ANOMA AKMEEMANA -POLITICALY ACTIVE SRI LANKAN IN THE US.
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
In present day International affairs Sri Lanka's inexhaustible national problem, which has been dragging for over two decades, with only a figment of the imagination towards a settlement, has made head lines the world over.
Within Sri Lanka itself, the general public has become benumbed with occurring and recurring bottlenecks and/or deadlocks over and over again, with no sign of a permanent settlement but only daily killings of Government Forces by the LTTE on a calculated ruse whilst the Government becoming resilient day after day hopelessly harbouring optimistic views. In certain critical quarters the government patience or action is seen as being purely schizophrenic!
Whilst the State media machinery in Sri Lanka tried over the years to deal with the adverse and false propaganda orchestrated by the LTTE against the State, the patriotic Sri Lankan expatriate communities scattered around the world have taken an overwhelming interest in their motherland, some as groups or organizations and others as individuals. Anoma Akmeemana, who is a resident in the USA, is one such individual who has been a dynamic force from New Jersey and New York area to enhance greater interaction between the USA and Sri Lanka.
I met Anoma recently in Colombo while she locked horns with the Sabaragamuwa University authorities when hundreds of stray dogs were about to be exterminated due to an alleged 'health risk of rabies'. Being a woman with a heart impregnated with celestial fire, she took up the challenges amidst ' unfamiliar' surroundings, strange attitudes and quite a different working method in Sri Lanka and successfully saved the lives of over two hundred dogs. With the assistance of Mrs. Iranganie de Silva, wife of Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Health, she successfully organized an anti-rabies injections and sterilizing campaign to save dogs.
Anoma Akmeemana who calls spade a spade and adopts a 'no-nonsense attitude' when it comes to injustice, is a woman of substance. She was educated at St. Bridget's Convent, Colombo, where her mother Amaseeli Senadhipathy de Silva was an admired teacher. Being a firm believer in her own convictions and determination to help her motherland, Anoma became a political activist in New Jersey and New York.
She went to USA in 1983 with her two children and her husband A. D. D. Akmeemana who joined the New York University's MBA programme. She immediately got involved in the Sri Lankan communities' activities and she organized the first 'Katina' at the New York temple with the help of Mrs. Manel Ganepola.
During 1983 communal riots some New York newspapers published distorted facts about the situation, and Anoma with the help of Mr. Arden Silva and Dr. Jiva Ganepola, tirelessly fought with the editors of those newspapers to educate them on the situation and correcting the reporting.
Anoma joined The League of Women Voters, which is a leading women's organization in the USA that promotes citizenship awareness, international friendship through political, educational and social activities. All leading American women in the past decades were active members of this organization who fought for women's rights including universal franchise. This was her first step towards a long and successful political activist career in the USA. It is on record that the League of Women Voters has played a major role in the formation of the United Nations. Anoma has been the vice president of this league and one of the three national representatives to the United Nations Committees on Commission on the 'The Status of Women and Disarmament Committee'.
From 1993 she has been reporting to The League of Women Voters' monthly magazine on statewide conferences, which she continues up to now. In 1994 at the United Nation's golden jubilee celebrations she invited Dr. Ranjith Atapattu to address the community of the Essex County
To the annual dinner of the League of Women Voters held in Livingston, New Jersey, in 1997 she invited Dr. Palitha Kohona who was the Head of the Treaty Office in the United Nations at that time' to address on "UN Enters the Twenty first century' as the guest speaker. The town, the county and the state democratic and republican lawmakers attended this meeting.
. In 1996 Anoma Akmeemana was unanimously voted for the County Committee (Essex) as District Representative where she helped the voters to upgrade their knowledge on political awareness during elections and also organized meetings with Assemblymen, Congressmen and Senators to meet citizens of the area during elections.
