Transcript of Ambassador Teplitz’s Virtual Media Roundtable

Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz

Transcript of the Virtual Media Roundtable

On the Record

June 15, 2020

Ambassador Teplitz:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s great to see some familiar faces.  I feel like we have all learned a lot during the last couple of months, particularly how to engage meaningfully across video platforms.  I hope the next time, though, we do meet in person.  It is much nicer I think to be able to chat face to face but I’m glad you could spare some time this afternoon to talk with us as Dave said as way of touching base and just sort of summarizing what’s happened a little bit in the last couple of months and last year.

It has been a challenging time, and I think for both the United States and Sri Lanka, not necessarily through our own doings, just watching how world events have shaped our country’s actions.  And of course the pandemic.

We’re pleased to see the government here having been so effective in managing the response to COVID-19.  Everybody I think around the world is waiting for second or third waves, or maybe not even really knowing what to expect.  I’m sure that will probably eventually be the case here, but up to this point Sri Lanka is among few countries that can say that they have prevented community transmission of the virus.

We look at that, and then we look at some of the other highlights over the last year.  The presidential election, of course upcoming parliamentary election, coming out of a tough year, the wake of the Easter bombing.  So there’s a lot that’s happened in Sri Lanka.

One of the things that has my attention, of course, is the economy. Looking at how the economy can recover from the pandemic and a combination of shocks that unexpectedly impacted the country I think in deep ways and now are cumulative.  They’re adding to one another. So that’s I think very challenging to be thinking about, and of course the United States would like to be supportive of a strong and sustainable recovery for Sri Lanka.

At the end of the day despite a lot of the noise that ends up being out in the public space we remain a steadfast partner.  We have contributed over $5 million to Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 management efforts.  That’s on top of the $26 million over the last couple of decades devoted solely to health.  And we continue to anticipate that we’ll be strong partners not only around this particular crisis but around many issues to come in the future.  So we look forward to continuing to work together around some of those common problems.

With that, perhaps I’ll just open it up to questions and we’ll go from there.

Media:  Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity.  I’m Shehan Baranage representing Hiru TV I’m the director of news here.

My first question to you is in your statement you said that Sri Lanka, the U.S. has given $5 million U.S. dollars for the COVID management fund.  And also we also know that the U.S. is giving around 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka.  Does that $5 million include the donation of ventilators or the $5 million is cash?  And does the ventilators come differently as a donation?

Ambassador Teplitz:  That’s a good question.  So we’ve given a little over $5 million, I think it’s $5.6 [$5.8] million to Sri Lanka to address COVID-19.  We have not contributed to the funds, to that management fund.  Instead we have funded the operations of UNICEF and the WHO prior to our government’s decision with regard to the WHO.  That was early on.  And that’s what we have provided to date.

So the 200 ventilators are on top of that amount.  And we anticipate that the first tranche of those ventilators probably it will be split into two parts, so the first 100 will arrive sometime in the coming weeks and the second tranche will follow several weeks after that.  They are all literally being manufactured so they will be brand new, and we’re pleased to be able to contribute to the effort here.

We can share a fact sheet on these I think with everybody afterwards by email so everyone’s got that.

Media:  Hi, Ambassador.  Easwaran from the Daily Mirror.

I just want to ask you, the last few weeks while the U.S., as you said, is having a good relationship with Sri Lanka, there have been a few incidents, a few reports in the media which have seemingly given an impression that all is not good between the Sri Lankan government and the U.S.

How is the U.S. Embassy addressing these issues?  How are you looking at putting this aside and strengthening your relationship with the government?

Ambassador Teplitz:  Which specific incidents are you referring to so I can be specific in my response?

Media:  Sure.  There was the incident with regards to the diplomat who arrived in Sri Lanka and this controversy whether he did or did not undergo this testing.  And then the protest that was supposed to take place outside the Embassy and then the police cracked down on that.

Ambassador Teplitz:  Let me take the second of those incidents first and say that the United States absolutely supports the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.  As I said in a tweet about this incident, the U.S. Embassy did not ask for the demonstration to be banned or for permission to be denied.  That was up to Sri Lankan authorities, and as we understand it based on existing COVID-19 related cautionary measures.

