U.S. Under Secretary Concludes Historic Sri Lanka Visit: Emphasizes Freedom Of Expression For Transparent Governance

Shakila Ifham

February 21, 2024


Liz Allen, the first U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy to visit Sri Lanka, concluded a historic three-day trip to Colombo (February 17-19), during which she interacted with young leaders, entrepreneurs, content creators, civil society, and journalists to reaffirm U.S. support for Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and long-term prosperity. In a meeting with Foreign Secretary Aruni Wijewardena, Under Secretary Allen and U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed the robust partnership between the United States and Sri Lanka; underscored the link between a vibrant information space and sustained economic growth; and acknowledged Sri Lanka’s opportunity to chart a pathway to become a regional model of inclusive governance.   

During a gathering organized by the Sri Lanka Press Institute in Colombo focused on the indispensable role of media in democratic societies, attendees including journalists, civil society, and diplomatic representatives heard from Under Secretary Allen, who remarked: “For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship.  This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press.  This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance.” 

During a Creator X workshop at IdeaHell studio, supported by the U.S. Embassy, the Under Secretary engaged with participants of Digital Turtles’ creator empowerment program, stating: “Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any democracy, and gatherings like today’s are a testament to its enduring value.  Bringing together creators from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds for the first time underscores the importance of safeguarding this freedom.  Your work is critical in sculpting narratives that support and strengthen democratic values.  As content creators, you are framing the discourse that shapes democratic societies.” 

The Under Secretary immersed herself in Sri Lanka’s history and diversity, embarking on a learning journey through various religious communities in Colombo: from Gangaramaya Temple to St. Anthony’s Shrine to Shri Ponnambala Waneswarar Kovil, and Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque. Touring Colombo’s streets in a VEGA Innovations electric tuk-tuk, she witnessed innovative strides in sustainable transportation. The United States, partnering with VEGA and key private sector entities, remains committed through USAID to boost innovation and drive growth in Sri Lanka’s renewable energy sector.  

The Under Secretary spoke with the U.S. Embassy’s Youth Forum, stressing America’s commitment to investing in future generations stems from recognizing the vital role youth play in shaping a thriving, interconnected Sri Lanka. She emphasized that the U.S. Embassy’s annual Youth Leadership Summit to take place in Colombo from March 4- 7, 2024 serves as a regional model, uniting young leaders from Sri Lanka and neighboring nations to strengthen ties against the backdrop of pressing issues across the Indo-Pacific, such as climate change, in order to foster conversations and build skills that spark innovation and drive positive change.