At the historic inauguration of the Democratic State Committee Asia Caucus by the state chairman Tom Bryne, Anoma Akmeemana represented Sri Lanka. Asia Caucus has members from all Asian countries that discuss matters pertaining to peoples and issues of their individual countries at the Democratic State Convention. During such conventions Anoma has been responsible in briefing the party governors, senators and the congressmen on issues pertaining to Sri Lanka.
She also was the secretary of the Sri Lanka Association of New York, USA for one period.
For her knowledge, experience and involvement in American politics, the Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Washington the late Dr. W. Rasaputram made a request to Anoma Akmeemana to form a Sri Lankan Caucus in the US congress, the idea of which was to strengthen the bond between Sri Lanka and the United States of America. Having studied the enthusiastic activities taking effect through the Indian caucus, Anoma Akmeemana invited congressman Frank Pallone Jr., to be the Chairman of the proposed Sri Lankan Caucus, and congressman Robert Menendez as the vice chairman. Menendez was the 3rd in rank in the Democratic Party hierarchy ladder at the time; since then Menendez has been elected to the status of Senator. In 1998 Pallone Jr. formed the Sri Lankan caucus to give Sri Lankans living in the United States a voice in the Congressional caucus. At the inaugural ceremony of the caucus the late Mr. Lakshman Kadiragarmar graced the occasion as Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister.
What is a Congressional Caucus? It is a voluntary group of legislators who share mutual interests. There are many different caucuses in the US Congress, ranging from well-known groups such as the Democratic Caucus, Republican Caucus, Human Rights Caucus, Back Caucus and Hispanic Caucus. Among other issues that need greater attention by a caucus are promoting those relating to human rights, environment, drug trafficking, and development of trade and investment and information technology.
Anoma Akmeemana soon became the force behind the newly formed Sri Lankan caucus in the United States Congress.
From time to time congressman Pallone, as chairman of the Sri Lankan caucus, issued statements focusing on specific subjects and areas pertaining to Sri Lankan affairs. The drafts of the statements were mainly prepared by Anoma with the assistance of the Ambassadors, late Dr. W. Rasaputram, Mr. D A Wijewardhana and Mr. Davinda Subasingethe.
In 1999 Pallone addressed the Congress focusing on Human Rights on behalf of Sri Lanka. On 25 May, 2000 Pallone made yet another important statement in the House of Representatives on " The need for a negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka. He pointed out how Sri Lankan government Forces had been battling a violent rebellion by Liberation of Tamil Elam, the LTTE, commonly known as " The Tigers", a separate organization that the United States had designated and banned as a 'Foreign Terrorist Organization'. The Tigers' campaign had gone for 17 years, he said, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives and their goal being the establishment of a Tamil Elam, a separate state in Sri Lanka, to divide this small island nation into two ethnic states - a Tamil state and a Sinhalese state. He further stated in his statement that, both Sinhalese and Tamils alike rejected the idea of dividing their nation into two ethnically-based - ethnically cleansed - homelands. " The LTTE by no means speaks for all of the Tamil people, and indeed, Mr. Speaker, there are Tamil political parties and organizations committed to working with the Government to achieve a higher degree of autonomy through peaceful means. Mr. Speaker, the position of the United States, and India, and of other Western nations, is that this conflict can only be resolved through negotiations, and that the solution should preserve the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The campaign by the LTTE to force the break up of Sri Lanka does not have the support of the international community, and it must never gain that legitimacy". He urged the Secretary of State to continue to make clear that this crisis could only be resolved through a political solution. 'The Tigers should join with the rest of the Tamil community to promote the interests of their community through the institutions of a united, sovereign and democratic Sri Lanka', Pallone emphasized. He has made more than ten statements on the floor of the congress so far.
One of the greatest achievements of the caucus was educating the congressmen, senators and the president relating to the critical issues of the country. Prior to this, legislators had no knowledge or scanty knowledge about Sri Lanka.
