Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s new Ambassador to the United States of America, concurrently accredited to the United Mexican States (Mexico), Trinidad and Tobago, is an Asian diplomat, politician and administrator who has considerable expertise in international affairs and diplomacy, regional and national governance and human rights. He counts almost 40 years of public service as a diplomat, popular representative, member of legislative bodies, holder of provincial and national executive ministerial positions and as an international representative of the Sri Lankan State.
Soon after his graduation with an Honours degree in economics from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, he was coopted into the Sri Lanka Overseas Service, serving consecutively as First Secretary in the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra, Australia, and thereafter as Counsellor to the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. While serving in Geneva, he was tasked with representing the country at several international organizations including the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
Through his diplomatic engagement and in response to traumatic events in his homeland during the 1980s, he developed an interest in human rights and the issues and difficulties faced by diverse segments of the Sri Lankan people. Having evinced an abiding interest in the subject area he was invited to focus on resolving the myriad problems of plantation communities in the District of Kalutara, south of Colombo, in the Western Province of the island. The transition into representational politics was to take place when he won the most votes in Provincial elections in 1988 and was elected to the newly formed Council of the Western Province. He was also appointed to executive office and commenced establishing provincial institutions through sponsoring a series of pioneering legislative instruments which became templates for other regional assemblies in the ensuing years.
Having served as a provincial legislator and Minister for 6 years, Mahinda Samarasinghe took the next step by seeking national public office in 1994, becoming a Member of the national Parliament representing Kalutara District. He remained a national legislator for 27 consecutive years being elected in several successive elections until his last electoral win in 2020. He only resigned his position to take up the current Ambassadorial position in Washington DC.
As a member of the national executive, Mahinda Samarasinghe counts 19 years of experience as the Minister of State for Public Administration and Home Affairs (2019 – 20), Minister of Ports and Shipping (2017 – 2019), Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training (2015 – 2017), Minister of State for Finance (2015), Minister of Plantation Industries & the Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights (2010-2015), Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights (2006 - 2010) and Minister of Employment and Labour (2001-2004) – a wide array of portfolios and responsibilities. This experience equips him to deal with a range of issues that a Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington will inevitably encounter and deal with.
His manifold expertise and experience led him back to Geneva where he served as a member of, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and later was elected as the President of, its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians. As Minister, he represented Sri Lanka at, and facilitated engagement with, that Committee. During this period he also served as Minister for Human Rights and special envoy of the President on Human Rights guiding exchanges with successive High Commissioners for Human Rights, experts and representatives of the UN human rights system including participation at the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York. He also spearheaded law reform initiatives by several governments to devise new constitutional standards for the promotion and protection of human rights. He also introduced and oversaw a comprehensive audit of the domestic human rights situation which led to two successive, and successful, Universal Periodic Reviews before the UN Human Rights Council as well as the first ever National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP). During the period 2006 to 2014, he led many Sri Lankan delegations to the Council sessions in Geneva.
In addition to his efforts at human rights promotion and protection, Ambassador Samarasinghe, also gave leadership to several humanitarian initiatives during the 2006 to 2009 final phase of the internal armed conflict to defeat terrorism. He chaired the one-of-a-kind Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) which brought together international partners including the UN family, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States, Japan and the European Union, key government agencies (military and civilian), international and national civil society groups and non-governmental organizations in a collective and cohesive effort to minimize the impact of the conflict on civilians in and outside the theatre of conflict. He also coordinated the relief efforts of the government relating to the internally displaced and supported the efforts towards reconciliation through the NHRAP in conjunction with the overall government programme. Throughout this period, he maintained a dialogue with international interlocutors to explain and elucidate Sri Lanka’s efforts in all relevant fields of endeavour.
Always a pragmatic leader and an avowed multilateralist, Mahinda Samarasinghe remains committed to Sri Lanka and her people’s future. Notwithstanding internal ethnic, linguistic or religious differences, he still envisions all people sharing a common “Sri Lankan” identity which celebrates their rich diversity as one, united polity living in harmony.