The United States has announced that it will deny visas to a Sri Lankan provincial governor and his wife on human rights grounds. Wasantha Karannagoda, a former navy chief, has been accused of abducting teenage children of wealthy families and killing them after extorting money during Sri Lanka’s long civil war. Although charges were dropped in 2021, human rights groups have expressed their outrage at the decision. Karannagoda was subsequently appointed as governor of North Western Province by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who served as defence chief when Sri Lanka defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that the allegations against Karannagoda are serious and credible, as documented by NGOs and independent investigations. Therefore, neither he nor his wife, Srimathi Ashoka Karannagoda, will be allowed to visit the US. Blinken emphasized that the US remains committed to upholding human rights, ending impunity for human rights violators, acknowledging the suffering of victims and survivors, and promoting accountability for perpetrators in Sri Lanka.
The US decision comes as both the US and India express concern over China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka. China is the island’s biggest creditor, and its inroads into Sri Lanka have raised alarm bells in both countries. Sri Lanka defaulted on its external debt last year and saw angry protests that toppled Rajapaksa over economic mismanagement that led to acute food, fuel, and medicine shortages.
During the 26-year-long conflict, Tamil rebels fought for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. More than 100,000 people, including 40,000 civilians according to a United Nations panel, may have been killed during the conflict. Sri Lankan government officials deny any abuses.
The US decision to deny visas on human rights grounds is a significant move that underscores the importance of accountability for human rights violations. It sends a strong message to Sri Lanka and other countries that the US will not tolerate impunity for those who commit gross human rights violations. The decision also highlights the need for continued international pressure on Sri Lanka to address the legacy of its civil war and ensure justice for victims and survivors.