e are not simply basking in the glory of a military victory, that is certainly not the attitude of Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and of this country. On the contrary, we are reflecting deeply on the causes of the conflict, how it was that we were able to accomplish what is seen by the world as a miracle. Nobody believed that it would be possible for this country in the field of battle to vanquish the most relentless terrorist organization that flourished in the world. So all that is behind us, that is water under the bridge, although we are legitimately proud of that achievement. Today we are discussing the challenges to a rising nation, in other words we are focused on the future. We need perceptively to identify the challenges and then to explore pragmatic avenues for confronting and overcoming these challenges.
There are many challenges, but if you ask me to select one, the dominant challenge, without hesitation I would answer that the dominant challenge is the relentless pressure that is being exerted on this country by a segment of the international community, and it seems to us honestly a great pity, that when the country is picking itself up, leaving behind us the pain and the anguish of three decades of terror and we are progressing with regard to economic and social development.
In the manner that was explained so lucidly to us during this seminar by Dr. P. B Jayasundara, with all these exhilarating developments, it does seem a matter for profound regret that so much energy, that so much effort not to mention the pecuniary resources that are necessary to be expended every few months, every six months in warding off these challenges with which we are confronted.
At the very outset I want to dispel a particular fallacy. It is indeed a basic misconception; it is not the policy of the government of Sri Lanka to distance ourselves from the world community and to tell the world outside ‘leave us alone! We will manage our affairs’. That is very far from being the approach that we are adopting to the emotive and contentious issues that represent the substance of this very timely seminar.
By encouraging the proponents of these resolutions to exert more and more pressure on Sri Lanka and to extort from Sri Lanka whatever they desire, the way forward, the means of doing it is the ratcheting up of pressure at the international level. This is today a deep conviction on the part of the people concerned
The best example of this is the stand which Sri Lanka has taken on the Resolution that was adopted by the Human Rights Council in March this year. What we have stated categorically, in terms which cannot possibly be misinterpreted or mistaken, is that we draw a clear distinction, between operative para 2 and operative para 10. Operative para 2 calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to strengthen in every manner possible the local mechanisms that President Rajapaksa has set up to deal with these issues. We have absolutely no problem or reservation with regard to the content of operative para 2. And it is precisely for that reason that H.E the President as recently as the 15th of August took the step of engrafting some of the world’s leading specialists in international law to assist the local commission which we appointed last year, headed by a competent former High Court Judge. So it was the view of the government that there must be transparency and visibility and that is the rationale for taking this step of appointing to an advisory council to the local body persons of impeccable stature, unassailable credentials to give freely of their expertise and thus to fortify and to further invigorate a local mechanism which has already been set up. That is the gist of our approach to operative para 2.
Operative para 10 is a very different matter, because it is operative para 10 which mandates an international investigation. That is absolutely repugnant to us, and there are no circumstances in which this country will be subjected to an international investigation. I might mention that two large countries, India and Indonesia, while abstaining on the Resolution, voted against operative para 10. Operative para 10 is basically unacceptable. I will tell you why, I will try in this presentation to be as candid as possible and as appropriate. This is no objective investigation at all; it would therefore be a dereliction of public trust on the part of the elected government of this country to acquiesce in what purports to be, but indeed is not, a proper international investigation. I will give you some very compelling reasons for that. We are well aware that anyone who is an adjudicator of facts, anyone whose duty it is to bring his mind to bear upon a set of facts and to come to a considered dispassionate conclusion, is expected to behave in a particular manner. I would also like to address candidly to you some remarks on a matter which is of interest not only to Sri Lanka but to many other countries in this region and beyond. Today we have a situation where evidence is being compiled for transmission to Geneva in a clandestine manner, people are being brought, their evidence is being recorded, there is talk of financial inducement, the people coming are not even aware what they are coming for, all of this is happening against the backdrop of some other developments which are profoundly distressing.
The foreign minister of another Asian country told me quite recently, what you are seeing in Sri Lanka is not peculiar to your own country, we find that on the eve of major elections there are very large sums of money, that come into our country from overseas. These fill the coffers of Non-Governmental Organizations, and when they are asked what this money is intended for, the answer is this money is going to be used for capacity building. Nebulous phrases which have no real meaning. And this money can be used for any purpose whatsoever, and the practical reality of the matter is that it is in fact used for direct intervention in the domestic politics of the country concerned. The Foreign Minister concerned told me ‘We have this very serious problem, and if you are addressing the problem please share your thoughts with us.
Because we would like to work together in concert to deal with a phenomenon which we regard as inimical to the substance of democracy, because the fate of this country, its future must lie in no other hands than those of the sovereign electorate of this country, some other countries in this region have a detailed regulatory framework, there is a compulsory duty of disclosure, what is the source of the funds? What is the quantum? What is the purpose for which the funds are intended? There must be proper audit procedures. In the case of some of these organizations, there has been no audit procedure for more than a decade. In Sri Lanka regrettably the regulatory framework is very weak, I would say almost non-existent, in sharp contrast with the detailed legal provisions which are operative in some other jurisdictions of South Asia.
