Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, not far from the southeast coast of India. Sri Lanka’s two main ethnic groups, the Sinhala and Tamils, have come to define its politics since the British relinquished control. In 1931, Britain granted Ceylon self-rule, and during World War II, it was a strategic base for Britain against the Japanese. Sri Lanka became independent in 1949, and for the next few decades, it struggled to keep the peace between its ethnic groups. In the 1980s, civil war broke out between government forces and the Tamil Tigers. Efforts to establish peace have failed since that time, and a number of highly placed Indian and Sri Lankan political figures have been assassinated, along with 65,000 other fatalities. A 2004 tsunami added to the destabilization of the government, causing widespread devastation. In 2006, the Red Cross evacuated 150 foreigners from the Jaffna region and tried to get needed supplies to civilians there. Extensive human rights abuses continue, and recent controversies include the wounding of the US ambassador from Tamil mortar fire, the arrest of a Tamil leader in New York, and criticism by US lawmakers of a Sri Lankan law that would make it illegal for someone to convert a Sri Lankan to another religion by force. The conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers officially ended in May 2009 when the Tamil Tigers admitted defeat. Since the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, international groups have voiced fears of the beginning of guerrilla warfare government abuses continue and if the concerns of the Tamils are not addressed.
Lay of the Land: Formerly Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a leaf-shaped island in the Indian Ocean, not far from the southeastern coast of India. The Palk Strait, which separates the two countries, is less than 20 miles wide at its narrowest. A low-lying plain covers the northern half of the island and follows the southern coast, while mountains reaching more than 8,000 feet rise in the south central region. The coastline itself contains many coconut-fringed lagoons. Though located in the monsoon belt of Asia, Sri Lanka has two distinct climatic zones. The southwest, where most of the population is located, receives 200 inches of annual rainfall, while the “dry zone,” covering the rest of the island, averages only about 50- inches a year.
Sri Lanka was originally settled by the Balangoda people during the 6th century BC. They were hunters/gatherers, and later developed a sustainable agricultural system on the Horton Plains using sophisticated irrigation. Three hundred years later, they brought Buddhism with them, influencing the culture of Sri Lanka for centuries to come. Today, more than 70% of Sri Lanka’s population identifies as Buddhist.
Since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, US assistance has totaled more than $1.6 billion.
The US has established policy toward Sri Lanka to help move the country toward greater unity and encouragement for its economic and social development. As well, the United States is a strong supporter of ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
Trade between the US and Sri Lanka is dominated by the importation of apparel and household goods, which represents the only billion-dollar commodity exchanged between the two countries. From 2003 to 2007, US imports of cotton clothing rose from $733 million to $1 billion. However, they dropped down to $809 million in 2009 following the worldwide recession.
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According to the State Department, “the government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils. In May 2010, Human Rights Watch declared the need for an independent international investigation into human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan government after new photographic evidence was examined. Within the 200 photos are a series documenting what seems to be the execution of a captured LTTE by military forces. HRW claims the commissions created by the government are inadequate, or have failed to take significant investigative steps into the alleged abuses.
Appointment: Apr 8, 1948
Presentation of Credentials: Aug 3, 1949
Termination of Mission: Left post Oct 30, 1949
Note: Commissioned to Ceylon.
Jaliya Wickramasuriya became ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States on July 18, 2008. Wickramasuriya’s experience in the private sector began at Dilmah, Sri Lanka’s global tea brand, working his way up throughout the company. He then spent a short time with another tea exporter, Standard Trading Co.
A native of Virginia, Michele J. Sison is the first Filipino-American ambassador from the United States. Her mother is Veronica Sison and her father, Pablo B. Sison was originally from Pangasinan, a province in the Philippines. She was confirmed by the US Senate on August 1, 2008 as the United States Ambassador to Lebanon. She arrived in Beirut on February 5, 2008 as Chargé d’Affaires. She served as ambassador until August 7, 2010.