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Former U.S. Ambassadors' to Sri Lanka Letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa

January 19, 2009

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse
President of the Democratic Socialist
Republic of Sri Lanka

Dear Mister President:

We are all former United States Ambassadors to Sri Lanka, but we are writing in our personal capacities. Our service in Sri Lanka stretches for over 15 years, and we have seen good times and hard times in the country. We all have great respect and affection for Sri Lanka and its people. We have known you at different points in your career, and we all acknowledge your love for your country and your desire to see it at peace. We have all, at different times and in different ways, made it clear that we believed the goals and tactics of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were unacceptable, and that the Government of Sri Lanka was engaged in a difficult but necessary fight against terrorism. We have all supported and argued for United States assistance to Sri Lanka in that struggle.

It is for all of these reasons that we are now so upset by developments in Sri Lanka, the most recent of which was the murder of Sunday Times editor Lasantha Wickrematunga. We fear that, even as Sri Lanka is enjoying military progress against the LTTE, the foundations of democracy in the country are under assault. The killing of Mr. Wickrematunga has prompted this letter, but there have been many previous incidents in which the rights of individuals and the media have been violated.

Mr. President, we speak frankly because in our dealings with you we have always found you to have an open mind and to respect the truth. Some have suggested that these events have been carried out not by elements of the Government, but by other forces hoping to embarrass the Government. We do not find such arguments credible. We are familiar with your history as a defender of those whose rights were threatened by the Government. We assume, therefore, that if Government forces are carrying out these acts, they are acting without your permission and knowledge. We believe it is imperative that these actions stop, and that those who have carried them out be prosecuted.

Fighting an unconventional war against a terrorist enemy is a difficult task, and the sad truth is that it almost always results in some brutal and illegal acts. This is as true of our country as it is of Sri Lanka. The important thing is that the country's leadership not condone these acts, and that an atmosphere is set from the top that they will not be accepted, and that those who commit them will be held to account.
We urge you to take steps to reestablish accountability and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Investigations have been promised before but have been futile. At times Government officials have not appeared diligent, as happened in the investigation of the killing of NGO workers assisted by the International Eminent Persons Group. It is crucial that an investigation now not follow that same fruitless path. It must also be made clear to members of the security forces that discipline will be enforced and violators will be brought to justice.  Only you can provide the leadership and clear direction that will make this happen. We have seen before the positive results that such leadership can have, for example, when the decision to issue receipts for all detained persons dramatically reduced the number of disappearances.

Sri Lanka has gone through difficult times, but its democratic system has always persevered. Neither the LTTE nor assaults by other radical forces have been able to destroy it. It would be a tragedy if it were destroyed now, not from without, but from within.

We intend to make this letter public after you have received it.

With our personal best wishes, we remain,

    Yours sincerely,

    Marion Creekmore
    United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka

    Teresita Schaffer
    United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka

    A. Peter Burleigh
    United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka

    Shaun Donnelly
    United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka
    Ashley Wills
    United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka

    Jeffrey Lunstead
    United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka