Congressman Health Shuler’s international outreach continued earlier this month when he returned to Sri Lanka for the second time since he has been in office. Shuler and two other members of Congress, Congressman Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.) and Congressman Ben Chandler, (D-Ky), visited the country to see first-hand the progress the government has made after finally ending a 26-year-long civil war against the terrorist organization, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also called the Tamil Tigers. Members of congress met with Sri Lanka President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 5th President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, who assumed his second term of office on Nov. 19, 2010, to discuss the country’s progess and future plans.
According to Shuler, he has remained active in following the progress of the Sri Lankan government, and he believes that the U.S. could learn a lot from the diligence and triumph of the foreign ally. “Sri Lanka is a long-time ally of ours and is accomplishing some incredible things right now,” said Cong. Shuler. “They are recovering from a civil war and making major investments in infrastructure and education. Their markets are exploding—U.S. exports are up 45% in 2011, and there are many promising trade and economic prospects that we are risking losing out on to China. There is a lot we can learn from Sri Lanka and a lot of opportunities we should be taking advantage of.”
According to Whitney Mitchell, spokesperson for Cong. Shuler, the trip to Sri Lanka was paid for by the Sri Lankan government and was coordinated by the U.S. State Department. Unfortunately, the trip occurred during the same time President Obama visited Asheville. “The trip to Sri Lanka was planned long before we knew President Obama would be visiting Asheville,” said Mitchell.
Shuler’s first trip to Sri Lanka came in 2009, and he has since been actively working to build relationships with the small South Asian country. “I’ve been following the progress in Sri Lanka since my first visit in 2009, and returned this year on a bipartisan fact-finding mission with Cong. Kingston and Cong. Chandler as part of the U.S. State Department’s Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange program in advance of the release of the Sri Lankan’s “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” report and to see the progress the country has made since the end of its civil war,” said Shuler.
In 2009, Shuler’s visit to Sri Lanka was to meet with Tamil leaders and government officials from various political groups while restructuring the Sri Lankan government only days after announcing its military had defeated the remnants of the Tamil Tigers.
During the reign of the Tamil Tigers, tens of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens had become displaced, travelling to parts of Canada, America, and Europe, in attempt to escape the harsh regime. Since Congressman Shuler’s initial visit, the Sri Lankan government has successfully resettled citizens and began rebuilding their infrastructure in order to rebuild its economy.
Shuler visited areas of Sri Lanka that some human rights group considered to be questionable and that had allegedly continued to abuse citizens, neither of which Shuler found no evidence, and even defined the progress in the country since his initial visit two years prior as “tremendous.”
“I visited Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, I’ve spoken to both opposition Tamil leaders and government officials and people from all political parties and groups, and I didn’t see any current evidence of human rights issues,” noted Shuler. “Today, Sri Lanka has largely free and fair elections, and the government has resettled nearly all of the country’s 300,000 displaced persons and is working to remove the last of the land mines.”
Recognizing that it has only been two years since his last visit, Shuler has identified areas of improvement still needed in Sri Lanka, and pledges to remain assertive in his attempt to build the relationship between the U.S. and the South Asian country.
“There are still areas where I think Sri Lanka can continue to make progress, among others — I think they should improve accountability for those who died and went missing in the civil war to provide closure for their families, continue rebuilding homes for those who were displaced, and help create a more stable economy in the northern region,” said Shuler. “But the government recognizes these are areas in which they can improve and have demonstrated they’re willing to work toward these changes.”