Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has recently been the target of much criticism and one can cite a litany of scandals and questionable departures from professionalism and our traditional Non-aligned stance.
These are now overshadowed by the glaring lack of principle and consistency recently seen in the First Committee of the current UN General Assembly sessions where Disarmament and Security issues are discussed and voted upon.
One hundred and fifty five governments, led by New Zealand, presented a joint statement at the United Nations First Committee on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. In 2013, in First Committee, a similar statement obtained the signatures of 125 governments. Sri Lanka had refused to sign these statements both last year and this year.
Opposition to weapons of mass destruction in general, and nuclear weapons in particular, has been a well-known stance in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. Previous Governments signed and ratified the Treaty for the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); the Outer Space Treaty banning the placement of nuclear weapons in outer space, and the Seabed Treaty banning the placement of nuclear weapons on the seabed and ocean floor.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has been signed, but the present Government is inexplicably holding off on its ratification, which fortunately does not affect the entry into force of the Treaty. Sri Lanka has held prominent positions in Disarmament Conferences and is a member of the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.
As a founder member of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), Sri Lanka has supported the call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Indeed it was at the 1976 Fifth NAM Summit in Colombo that the historic First UN Special Session Devoted to Disarmament was mooted where the priority of nuclear disarmament was clearly established. Accordingly as recently as 2012 when the 16th NAM Summit was held in Tehran the 120 NAM nations agreed with para 151 of its Final Document: “The Heads of State or Government reaffirmed the Movement’s principled positions on nuclear disarmament, which remains its highest priority, and on the related issue of nuclear non-proliferation in all its aspects. They stressed the importance that efforts aiming at nuclear non-proliferation should be parallel to simultaneous efforts aiming at nuclear disarmament. They stressed their concern at the threat to humanity posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use.”
The joint statement now issued at the UN by the 155 countries led by New Zealand warns humankind yet again that, “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances. The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed.”
The call to action tellingly concludes on the responsibility that lies on us as citizens:
“By raising awareness about this issue, civil society has a crucial role to play side-by-side with governments as we fulfil our responsibilities. We owe it to future generations to work together to do just that, and in doing so to rid our world of the threat posed by nuclear weapons.”
Will Sri Lanka return to decency and NAM principles?
(The Friday Forum is an informal group of concerned citizens pledged to uphold norms of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society.)