As you know, there are protests in front of our Embassy periodically and have been I’m sure going back the last 70 years.  We only ask that people be peaceful in their protests or in their rally, and that’s always been the case.  So we’re grateful for collaboration around making sure that can happen.

We’re very interested, of course, in any messages the protesters would like to share and look forward to maintaining a dialogue in a way that’s safe given the conditions.

I think you might also be talking about some of the police response, and I have to refer you to Sri Lankan authorities as to why they thought it necessary to take those steps.  Given what’s happening in the United States, of course, we’re very sensitive to excessive use of force by police, and this is an issue that is deserving of conversation, certainly in the United States where we are having a very robust and public dialogue around the disturbing issue, but in Sri Lanka as well where there have been challenges to ensuring the accountability of security forces in relation to how they have dealt with the public.

So I think it’s a timely moment maybe in both of our countries to be having these conversations, and that protect certainly highlighted the need for there to be a good discussion about that as well as clear limits on how security forces engage.

In terms of the Embassy employee who arrived now some time ago, two weeks ago perhaps, I want to set the record straight on this.  There have been a couple of statements from government of Sri Lanka officials but I’m not sure that their statements have been compiled properly in the media.  I think Jayanath Colombage was the last person who said something.

The Embassy worked out the arrival for our employee using existing procedures from the Ministry of Foreign Relations.  We followed those procedures.  We had approval for him to arrive.  And when he did come into the country he waited at the airport until it was completely clear that he could be admitted into the country.

So we followed the rules that we were given.  As a diplomatic institution we abide by the terms of the Vienna Convention and we follow the relevant laws of the government of Sri Lanka.  And of course these important public health procedures.

So I think there has been some misinformation that has gotten into the media.  We did not refuse a PCR test.  We followed the guidelines we were given.  And you’ll note, of course, that the rules kind of changed along the way over periods of time but we followed the rules that we were given.

I ought to go back just to say more generally, I don’t think there’s any problem in the relationship between our two countries.  I mean there are always things that are popping up but I don’t think the two incidents signal any sort of issue between our government and the government of Sri Lanka.

Media:  Ambassador, a supplementary question to what Easwaran asked about the official, now apparently there are some media reports saying that official, he’s a military official not directly with the diplomatic corps in Sri Lanka.  Is it true?

Ambassador Teplitz:  The employee who arrived will be an employee of the Embassy and doing the work of the mission here. Like I said, there’s been a lot of sort of, and with all due respect to those assembled here, media speculation about what is perceived as an incident but from our perspective was more of a normal effort to work through an arrival in a difficult time where the government is literally doing these individually, case by case.  And having followed all of the procedures we were given there.

Media:  Another question, this is about another question that has been heavily politicized during the recent past about the MCC, the treaty or the agreement was scheduled to be signed between Sri Lanka and U.S.  What is the present situation, Ambassador, with regard to that?

Ambassador Teplitz:  Good question to follow up on.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation Development Assistance Grant, is a grant program that had been proposed several years ago after the government of Sri Lanka solicited that from the United States.  We spent a couple of years working with the government here, business leaders, civil society, to determine what would be the focus of the grant and development programs and projects, and then putting together the mechanisms for carrying out that grant.

So about a little over a year ago we were indeed ready to finalize that grant agreement and then of course there was a constitutional crisis and numerous other events that occurred that caused a delay in that effort.  And in the meantime then of course the government has been in transition as well.

So we’re waiting for some of that transition to compete with parliamentary elections.  We have respected the President’s decision to review all assistance proposals and to review this grant proposal as well.

You might remember from some of our previous conversations that the grant focuses on transportation and then land administration, so supporting existing government of Sri Lanka programs to for example digitize land records.

And to just clarify, that as a grant agreement it’s a fixed term grant agreement, five years, to execute the projects that are part of the grant.  The grant agreement is strictly for the terms of the grant.  It doesn’t have a life beyond that time frame.  And it’s to fund the pre-agreed upon projects.

