US Senate Resolution: How US can help SL fight economic crimes ?

US Senate Resolution: How US can help SL fight economic crimes ?


US Senate Resolution: How US can help SL fight economic crimes ?


Range Jayasuria

Last week, four US Senators, led by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez tabled a Senate resolution calling for a comprehensive international approach to address Sri Lanka’s current political and economic crises, including ‘credible allegations of corruption’ under the Rajapaksa family’s rule.

“The Government of Sri Lanka under the rule of President Rajapaksa – 

  1. devoted state resources for personal political purposes with little transparency; 
  2. implemented misguided agricultural policies; and
  3. Borrowed billions of dollars from China to develop economically unviable mega projects.” They observed.

They noted that the current government of Ranil Wickremesinghe has so far failed to respond to public concerns, including a mechanism to investigate ‘credible allegations of corruption, and instead, responded to peaceful protests on July 9 with ‘ live fire and tear gas.’ 

They urged President Wickremesinghe to work with the opposition and ethnic minority political parties and called on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue nations – the US, India, Japan and Australia – to extend further humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka. Also, the resolution asked the government of Sri Lanka to work with the UN Human Rights Council to implement the recommendations in the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report in February this year.

Conflating the alleged war crimes with economic crimes would not resonate well within Sri Lanka, though it was the impunity fostered over decades by successive governments that contributed to both. Calls for accountability for economic crimes have also been highlighted in the UNHR Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka.
Also, the new draft resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC tabled last week by the Core Group– the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Macedonia, and Malawi moved beyond the usual rights concerns emanating from the conduct of war to economic crimes that led to the current economic and political crisis.

The new additions to the draft resolution, which otherwise borrows from the previous resolution 46/1 adopted on March 23, 2021,  primarily deal with the economic crisis, allegations of economic crimes and the stifling of political freedom and the government crackdown on peaceful protesters. 

In its preamble, “Recognising the severe economic crisis which deteriorated in Sri Lanka since late 2021 and the profound impact that this has had on the people of Sri Lanka”, (PP6).

The newly added Article 11 of  the resolution, “calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing economic crisis and help ensure it does not happen again, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including by public and former public officials, and stands ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts in this regard.”

Also, the newly inserted Article 3, “expresses concern at the human rights impacts of the economic crisis, including as a result of increased food insecurity, severe shortages in fuel, shortages in essential medicines and reductions in household incomes, while stressing the need to promote and protect the rights of the most marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, including daily wage earners, children, older persons, and persons with disabilities.
Article 4, “expresses concern over other human rights developments since April 2022 including violence against and arrests of peaceful protestors, as well as violence against Government supporters, resulting in deaths, injuries, destruction and damage to houses of members of Parliament and stresses the importance of independent investigations into all attacks and for those found responsible to be held to account.”

Sri Lanka is likely to reject the Resolution as it did with its predecessor. In the interactive dialogue on the high commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry recalled that Sri Lanka had opposed the previous resolution (46/1), ‘fundamentally disagreeing with its legitimacy and objectives.”  He said the government would be compelled to reject any follow-up measures to the resolution and as well as related recommendations and conclusions in the High Commissioner’s report.

He argued that the reference to economic crimes in the report, ‘apart from the ambiguity of the term”, exceeds the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. For obvious practical reasons, it is counterproductive to lump the fresh calls for the accountability of economic crimes with the old concerns of human rights. There is a reckoning among the majority of Sri Lankans, apart from the NGO captains who want to keep the pot boiling, that allegations of war crimes as much as some were real were largely exaggerated. Many view the UNHRC initiatives as much less of a quest for justice, but as giving consolation prize for the LTTE apologists for the annihilation of the terrorist group.

UNHR Commissioner’s evidence-gathering mechanism on the allegations of war crime in Sri Lanka itself relies extensively on the same sources who had a grudge against Sri Lanka and would not be viewed as credible by the majority of Sri Lankans. That leaves little domestic compulsion for the government to cooperate.
Therefore, whatever the moral justifications, lumping old concerns, which do not have majority support, with the current ones, which are shared by the majority of Sri Lankans is a poor choice.

On the other hand, none of the UNHRC resolutions in the past had managed to influence the state policy, other than pretentious eleventh-hour initiatives before each UNHRC session.

However, Sri Lanka must hold accountable those responsible for corruption, nepotism and gross economic mismanagement. The Government of President Ranil Wickremesinghe is devoid of domestic legitimacy. He rules by the mercy of Basil Rajapaksa. Basil is mentioned in a number of leaked US embassy communique as Mr. 10 per cent.

Mr. Wickremesinghe is in no position to hold his benefactors accountable.  He is a cat’s paw for a corrupt and rejected regime that rules by proxy. It would have helped if the US Senate resolution called on the Department of Justice to hold its dual citizens accountable for economic crimes abroad. Basil Rajapaksa, a dual US and Sri Lankan citizen is now sojourning in the United States, after courts here permitted him to travel abroad, despite a string of ongoing cases of corruption. Sadly though, current political and judiciary institutions in Sri Lanka are lacking independence and technical sophistication to hold the politically powerful accountable.

Breaking ice in this perniciously uneven status quo requires international help. Rather than limiting its concerns to political statements, the United States can actively investigate its nationals who have looted Sri Lanka. Similarly, the United States, which wields the majority of votes in the IMF and other Paris Club countries should demand that Sri Lanka establish an independent mechanism to hold accountable those who are responsible for economic crimes.  That should be preconditioned on the IMF bail-out package.

Sadly though, under the current government of Sri Lanka is business as usual. Its bloated Cabinet and State Ministers smack of a new low of rent-seeking political opportunism at the weakest hour of the nation.  Sri Lanka needs international support to get rid of this canker.  To be more effective, the intervention should be to the point, rather than lumping every other grievance together.