Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, recently responded to the Crisis Group Report’s assertion that assault on women in Sri Lanka is on the rise. On the one hand, the Ambassador denies the very existence of rape or violence against women in Sri Lanka – “Rapes, this and that not taking any place in Sri Lanka”. On the other hand, he admits that is does exist, by saying that “Like any other country, we have, like couple of cases”. Having thus stumbled his way through with these two contradictory statements, the Ambassador then lists two reasons to support his first assertion. One, that there was no evidence on the increase of violence against women. Two, that Sri Lanka is culturally incomparable because the country has so many women in key positions of authority, it is impossible to think any women are victims of violence. Hence, in his own words, “100% I don’t agree with the report”

The Ambassador however is quick to justify the existence of the ‘couple’ of cases (the ones he first said did not exist) by pointing fingers at the US – “you also have some cases like this”. The logic here seems to be that since its ok and there for you, its ok and there for us too. He then goes on to reassure those listening that “when it comes, the police or whoever will take action against that”.  He tellingly trails off in the end with the word “normally”. Perhaps what he means to say is that ‘normally’, the Police would take action against these things, but sometimes, the possibility exists that they won’t.

I don’t understand this. I don’t understand why our diplomats and politicians continue to bristle defensively, refusing to accept fault, scrambling to cover the massive chip on their collective shoulders. How hard can it be to admit one is wrong? How very different would it have been if Ambassador Wickramasuriya had said ‘Yes this is a problem, but we as a nation are committed to ending it’?

Instead, we have the Ambassador proudly list out that Sri Lanka was the first nation to have a female Prime Minister followed by a female President, that Sri Lanka’s current Attorney-General and Chief Justice are both women, that most organisations are run by women and that over 50% of Sri Lanka’s workforce is female. I don’t get how any of this adds up to his assertion that there is no violence or assault against women in Sri Lanka? If the Ambassador was trying to prove that there is no gender discrimination in the island, he is still wrong. For it is a combination of the right political connections, money, class and education that propelled these women forward, not the absence of gender discrimination. The female workforce he speaks of are those that are the most vulnerable to abuse. These are the women that, for work, often have leave behind their children with abusive husbands. These are the women who spend their days hunched over sewing machines earning dollars for their employers and a pittance for themselves. These are the women that spend their days picking tea leaves by hand.

As I noted in a recent article to Groundviews, the assault, abuse, rape and violence against women in Sri Lanka is not restricted to a particular class. It exists everywhere. I know and appreciate those committed to creating platforms and safe spaces to help women educate and empower themselves. But that progress is hampered when the likes of Ambassador Wickramasuriya and those he represents deny the existence of assault, rape and violence against women. Turning a blind eye to those trapped in that viscous cycle – leaving them alone, unrecognised with little or no recourse – it to prolong and worsen their torture. In denying the existence of assault, rape and violence against women, the Ambassador is denying the existence of women like me, who have been abused. His weak argument that the Police or related authorities would take action in the case of such occurrences falls short of being true, for what I experienced with the Police was further discrimination and sneering, not support.

So what exactly is the Ambassador saying? There is no abuse, but there is some abuse, and when there is some abuse, the Police deals with it… normally.

  • It’s incidents like these that make me feel so, so sad for our nation as a whole. Because, sadly the ambassador is not alone in his thinking; a few minutes talking to your friends and co-workers will surely show you that a majority of people think this is not a big thing, and a small percentage will also believe the age-old “it’s the woman’s fault” theory.

    How do we fascilitate a change over such a huge group? It’s mind-boggling. Well written, I’m glad someone addressed this clip.

    • Samuel

      The fact is today s Ambassador to the US is not qualified for the position because I believe he does not own the credentials that a diplomat should have. In such a case when diplomats are not conversant in diplomatic languages given that they do posses sound qualifications meeting with the requirements for the due position- they can still appoint an interpreter what he want to say to pass them comphrehensively.This is the case in Spain, Germany and France most of the time.

      I think the candidates that GOSL appoint to these positions today lack both. Jaliya used the word – normally and actually interchangeably- and was not able to convince the listeners the fact that the first female prime minister was prodcued by srilanka.

      How can we say that women in SL are much more disipline than any other else etc without going through any social statistics ? And the other point is if you cant understand the question properly, how can you expect him to give them most appropriate answer.

