US concern over shrinking of democratic space in Lanka

"The US is concerned that some developments are shrinking the democratic space and respect for human rights in the country. The 18th Amendment passed last year weakens checks and balances and abolishes term limits, giving unprecedented power to the executive presidency," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia,
Robert Blake said in his remarks before the Asia Society in New York.

Nearly two years after the end of the conflict, substantial parts of the emergency regulations remain in place, the north continues to be heavily militarised, and the role of the armed forces appears to have increased with the Ministry of Defense assuming responsibility in non-traditional areas such as urban development, he said.

Media freedom remains constrained with continuing incidents against journalists and independent media such as the recent arson attack on Lanka-e-news. "Perhaps most critical is a full accounting of the individual lives that are still in question from the end of the war, which means providing information to families about relatives that are either missing or in detention so they know the status of their loved ones," he said.

Blake said the Lankan government had told the diplomatic community that it has compiled a database that will assist in the efforts to locate missing persons.

"We hope that families of those missing or detained will have access to this database. Reconciliation also entails charging or releasing those that are in custody," he said. Noting that lasting peace requires a durable political solution, Blake said US is encouraged that the Sri Lankan government has conducted two rounds of talks on a political settlement with the Tamil National Alliance.

"We hope that a third round of talks will soon build upon the constructive first two rounds of talks that have already taken place," the former Ambassador to Sri Lanka said.

"The solution for lasting peace needs to include not just economic opportunity, but a political climate in which every Sri Lankan feels he or she has an equal stake in the country's future and the ability to realize his or her potential in an open and just society," Blake said.

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