Also that’s something your readership or viewership will understand, that with such a significant amount of money that the United States is willing to provide $480 million, that we do have some oversight obligations as well. We want to ensure that there is accountability in the process of spending that money and procuring the services that will be needed to implement the projects.  So that’s why there’s also a framework for providing the grant.

Media:  Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this roundtable discussion.  I’m Asiri Fernando and I represent the Daily Financial Times.

I’d like to ask how the U.S. views the appointment of the recent Presidential Task Forces that have been set up.  There were a lot of questions raised about policy and good governance with regard to the Task Forces.  What is the U.S. [inaudible]?

Ambassador Teplitz:  Thank you for that question.

I note there has been a great deal of confusion in the Sri Lankan media about the Task Forces just as you said.  Civilian rule is definitely a hallmark of democracy and I think a concern that I’ve been reading from Sri Lankans has been around that particular issue as well as the broad mandate of some of the task forces and the lack of diversity in the task forces.

I have some of the same questions that [inaudible] asked.  For example an archeological task force for a particular area, does not reflect the population of that place.  You know, the mandate of the Virtue Task Force not appearing to have a strong role for communities or the judiciary in the process.  So I think we’ll wait and see how these things play out but it’s something I think Sri Lankans have been in the forefront asking about.  I’m right there with them with wondering about some of these issues.

Question:  I see that David Ebert from Ada Derana has also asked a question about the U.S. government having an alternative to the Chinese Belt Road Initiative in terms of a comprehensive economic development plan for Sri Lanka.

So I hope that the only comprehensive economic development plan for Sri Lanka is Sri Lanka’s plan for itself, and I hope there is one.  As I mentioned in my opening statement, the economic future of this country,  like many, is now a little bit in question given the enormous disruptions of the pandemic.  It’s definitely a time that calls for having a comprehensive plan going forward and I know there’s an article about this on the front page of today’s Financial Times.  There have been numerous reports, Pathfinder’s and commentary about this.

So I think it is the right moment for planning in that sense and that the government needs to look comprehensively at some of the policy reforms and at the ease of doing business if it’s going to be in a position to attract foreign investment and take advantage of some of the supply chain changes that are going to come I think in the future as many countries and companies seek to de-risk their investments from China.  Where they’re looking to make sure they have some diversification in location and redundancy in that supply chain.  So it’s an opportune moment.

Does the United States have an alternative?  That’s not exactly how I would look at the issue.  The United States wishes to engage with Sri Lanka as we do the world over to ensure that there’s free trade and that both of our countries are in a position to best enable our private sectors.  We really think that that’s going to be the leading edge of economic development in both of our countries.  There’s no government that has enough money to invest in any one place to generate the levels of prosperity that people are hoping to achieve.  It’s really going to take the private sector engaging, finding those innovations and investment opportunities that’s going to change the equation I think for a place like Sri Lanka, and it certainly is going to continue to be the leading edge in the United States.

So what we’re looking at is more of a philosophical approach.  How can we best enable that open and transparent business engagement?  How can innovation be fostered?  How can the power and potential of small and medium enterprises be unleashed?  How can women become much more a part of the economic conversation?

I have talked in the past about the latter two issues.  First about women, that global studies show very clearly that when they’re excluded from the economic space, countries do not prosper.  When they are included, the growth rates go up quite exponentially.

And in terms of small and medium enterprises, we’re trying to put our money where our mouth is.  We have funded efforts to look at vocational training curriculum in Sri Lanka.  We have funded efforts to look at how to spur innovation among young people who might want to head into the private sector.  We’ve done micro lending programs for SMEs so that they have a way to finance their business going forward.  And we’re going to continue to put resources, both technical and financial, into those spaces because we think that’s how a sustainable economy is developed and how the creativity and energy of Sri Lankans can be unleashed to direct towards the prosperity that I think people are expecting coming forward.