      • dinuk

        Quite right! JW is not qualified but rather a relative of MR..
        But the fact is that rape and violence against women as a war crime is very visible in the footage on the Channel 4’s Killing Fields in Sri Lanka. violence against women increases with militarization and hyper-masculinity that it perpetuates – militarization legitimates violence against women and all who do not carry guns..
        Furthermore, the rapes by the military during the final showdown with the LTTE appear to have been sanctioned by the Rajapakse’s and they have command responsibility for this and other excesses.
        Today in Lanka, violence against women has the highest sanction from the militarized state run by political goons and mafias – as we saw with the case of the Russian tourist who was raped and whose companion was murdered.

      • Actually, Dinuk, no such thing is visible in the CH4 docu.

  • Vino Gamage

    Sri Lankan ambassadors are forced to lie for their governments. Or more truly, people who can lie seek employment from this government.

    The state of women in Sri Lanka – not one report but reports from many sources say the same thing::
    Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East, Asia Report N°217, International Crisis Group, 20 Dec 2011
    UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Sri Lanka(February 2011)
    Minority Rights Group International: No war, no peace:the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka(January 2011)

    The sexual violence of the Sri Lankan military against Tamil women is not only tolerated but also encouraged by Sinhalese Political leadership:

    Politicised police, politicised judiciary, …..:
    Prof A.P.R.Aluwihare to LLRC, 3 November 2010:
    ‘’It is politicization and a lack of rule of law which have contributed to many problems we have had. …. even politics has become politicized in this country …. the problem is not that we don’t have good laws even now, but that guys who are rich and powerful and political wriggle their way down the laws and in terms of the mandate of the Commission of preventing future trouble it is very important to set that process into reverse with a political will.’’

    • Vino Gamage

      It was reported that the Russian women who was attacked on Christmas eve was raped afterwards !
      ”If the law was allowed to take its normal course after the Kolonnawa mini-war, the Christmas Eve murder of a British tourist in Tangalle may not have happened. If the regime did not protect parliamentarian Duminda Silva so blatantly, Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Chandrapushpa may not have thought that he too could get away with murder.”

      Whom did the President make a ”flying visit” some weeks ago?
      Whom did the President meet at the Singapore hospital after the Bali conference on ”Democracy” ?

      • sabbe laban

        Vino Gamage

        Your entire focus is on Tamil women who were raped by the Sri Lankan military! So why talk about a Russian woman now?

  • D

    Happens when ambassadors are just relations of the so and so’s. None of them have proper credentials or know how to put a point across ‘diplomaticlally’. I hear even the embassy is Hawaii is playing hell…

  • huck

    Recently I attended a initiative taken by the SL government along with the UN called “Isthri Melaa”, which sought to educate women on abuse and thereby empower them to stand up against it. Funnily this program had stalls by various women’s rights groups,religious organisations as well as a stall by the US embassy in SL!!
    So while the US embassy knows about these issues in our country, our own ambassador to the US is in a state of ignorance!! Such foolish and contradictory statements will indeed make our country a laughing stock abroad, if that isn’t already the case.

  • This was toe-curlingly awful. As you’ve said, it would’ve been better to admit to some uncomfortable truths rather than talk drivel about ‘superior cultures’ etc. Awful, just awful and reduces his credibility when pronouncing on other areas of policy.

  • kusum
    1,637 rape cases reported in 2011: Police, 29 December 2011
    “Grease Devils: The Violence against women has seen a drastic rise in the North and the East, 23 August 2011
    Two Years On: No War but No Peace for Women still facing the Consequences of the War – CMTPC, 16 July 2011
    Prof Wijesinghe only knows the answer

  • rita
    Sri Lankan women workers face daily rape in Jordanian factory, 6 October 2011:

    ”In Jordan, young female workers employed in a garment factory have been the victims of rape, sexual abuse and torture on regular basis, this according to a report titled “Sexual predators and serial rapists run wild at Wal-Mart supplier in Jordan” by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.

    The document notes that the Sri Lankan Foreign Employment Bureau has received 300 complaints, all against the factory’s general manager, Anil Santha, who is also Sri Lankan. But he was not alone. “Women who refuse the sexual advances of Classic’s managers are also beaten and deported”. What is more, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Labour was aware of the sexual abuse as early as 2007, but did nothing. ….”

    From Cheetikulam to Haiti to Jordan ?????

    We must have a Sri Lanka Spring for Good Governance in 2012.

  • Sri Lankan citizen

    I don’t mean to go off track, but goodness me, shouldn’t the ambassador improve his English? Rapes? not taking any place? Incredible. And it somehow makes his denial worse. This must be like the zero casualties, no? We are a great culture so there are no rapists here. What plane of reality is he on? Gah. Disgusting.

