Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic that continues to be fractured by the ethnic conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an organization advocating a separate ethnic Tamil state. Government security forces expelled LTTE troops from the east by July 2007, and military confrontations occurred regularly in the north. In January 2008 the government withdrew from the 2002 Cease‑Fire Accord between the government and LTTE. Overall respect for human rights declined countrywide, but especially in the conflict-affected areas. Several reports documented participation by the army, police, and progovernment paramilitary groups in armed attacks against civilians, torture, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion, and extrajudicial killings. The LTTE, which maintained control of large sections of the north, continued to attack civilians and engage in torture and arbitrary arrest and detention; denied fair, public trials; arbitrarily interfered with privacy; denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; and practiced forced recruitment, including of children. The LTTE carried out politically motivated killings, suicide attacks, and bombings of civilian buses in the south.
U.S. government efforts to promote human rights and democracy focus on working with partners to broker a lasting peace agreement between the government and the LTTE; mitigating the effects of the conflict and promoting conditions under which reconciliation can take place; pressing the government to develop a constitutional power-sharing proposal that will give greater rights to its minority populations; strengthening governance to ensure accountability and transparency; pressing the government to curb and render justice for human rights abuses; promoting freedoms of the press and religion, fair labor practices, and the rights of women and children; and speaking publicly on these issues to raise awareness and encourage progress.
U.S. programs to advance democracy include supporting the Peace Secretariat for Muslims (PSM); providing technical assistance and training for national initiatives to develop a political framework to resolve the conflict; strengthening the justice sector; and expanding and networking community fora across the conflict-affected North Central and Eastern Provinces to support human rights monitoring, good governance, and peace building. The United States also provides technical assistance and training to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and the secretariat for coordinating the peace process. U.S. officials consistently urge the government to halt all human rights abuses, including religious freedom violations, and hold perpetrators accountable. U.S. officials also repeatedly urge the government to accept the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, due to the fact that the country's human rights institutions are not able to prevent or report on the country's human rights problems.
The United States works to promote a democratic political process, good governance, and a strong civil society. In July 2007 a U.S.-funded program strengthened the technical capacity of local government by training 1,612 officials to improve service delivery and financial management and increased citizen participation in local planning. The United States supports policy advocacy in local government and assisted the Ministry of Local Government and provincial councils to develop a national policy declaration for local government. In 2007 the United States assisted the Election Commission with the completion of a computerized national voter registry. The embassy continues to engage civil society actors to support people's fora, a community consultative process to promote reconciliation and improve citizen oversight of government. As part of the U.S. strategy to promote tolerance, 12 political parties active in the south and 14 from the east of the country participate in district-level multiparty dialogues on regional priorities.
U.S. efforts to promote freedom of speech and the media include diplomacy and technical assistance programs. The ambassador regularly meets influential media personalities from a wide range of outlets to hear their concerns about pressure on the media. In 2007 the ambassador visited the offices of two prominent Tamil newspapers to show public U.S. support. The United States continues to fund a regional media program, and with U.S. support, media houses in both the south and the east provide training and production support to district-based journalists and staff of community-based organizations. A U.S.-funded implementing partner continues to broadcast current affairs programs in both vernacular languages weekly on three regional radio stations in the south, east, and central hill country.
The United States supports anticorruption efforts, judicial reform, and efforts to promote the rule of law and religious freedom. In 2007 a U.S.-funded anticorruption program provided training to 336 staff from the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and from the auditor general's department. The U.S. government supported the first national household survey on corruption, which was released to the public and government authorities in July 2007. Another U.S.-supported project continues to train mediators from the Ministry of Justice's Community Mediation Boards Program and to support NGOs working with marginalized communities to train informal paralegals to represent the interests of their communities. The United States funds two ongoing antitrafficking projects to provide law enforcement training on trafficking in persons awareness and victim identification, in addition to a case management database to allow more effective monitoring of trafficking crimes and victims. To promote religious freedom, the ambassador has expressed concern to the government about the negative impact anticonversion laws could have on religious freedom.
A U.S.-funded four-year program is helping to create the National Plan of Action for Decent Work, which is designed to promote good labor standards and protection of labor. Another U.S.-funded program aims to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.
Training focusing on respect for human rights is a key component of all military programs. The United States is working to expand its education and training programs to focus specifically on human rights and civil-military relations. In 2007 a joint military law exchange ran a seminar on human rights, humanitarian law in military operations, rules of engagement, and military justice.