I will note just as a concluding point, interestingly in that Financial Times piece this morning the author, and that was, I can’t remember his name.  I’ve got to look it up.  Oh, it was Hardy Jamaldeen who was being interviewed.  He I think mentioned something that’s pretty essential to the discussion and that is that infrastructure led growth is probably not going to deliver right now because there’s so little fiscal space for the government of Sri Lanka, and that looking at, as I said, manufacturing, other ways to grow the economy is the way to lead into the other needed infrastructure development.

So a very long answer to your question but we think this is a vital conversation for Sri Lanka right now and it’s an area in which my team has been focused since it became clear that the pandemic was going to be not only very disruptive to societies in terms of public health but also to societies because of the economy.

Question: And I see there’s a question from Robert about Coronavirus death cases in the United States.

So yes, sadly there have been a very high number of deaths due to Coronavirus in the U.S.  Over 100,000 people has passed because of the virus.  The situation remains that there’s community transmission of the virus in the United States and health authorities are working to address that challenge.

In the United States we have a federal structure.  We have the central government at one level, and then we have our state governments have significant power and authority including over public health issues.  So each state is looking at its particular situation and trying to manage.

Of course we’re also seeing that the virus is kind of flaring up in one place, dying down in another as different management techniques are applied.  So I’m not sure I can say that the situation has intensified as you’re asking.  I would just say that perhaps it continues and it’s something that public health authorities are actively engaged in trying to manage.

Question: Shenela, what are my thoughts on the Sri Lankan government’s handling of the global pandemic which has proven to be destructive.

Yes indeed, the global pandemic is destructive in many ways.  Public health perspective and certainly creating intense difficulty for people who were most vulnerable including women at risk of domestic abuse and classes of people who ended up losing their jobs.  They might have been day laborers or others.  You know, very reliant on kind of a day to day wage.  So it has definitely been destructive from many perspectives.

I think the government here has done a very admirable job of containing the virus.  Sri Lanka is one of the few countries that has managed to forestall community transmission.  And while I understand it requires constant vigilance in that regard, I think up to this point that the government has been successful in that effort.  I myself, I have been working from home essentially since mid-March like many of you and only now just beginning to sort of reemerge.  And we’ll have to wait and see, but I think that we all also have to contribute to the solution.  It’s not just the government that can keep Sri Lanka relatively free of the virus.  I think for the public and each one of us, following the recommended practices — social distancing, covering your face, hand washing, other hygiene practices — that this is really essentially and we can’t forget that the virus is out there and particularly as Sri Lanka begins to open up, that these practices are going to be very important and they may be with us for some time before a vaccine or other treatments are fully developed.

Question: I see there are some more questions.  David, again.  The Sri Lankan government was added to the list of countries by the UNHRC that allegedly implemented a clamp down on freedom of expression during the country’s COVID-19 battle.  Can I comment on their mandate to censure government’s policy.

I’m going to refer you to them and not comment on the UNHRC’s mandate.  As you know, the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council so I feel probably it’s not appropriate at that time, but I will say I do certainly enjoy reading the variety of opinion that’s appearing in the media and I hope that that opinion continues to be expressed, whether it’s in print media, on TV or in social media because freedom of expression  is vital.  And as we were talking about in the context of the demonstrations, some of the difficult issues facing us specifically in the United States, I think without the ability to have public conversations around tough issues societies really lose.  Those angers, aggressions, frustrations and fears get bottled up and that can lead to very bad results.  It’s much better and certainly in a democratic setting it’s a right to be able to express contrary views and hopefully constructively understand those viewpoints and find solutions to the problems that are being raised.

Media:  Talking about the COVID pandemic, now apparently the United States withdrew from the WHO membership stating that the WHO must move bias towards China, and that your President was always blaming China for basically expanding and spreading this wider.  So don’t you think the U.S. as the highest financier to the WHO endeavor, that the U.S. withdrawing at this juncture, at a crucial point is a total injustice for the entire world by removing a lot of funds from the WHO coffers.  Don’t you think so?

Ambassador Teplitz:  I think there’s obviously a lot of discussion that will be happening around some of the issues that we’ve raised with the WHO.  And of course global health remains an enormous concern for us.  I cited for you earlier the $26 million that we’ve provided the government of Sri Lanka over the last many years to address public health issues here in Sri Lanka, and that’s only a small fraction of the money that has been invested by the United States globally around serious public health issues.  Whether that’s malaria, AIDS research or looking at eradicating polio, addressing Ebola. You name it, the United States either publicly or privately has been a partner with institutions around the world and societies around the world to address those issues.