The Board of Investment (BOI) appointed Honorary Representatives in key economic target countries including USA, Germany and Italy to assist in its international promotion efforts. In January 1999, President Chandrika Kumaratunge appointed Anoma Akmeemana as Sri Lanka's Investment Promotional Consultant for the East Coast of the United States of America at the request of Dr. Rasaputram.
Anoma organized meetings with congressmen and senators to meet the former foreign minister Lakshman Kadiragamar on his several visits to US. She also organized meetings in New York and Washington for Professor G L Peris, then minister of Constitutional Affairs and Investment Promotions, to meet with congressmen, senators, potential investors and business community. Anoma also organized the meeting of the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickrmasinghe with senator Hilary Rodham Clinton in Washington.
The late Dr. Rasaputram, in his capacity as the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Washington, introduced Anoma Akmeemana to Dr. Bishnu Poudel, Chairman of the National Advisory Council in the USA. NACSA is a Think Tank, which is affiliated to the State Department incorporating five SAARC countries. It has a membership from all South Asian countries. South Asian Ambassadors are invited for a lunchen meeting. They meet in Washington annually to discuss relevant issues in their respective countries. This gives an opportunity for members of NACSA to hold meetings and round table conferences at the US State Department and brief US Secretary, Under Secretary and Regional Directors and Desk Officers of the respective countries of various issues.
Anoma Akmeemana was later appointed as the Vice Chairman of the NACSA. In her capacity as the Vice Chair she has briefed delegations and the State Department on current political situation in Sri Lanka in particular. She has also introduced Dr. Asoka Bandarage, Dr. Chanaka Seeneviratne, Dr. Sunil Wimlasansa, and Dr. Mahewari Laduahetti, who are all current members of the organization.
Serendibity Group is an organization of former American Ambassadors, Deputy Ambassadors and other Officials who were involved with political affairs and have lived in Sri Lanka for several years, or who have an interest in Sri Lankan affairs. In the past Serendipity Group has invited few Sri Lankans who share their interests in USA/Sri Lanka relations to join the organization. With the invitation of the president of this organization, Mr. Jim Leader Anoma became a member in 1998.
Anoma has from time to time briefed the Asian Steering Committee members of the Democratic Party at the Women's political caucus.
Congressman William Pascrell Jr. recognized her as a woman of distinction in the Essex county Democratic committee in 2002.
Following the December 26, 2004 Tsunami catastrophe, congressman Frank Pallone Jr. tabled a motion to provide for the establishment of national and global Tsunami warning systems and to provide assistance for the relief and rehabilitation of victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami and for the reconstruction of 12 Tsunami - affected countries. Anoma, who was at the time in Sri Lanka, met Congressman Pallone, Senator Corzine and their team when they arrived in Sri Lanka on January 11, 2005. They visited the Tsunami affected areas and Buddhist temples and churches where refugees were housed. Finally in the United States, Act No. 2005 under the Tsunami Early Warning and Relief - H.R 890 ( Pallone) S.452 (Corzine) was introduced on 17 February 2005; index referred to three House Committees, International Relations, Resources and Science. The total estimated cost of implementing a global tsunami warning system was $70 million and this legislation authorized continual annual funds for a global system.
While Anoma was in Sri Lanka she was contacted by five other congressman from USA and expressed their willingness to visit Sri Lanka. She was privileged to host an official dinner for the American visitors in Colombo. They met Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragarmar, Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Hon. Lakshman Jayakody, the late Harindra Corea and Pratharp Ramanujen, Secretary to the Minister of Tourism. These five congressmen who had two powerful congresswomen in their team saw the plight of pre and post natal women, babies and traumatic children affected by tsunami. Even now they have requested Anoma to meet the Minister of Health and find out how they could assist in helping these individuals.
Anoma will be leaving to US soon, with her other responsibilities she will continue with her work in helping Sri Lanka through her political connections in areas of political, social, economic and education. With a colourful background of political activities and strong connections in the Democratic Party who can say, we as Sri Lankans would be able to see the name Anoma Akmeemana heading news reports in the future!