In what is likely to be treated as a major diplomatic insult, the Sri Lankan Government has refused a visa to US Ambassador at Large for Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell, forcing her to cancel a high-level visit scheduled for February 10-11.
“It is regrettable that the Government of Sri Lanka has refused to grant a visa to Ambassador Catherine Russell for this trip,” a US Embassy Spokesman said.
“Ambassador Russell’s mandate is to promote stability, peace and development by empowering women politically, socially and economically around the world.”
“The United States will continue to raise important issues related to gender-based violence, the impact that the conflict had on families (particularly female-headed households), the need for greater economic empowerment by women, and for greater political participation by women across Sri Lanka,” he said.
Ambassador Russell had planned to spend a day in Colombo and a day in Jaffna. Her agenda had included meetings with Government officials, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus as well as with women’s organizations from around Sri Lanka. Her visa application was officially submitted on January 27 and rejected on January 31.
The US official—who is a high-ranking, former senior White House aide—is travelling in the region over the next week. Authoritative sources said the US Embassy now expects to connect Sri Lankan civil society, parliamentarians, women’s groups and other representatives with her via video conference. Her objective is reportedly to raise their concerns about the issues women face in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan Government is seething over remarks made in Colombo by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal. Addressing the media at the end of an official visit last week, she said frustration and scepticism in the United States and international community about Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in investigating the final days of the war have led to increasing calls for an international investigation. “Patience is wearing thin,” she warned.
The Ministry of External Affairs in Colombo hit back, saying the US had a desire to believe the worst of Sri Lanka. “There is a lack of objectivity in recognizing the substantial progress in addressing the challenges during the brief span of four-and-a-half years since the end of an armed conflict of 30 years,” its statement said. “Therefore, ‘patience wearing thin’ is a misnomer.”
“It is the trajectory of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the best for its people,” the MEA asserted. “Statements during the last few days are indicative of a desire to believe the worst and to work to a preconceived political agenda.”
The rejection of Ambassador Russell’s visa, however, preceded Ms Biswal’s press conference on February