So I think that we’ve got to look at the global public health issue in that context.  Then we’ll see where the discussion goes.  Of course we welcome answers from the WHO around the issues that have been raised.

Question:  I see from Robert Anton about the government, the Sri Lankan government withdrawal from the Geneva Resolution.  How do we see that?

Yes, I noted Foreign Minister Gunawardena’s remarks in Geneva this year and while the government said that it plans to withdraw from that resolution I also noted he promised there would be a path forward to address reconciliation and some of the other issues raised in that resolution.

From our perspective, that resolution was drafted and passed and constitutes a commitment of the government of Sri Lanka to its own people and that the issues that are raised in that resolution including around accountability do not go away by simply walking away from that particular language.

We look forward to working with the government and more than the government, with communities and civil society here and with businesses to look at how to best address those issues in the coming years.  We really think that Sri Lanka will be a stronger place, a more united place if those challenges from the conflict era and immediately after can be addressed, if there is clear rule of law and accountability in place.  That will set the stage I think for not only political and social stability but also economic prospects to grow.

Media:  Ambassador, what are your concerns for the post-election period, especially for an example the possibility of the 19th amendment being repealed.  You just mentioned that you look forward to engaging with the government and the community in the future with accountability and rule of law.  If the 19th amendment is repealed after the elections, how can you best engage with the Sri Lankan government?  What will your priorities be?  Thank you.

Ambassador Teplitz:  Thanks for that question.  Obviously much anticipated parliamentary elections, now we’re expecting them in early August and with it of course a fuller transition of the government with parliament taking its seat once again.

Sri Lanka has a long history of democracy and of course we support the deepening and strengthening of its democratic institutions.  Who’s elected, that’s up to the people here and the policies that are being pursued, and I don’t think it’s the role of the United States to tell Sri Lanka what or not to put in its constitution.  Absent, of course, those overarching agreements that our countries have joined.  Say for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, right?

But going forward I think the issues are there.  This is what the people of Sri Lanka have to consider.  For example, what is in the 19th amendment that might be very important to them.  The independence of certain state institutions.  The Office of Human Rights.  The Office of Missing Persons.  Office of Reparations.  Those are all very important features.  There are of course some division of power issues between the executive and the legislative branches.  Largely those are things I think people here need to consider and consider what is going to contribute to a healthy democracy.

And certainly post-election we have a strong relationship with the government here.  It doesn’t mean we always agree.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t hesitate to share our opinions, especially when it revolves around issues that relate to our values as Americans and as international partners.  We will try and express those opinions respectfully and constructively.  There’s also much that we do agree with and of course those are going to be easier areas where we can collaborate.

Media:  The U.S. has been always talking about the human rights, especially about being the largest democracy in the world, but what we have seen during the recent past in the U.S. does not stand by that word because we’ve seen two people, two minorities actually, the police has basically has [inaudible] in the U.S. and there is a lot of commotion in your country.  A country that has been talking about the human rights elsewhere in the world, but when this country does the same thing we need more much larger damage to the public in your country.

How would you go and tell the others in the world about these human rights violations?  In your country it’s basically blatantly violating human rights violations in U.S.

Ambassador Teplitz:  Thanks for the question.  It’s indeed been a very difficult and disturbing time in the United States for I think most people.  We look at what has happened to George Floyd who was killed by police.  He is one of many African-Americans who have been victims of excessive force.  There is a very genuine question that people in the United States are asking about how equal our protections are under law for every citizen, and this is what the protesters have been protesting about for the last three weeks, saying that our justice system needs to be fairer and that there needs to be better attention to discrimination and the lack of equal protections, particularly for minority communities as well as accountability for excessive uses of force by the security services.