  • Nelum Perera

    ‘’It is politicization and a lack of rule of law which have contributed to many problems we have had” – ”Prof A.P.R.Aluwihare to LLRC, 3 November 2010”:

    This needs a systemic change as the hole at the bottom of the pot has become too big for simple patching up.

    64 years of independence to a country expected to lead Southeast Asia is like this??

    That means serious stocktaking.

    LLRC recommendations have given just that opportunity !!!!!!!!!

  • I know the ambassador is related to the ruling party, but what I cannot understand is why is he speaking like a (edited out)! As a representative of a country he is presenting himself as somebody who learnt English yesterday. The man cannot speak proper English!
    He is disgrace to Srl Lanka & Sri Lankan’s across the world.
    He is Diplomat, therefore put across your views diplomatically.
    Explain & present the country in a argumentative way, so the anti Sri Lankan propaganda is countered properly.

    • Rohan

      He is directly related to Rajapakse Family.

      One does not have to speak greta English to be a good leader or a good strategist. But, to represent a nation in US, certainly you need good English. It is surpising, after all these exposures, his English is so poor. It is worse, particularly when the Embassy claims that Ambassador Wickramasuriya continues to serve as Sri Lanka’s most vocal and visible advocate in the U.S.

      Apparently, JW’s CV is reasonably empty, according to a report by the Sunday Leader. The report talks about few other issues JW has with the facts and truth.

      “In its sharpest yet slap on the face of the many neglected career diplomats in its pay, the Foreign Ministry has appointed one of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s cousins”

      “The 48 year old businessman, after completing his O’ and A’ Levels at Nalanda College, moved on to begin a career in tea tasting at MJF Exports”

      “Without any concrete achievements to present, the document relies on flowery language. Jaliya has claimed to have had “accomplishments” in such fields as “promotion of bilateral political ties, trade promotion, technical promotion, foreign direct investment promotion, tourism promotion and image building.” His penultimate accomplishment, his CV told parliament, is “consolidation of strength of the Sri Lankan diaspora.”

      “The Ambassador admits to owning three vehicles in the United States (worth US$60,000, US$50,000 and US$18,000 respectively) and houses in Homagama and McDonough, Georgia. Yet he has claimed that he only has US$3,820 in cash assets between himself and his wife. The Sunday Leader has learned that Wickramasuriya’s Georgia home has a 2005 market value of US$291,300.”

      “More scrupulous members of parliament may have also raised the question of alleged tax anomalies. Given that Wickramasuriya by his own admission to parliament worked in Sri Lanka from 1978 until 1999, for a good 21 years, and in the process saved up enough funds to migrate his family to the United States, it would be interesting to know how he did this without having paid even one cent of income tax.”

  • Len

    “Rapes, this and that not taking any place in Sri Lanka”. statement is true jus as one made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their are no homosexuale’s in Iran.

  • Ruwan Basnayake

    He is an insult to the finest Ambassadors who represented us in Washington’ [Edited out.] He has no academic nor intelectual background. His manners nor the nonsense he talks at press confernces makes one cringe. Do you know that our former ambassadors had close contacts with members of Congress and the White House.? That Peop;e like Sir Senerat Gunewardene were close friends of John Foster Dulless secretary of State and President Eisenhower and President Nixon , In fact When Sir Senerat,s daughter Irangani’ got married in Washington The attesting witnesses at her wedding were the Chief justice Of the U.S Earl Warren, Richard Nixon,the Vice President of the U.S. at That time, Sir Claude Corea Sir Vellupillai Coomaraswamy and Neville Canakaratne.These are the politicians and statesman who our diplomats had close contacts with.
    We need decent intelligent diplomats to represent our counry not uneducated crude bumkins that are related to the Family.

  • Nelum Bandara
    Rapes on the rise, Jaffna DS says again, 28 September 2011
    Sri Lanka angry over Clinton’s rape comment, 8 October 2009
    Wikileaks cables suggest Sri Lanka ‘human right abuses’, 17 December 2010: ”…. The cables dating from 2007 suggest that the state colluded in paramilitary activities including killings, child trafficking and organised prostitution. ….”
    Sri Lanka warns US over allegations in WikiLeaks, 21 December 2010

  • Ranjo

    According to Lankaenews website, during the first eleven months of last year , there were 1636 reported rapes committed in Sri Lanka meaning that there had been five rapes committed every day on an average. This was the highest rape rate recorded in SL in its history.

    In 1995 , 542 rapes reported. But after the advent of the the current government, this crime rate had steeply risen – in 2007 – it was 1397 ; in 2008 – it was 1582 ; In 2009 – it was 1624 ; in 2010 –it was 1854.

