiting the northern part of the country tomorrow. And I’ll have the chance to see places that I visited five years ago and to see the effects on the ground of some of the new policies that have been put in place in recent years and months.
I will also – when I get back to this great city – I will have the privilege of doing a town hall with students. I’m going to try to hear from young people about how they see the path forward in terms of their democracy, because ultimately the kinds of things that the leaders of today in Sri Lanka – the kinds of decisions they make – are decisions that of course are going to create, we hope, a vibrant and ever more prosperous Sri Lanka to the young people of today. And those young people have a huge hand in shaping that future.
The last thing I’d just like to say – which I shared with the minister and his team in our bilateral meeting, but I’d just share with the Sri Lankan people – is the world is watching what’s happening in Sri Lanka far more closely I think than any of you can imagine. The changes that have been put in place in a very complex and diverse political environment over the course of the last nine or ten months have grabbed the world’s attention. To give just one example that I shared with the minster, the president’s intentions to dilute the powers of the presidency at a time when all around the world we have presidents who are trying to extend their powers and term limits, change their constitutions in order to ensure that they have more power – this is a breath of fresh air and extremely important in terms of strengthening the checks and balances in Sri Lanka. But also extremely important in sending a signal around the world for how important checks and balances are, and how significant it is that they not be eroded and when they get eroded that they be restored and strengthened. And there are a lot of difficult things that are happening around the world, as we’ve seen with the attacks in Paris, from yesterday in Bamako, Mali, and before that in Beirut, Baghdad, and Ankara – it’s a very difficult time for a lot of communities and Sri Lanka really stands out as a place and a people who have given the world great hope. It’s a country that dealt with terrorism itself and now is dealing with the very difficult legacies of a long and very arduous civil conflict. But it’s putting one foot in front of the other, facing hard problems, and again showing no signs of moving away from confronting difficult issues of the past in order to help contribute to that brighter future.
So we are watching, we are rooting for you, and I am here to discuss with the people of Sri Lanka what more the United States can do to support your efforts to form and to become a stronger and more prosperous democracy. So thank you, everybody.