I would note that in the United States we do have systems of accountability and in the particular case of Mr. Floyd the officers who were involved were fired from the police department and they have now been brought up on criminal charges.  Now it’s in the hands of our courts and I won’t prejudge the outcome of that trial, but there is a process that is transparent.

And while that process has not perhaps worked to 100 percent effect in every case because obviously we continue to have challenges around these issues, around racism and discrimination and justice in the United States, we are talking about these things and trying to find ways to address them.  And we’re talking about them in ways that build on a system of rule of law that does afford accountability.  In not every case did a police officer walk away from an incident, and I think that in the United States we’re recognizing more has to be done.  In fact I think we’re humbled by the fact that we don’t yet meet our aspirations for a truly equal society where all are equal before the law, and where everybody is treated the same and provided with the same opportunity.  That’s something we have to keep working for and what you’re seeing in terms of the demonstration is a recognition of that as well as the conversations in the media and other public spaces around solutions.

So I think it’s a difficult time, and as you look at the questions here I note that in the context of the demonstration or attempted demonstration in front of the Embassy, many people responded to the actions of the police by saying why were you demonstrating against the United States?  You should have been demonstrating against the government of Sri Lanka that has sometimes employed excessive force and not had proper accountability for those who did exercise that force.  This is what people in this country are saying about those issues.

So I think that every country has its challenge and it’s important to acknowledge those challenges, to acknowledge them openly, be constructive about solutions, but also how a country addresses those challenges really matters.

Is there a conversation?  Do we all progress?  Are there changes?

I think that this is something that we’ve got to keep working on and certainly in the United States it’s a moment for our whole country to think about how to handle these things differently and get some forward progress.

Moderator:  Ambassador, there is a question from Robert in the text.

Ambassador Teplitz: You noted, Robert, that we had a discussion with TNA leadership early this year.  What’s TNA leadership position on getting power sharing settlements for ethnic issues?  [Reading his question.]

Well, I think you should ask the TNA for its positions on getting power sharing settlements for ethnic issues.  I will just say that of course those issues are of great interest to us.  We see Sri Lanka’s future stability, its future security, its future prosperity deeply intertwined with the ability to find lasting solutions.  Lasting solutions that are fair, equitable and transparent for all of the ethnic groups on the island.  That devolution of power has been a persistent request, and there has been some unequal implementation of promises of the past.

So I hope there can be a constructive dialogue around those issues.  I think it’s going to be very important going forward to ensure that every citizen in Sri Lanka is franchised, that they have some control over their local affairs, and that they can contribute as productive citizens on equal footing.

Question: Then there’s another question here from David Ebert about President Trump’s issuing an Executive Order authorizing economic penalties and travel restrictions on international Criminal Court investigators looking into charges.  How does that reflect U.S. respect for rule of law and human rights?

This is of course speaking about this recent Executive Order that was published.  The President has been clear that the International Criminal Court, of which we have never been a party, is not something that we are subject to.  That said, the United States does support meaningful accountability and justice for victims of atrocities.  Justice we’ve been talking about in a slightly different context.  We continue to support that for major atrocities and gross violations of human rights and this includes ensuring that accountability and justice can be obtained through democratic institutions and that there can be a legitimate and effective prosecutions.

Our commitment to this dates back to the time of the Nuremberg Trials and we have been steadfast supporters of high standards globally.

In the United States, as I was just mentioning, we do have a system of accountability including through investigations and prosecutions in relation to some of the issues that the ICC has discussed.  They’re vigorous, they’re fair, they’re effective.  So we have the ways to address some of those challenges.  We of course hope that all countries will adopt similarly robust mechanisms and we of course through the President have acted to protect Americans from unjust and illegitimate prosecution.  It threatens our sovereignty in terms of the danger to our country and our allies.  So this is where we stand on that issue.

Sorry, you did ask about the economic penalties.  The Executive Order does authorize those penalties and we’ll see what happens.  We will implement measures consistent with law.

Question: The next question is from Shenela.  In a human perspective, ongoing protests over the killing of African- Americans in the United States and triggered by the death of George Floyd are very concerning.   They are, indeed.  Fresh unrest erupted due to another incident in Atlanta.  What measures has the U.S. government taken to address this situation while calming the protests?