    This list does not include unreported rapes mainly in the Tamil areas, where members of the armed forces and paramilitarty are pointed as the predators. When powerful people find out that they can do such crimes, when the political henchmen and stooges have been mostly involved in them , since they seem to be enjoying immunity from punishment, even with protection from the Police and the government, no wonder the Ambassador is expected to play this down.

  • The Powers that be had better face the reality of rape and abuse of our precious sisters here.They have suffered a very long time and there are whispers here of a ‘ Sri Lanka Spring’.

    Don’t push them. Unless you want a problem far worse than the Eelaam War
    and Tsunami put together.

  • Malith

    This is a bloody joke. When a tea taster is made to Represent Sri Lanka in USA, the world’s most powerful nation, what else do you wish to hear? The same way he differentiate tea, he is trying to deal with Sri Lanka issues. This guy got no education, no foreign service experience and with failed tea sales business experience, he is made the Ambassador to Washington. The blame should go to the very top for appointing such individuals to high places like Washington.

  • p.s. what I meant was ‘don’t push them further by ignoring the situation.

  • Keynes!

    Oh, come on people. At least our ambassador knows the difference between an orange pekoe and broken fannings!

  • Suresh Murugaser

    The basic problem is that the Government has appointed a family stooge as its Ambassador to probably the most important nation in the world.

    This man has absolutely no right to be representing Sri Lankans on the world stage, simply because he’s not got the qualifications or experience to do so. Its high time he was replaced by a career diplomat – or even a Senior Minister like Sarath Amunugama or Milinda Moragoda, who are attuned to the way the West works and are supremely articulate.

    This man has not even once addressed the problem. Talk about “kohida yanne, malle pol!” There have been 1600-odd rapes in the country upto Dec 2011, which have been REPORTED!! God knows how many more there were, which were not.

    I appeal to the President, that at least at this late stage, this horrendous apparition of an Ambassador is replaced forthwith.

  • kusum

    The Leader leads: President in an interview before 15 November 2011: ”For last so many years not a single killing had been done”:

  • silva

    Ambassador Wickremasuriya(and any other ambassador) needs to learn how to make transformations from Ambassador Jayatilleka:

    ”….Last year Jayatilleke confessed to Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker magazine that he received arms training from the EPDP leader – and a Cabinet Minister in the present government – Mr. Douglas Devananda. Jayatilleke spent a good part of his underground period as an exile in India with the help of the non-LTTE Tamil militant groups he was associated with and, during this time, he made friends in the Indian Intelligence Agency that was using these Tamil militant groups to keep the Sri Lankan government under their control. In 1987 he was indicted, in absentia, in the Colombo High Court as the first accused on 14 counts, including conspiracy to overthrow the State through violence. The then EPRLF leader Late Mr. Pathmanaba was also indicted with him.
    When Jayatilleke was living underground he must have seen a political future in the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) that was founded in 1984

    Under the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 Jayatilleke received an amnesty and, when his allies in the EPRLF was installed by the Indians as the governors of the then newly-created North-East Provincial Council (NEPC) in late 1988 to give more political autonomy for the Tamils, Jayatilleke was nominated as one of the 5 Cabinet Minsters of the Council to represent the Singhalese, as a Central Committee Member of the SLMP. Thus he became the Minister of Planning in this regional government. Jayatilleke’s title as Cabinet Minister was very short lived. He had to resign this position 6 months after he assumed office, due to a conflict in policy with the rest of the Cabinet. ….”

  • revati chawla
  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Great article Roel!


  • From

    There is a steep rise in rape cases in Sri Lanka, Parliament was informed yesterday. Some 1450 rape cases have been reported this year as against 1,324 reported in 2010.

    Child Care and Women’s Affairs Deputy Minister M. L. A. M. Hizbullah in response to a question by UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera said there had been only 1,152 rape cases in 2006, while it had slightly reduced to 1,151 the following year. The number of rape cases has increased to 1,217 in 2008 but had slightly dropped to 1,201 in 2009. The number had increased to 1,324 in 2010 and to 1,450 last year.

    According to the figures tabled by the Deputy Minister, female child rape cases have been higher than the number of women’s rape cases. Therefore 1,169 cases out of the 1,450 in 2011 have been female child rape cases.

    Lowering of the standards of education, insecurity among children, popularity of mobile phones with internet facilities and the emergence of mentally imbalanced people due to usage of cocaine and alcohol have been the main reasons for the rise in rape cases.

    Action has been taken to provide compensation to the victims through court and arrest the suspects.