The fear that granting certain liberties would come at the expense of security is a concern that is reasonable and understandable and one that not only prevails in Sri Lanka but also in the US, Permanent Representative of the US to the UN, Ambassador Samantha Power said today.
Ambassador Power who is currently on a three-day official visit to Sri Lanka, made these remarks while speaking to a group of local university students and Sri Lankan youth at a discussion held at the JDA Galley last afternoon.
She said while change is unmistakably underway, voices that appeal to certain fears might still linger.
“The fear that is we dig too deep to a painful past, the pursuit of a bright future might be lost; the fear that certain liberties come at the expense of security are perfectly understandable and reasonable,” she said.
Ambassador Power noted that Sri Lanka is not the only country susceptible to such fears and that similar destructive invocations have materialised even in the US following the recent terror attack in Paris.
She pointed to the calls that are being made in the US to turn away refugees who have suffered bombings, disappearances and religious persecution, to apply a religious test for refugees and to have entire populations under surveillance simply based on their religious backgrounds and described them as ‘outrageous . . . offensive acts that smear the legacy of the US – the proud tradition of taking in people who have undergone immense suffering’.
“Such fears may not be easily unlearned but we cannot allow ourselves to be governed by them. That is how we would be able to prevent the repetition of the cycle of mistrust and strife . . .,” she added.
Citing UN diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello, Ambassador Power said ‘fear is a bad advisor’ and highlighted the importance of not allowing fears to govern our thoughts and actions.
In her speech, she called on the leaders, communities and individuals to make a conscious decision to not be governed or compromised by such fears. Getting to know such persons who have been marginalised or misunderstood, she said would help people realise that they are not different and create the necessary basic empathy, which would be the thread that would tie the communities together.
Furthermore, Ambassador Power commented on the ongoing debate on Sri Lanka and the creation of a climate of inclusiveness. She said while the Sri Lankan government has a crucial role to play in making the society more inclusive, the real inclusiveness should come from among the common people.
“A simple act that would show that we understand them; that their kids are just like ours... When we get to know one another, we would be less likely to succumb to those fears. We would treat them as we ourselves would like to be treated and this golden rule is in every religion including Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam,” she added.
An ardent women’s rights activist, she also spoke on the importance of women’s participation in politics and positions of leadership.
She noted that having women in positions of leadership is not only intrinsically valuable but also critically important to the future of a country and pointed that studies have shown that increased female participation and leadership and politics has made states more stable and prosperous.
“Its baffling however that in Sri Lanka, a country that marked several milestones in the history of women’s political participation decades ago, had only 550 female contestants at the recent elections as opposed to 5600 males,” she said while appealing to women to take up more opportunities in politics and leadership as it would benefit their communities more.
Speaking further Ambassador Power said that she is impressed by the participation of civil society in the current brainstorming that is ongoing concerning the make-up of the accountability mechanism. She also commended the positive changes that have occurred in the country since January 2015.
“What is happening in Sri Lanka is inspiring. I can’t think of any other country in the world where there has been this much change in such a short period. . .People want to know what’s going on in Sri Lanka and we want to be by your side as you undertake what might on some days seem like a monumental challenge,” she added. (Lakna Paranamanna)