He said he relishes his role as a booster for the developing country.
“After being there only days after the end of their civil war and then again two years later, I see my role as someone who can talk about the very real progress Sri Lanka has made and how it impacts the United States,” he said. “I want to give the real story about what’s actually happening in Sri Lanka today.”
The desire to help has earned him accolades overseas. Shuler “has a degree of expertise” about the country, Kingston said. “If you’re a Member of Congress and you develop an expertise on any country, then that country does love you because countries, particularly a smaller country like Sri Lanka, look up to America.”
Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States Jaliya Wickramasuriya said Shuler’s visits have helped him see the progress the country has made.
“Rep. Shuler has sought out both top government officials, opposition members of parliament and ordinary Sri Lankans, allowing him to get a strong sense of Sri Lanka’s democratic, economic and civil progress,” he said in a statement. “Rep. Shuler’s visits to Sri Lanka, I feel, have given him a first-hand look at the destructive forces of terrorism, the progress we have made, and the challenges we face in redeveloping conflict-affected areas and the reconciliation of our communities after years of strife and a broader knowledge of vital trade and security issues in South Asia.”
But that’s not to say his involvement with the country has pleased everyone, especially when he said in 2009 that Sri Lanka was the only democracy that has defeated terrorism.
Amnesty International spokesman Adotei Akwei said the human rights community is concerned about potential abuse of Sri Lankan citizens that occurred toward the end of the conflict and would like to see an international inquiry into the situation.
“The danger here is that a Member of Congress may inadvertently or unknowingly be supporting a totalitarian or very abusive country,” Akwei said. “We will continue to engage with Mr. Shuler’s office to show him our evidence to indicate there really is something there that needs to be investigated.”
Other Members are now bringing the message to the Capitol.
On Nov. 2, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), the co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Americans, will show a documentary to their colleagues giving the other side of the story.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.