Indeed, the whole situation in the United States is disturbing, it’s distressing, it is fundamentally disappointing for Americans everywhere to see that we’re not the America we want to be, that we have to work a lot harder to get to that place where there is genuine equality and justice for all of our citizens.

With regard to the situation in Atlanta, again, due to the federal nature of our government that’s something that state and local authorities are addressing and of course the federal government will provide support as needed just as in the case that we’ve looked at over time and in the case of George Floyd where there’s a Justice Department investigation.

Some of the protests, indeed, have been intensifying.  The protests have been largely peaceful.  They have been all around the country.  And while there was a certain, Shehan I think you said it was a commotion in some places, some people did seek to derail the protests, take advantage of them, engage in criminal activities and violence.  That has largely stopped.  Those people were not representing the protesters who were taking up these very important social issues.

And of course rightly so as we talk about social distancing there are expressions of concern around so many people gathering together in one place.  I hope that the protesters are taking appropriate precautions and mindful of the fact that this is happening in a time of the pandemic and that there is Coronavirus in the United States.

So it’s a challenging moment for us at home.  Something that we worry about but also we hope can lead to better days for everybody.

Question:  I see David you’ve got another question.  Does this mean the U.S. supports a home-grown solution for Sri Lankans on human rights and war crimes allegations?

What I would hope for in Sri Lanka is that there is a robust and transparent system of accountability.  One of the reasons that there continues to be such an outcry around international supervision or having foreign participation in the justice process in relation to the allegations of human rights violations after the war is because there’s frankly not a lot of faith in the system as it exists today.  I think if Sri Lanka had a justice system that fully addressed and could hurdle over issues of impunity where people are sort of never brought to trial and given a pass, where it takes a very long time to process even modest cases, not only would these human rights allegations be able to be addressed and adjudicated in a fair and open court, but many other issues of justice could also be addressed.

I was shocked to read in a publication not that long ago that only a third of people in prison have actually been convicted.  Everybody else is sort of sitting there on remand, you know, waiting for a case to be processed.  That’s a very disturbing situation.  Those people aren’t getting justice in terms of either the victims or the perpetrators in terms of whatever small crimes they might have committed.

So yes, I think a solution that comports with democratic standards for justice and rule of law is very important for Sri Lanka and one that we support.

Let’s see what’s out there in our last couple of minutes.  You’ve all focused on some pretty challenging questions of today.  There’s a lot happening to cause us to think deeply I think at this time.

Moderator:  Do we have any other questions?

Media:  Ambassador, with the present situation in the US with the COVID pandemic. Do you think that will impact the UN General Assembly and[inaudible] your hosting in the US, in New York especially?

Ambassador Teplitz:  Sorry, say again.

Media:  Is there a pandemic in U.S. especially, do you think that the UN General Assembly be halted or what will be the situation with the [inaudible] especially in New York?

Ambassador Teplitz:  The UN obviously is the right place to ask that question, but I have heard that it might be virtual.  That they’re going to do some of the events virtually.  That’s obviously an enormous undertaking.  I don’t envy the people having to work on that, but that’s what I’ve heard, exactly for the reasons you relate, because of concerns of the virus.

And I did want to say also, thank you very much for sharing some of your thoughts on the election period and offer, I mean as you know we think it’s important that there continue to be journalists of integrity as well as freedom to report and investigate, and that that really contributes to a robust, democratic society.  So we hope that you can continue to do your work in freedom and safety as well.  It’s a challenge everywhere I think sometimes even in the United States for journalists, but we do recognize how important your work really is, even when we are the victim of some of your stories.

Moderator:  Ambassador, thank you very much for taking the time today.  We are at the hour here.  So to the media pool, thank you all very much.  Thanks for your flexibility and adapting to this new format.  If you have any feedback you want to share with us on how we can improve these scenarios moving forward, please drop us a note and we’ll take those under advisement.  Hopefully we won’t have to do another one this way.  I hope we’ll meet in person next time.

Ambassador Teplitz:  I look forward to it.  Thanks again for the time.

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