It is the deep conviction of the government of Sri Lanka that there cannot be any meaningful reconciliation without economic development. If all that you are sharing is human misery, disenchantment and bitterness, there cannot be reconciliation. But we certainly do not believe that economic development is the only component of reconciliation, it is a necessary condition but it is not a sufficient condition. On the subject of reconciliation which is certainly one of the challenges that the rising nation of Sri Lanka is confronting today, I want to say this, that nobody has a monopoly of wisdom with regard to reconciliation. To pretend otherwise is nothing short of unabashed and unacceptable arrogance. A foreign minister in a country of the Gulf region told me ‘we are heirs to very proud civilizations, and those civilizations are second to nobody.’ This was said to me by a foreign minister representing a Muslim country.
We are proud of our culture. It has distinctive features which we need not only to preserve but to build upon, amidst the turbulent conditions of the contemporary world.
In the Buddha Dhamma there is inspiring material with regard to reconciliation, the Dhammapadha in particular.
And the last sermon which Gautama the Buddha delivered before his demise, the Maha Parinibbana Suthra, this seminal idea contained, in the Buddhist scriptures with regard to reconciliation, is that when something painful happens in the life of an individual, in the life of a family, in the life of a society we need to handle it with finesse and sensitivity, and the fundamental objective is to ensure that you confine these painful experiences to the past and you do not permit them to spill over into the present and the future.
On the subject of external intervention on the purported ground of reconciliation, I want to tell you this: as the country’s external affairs minister, it is obviously not appropriate for me to refer to particular instances, but I just want to make this general observation.
If you look at what is happening in the world around us, this much can be stated without fear of contradiction, because indeed it is self-evident: external intervention can bring about a change of regime, an overthrow of an established government. But external intervention cannot handle the fallout from that change. The loss of human life, the devastation of the economy, the total chaos that is set in motion, is beyond the capability of any power, however exalted, to deal with adequately. You can change the situation, you can get rid of leaders, you can even assassinate them as has been the fate of several. But what happens next? If you look at the consequences which have been triggered by external intervention, we need to ask ourselves in all earnest the question whether there is reason for satisfaction with the consequences that have emanated from that kind of intervention. Has there been stability, prosperity and wellbeing? On the contrary, has there been devastation, anarchy, and the disintegration of societies which have been founded upon certain practices and traditions and principles? After all, every country has a social fabric, a social structure. If you annihilate it then the consequences we are seeing, the very distressing consequences we are seeing in many parts of the world, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, are not surprising.
If you agree with that, and I believe it is very difficult to disagree with that proposition because it is there for us to see before our very eyes, although in some international bodies, those developments seem to be attracting less attention than Sri Lanka, and that is what my friend referred to, “Are we living in this world or some other world?” Now, the reality that emerges from all of this is that reconciliation, if it is to be sustainable, if it is to serve this nation in any pragmatic sense must emanate from the culture, and the cherished beliefs and traditions which have grown up and which have been consolidated on our own soil. That is not by any means an isolationist approach. It is not that we need to shut our eyes to other experiences. By all means look at other experiences which are productive, learn from them. But always we have to adapt them, to the permutation and combination of circumstances which are characteristic of our own country. Mr. Rajapaksa is certainly to be congratulated not only on starting good things but being able to maintain them. Many good things are started with lots of benign intentions but they fall by the wayside, but this Defence Seminar is being held for the fourth year and that is an achievement, not to mention the 54 countries that are participating in it.
If you ask me what is the real damage that these people are doing to this country? These good Samaritans who say it is their love for this country, nothing else. It is altruistic. It is that that drives them and motivates them to bring resolution after resolution against this country, for three consecutive years.
What is the real harm that they are inflicting on this nation? My answer is the following: the real harm is this, that wittingly or unwittingly they are denigrating the only process which has the potential and capability to deliver a result on the ground. If reconciliation is to be achieved, it must be the result of a local process, a domestic, a homegrown, process.
There is indeed such a process in this country. But because of this pressure and because of the perception and indeed the reality that some of the world’s powerful countries are backing these resolutions against Sri Lanka, the people who must participate in the local process to make it meaningful and productive are telling themselves “Why must we settle for this? We can get everything.”
By encouraging the proponents of these resolutions to exert more and more pressure on Sri Lanka and to extort from Sri Lanka whatever they desire, the way forward, the means of doing it is the ratcheting up of pressure at the international level. This is today a deep conviction on the part of the people concerned. I can tell you that when this matter was being considered whether to hold the Provincial Council elections in the Northern Province, there were very influential members of the government who said to the President “Why are you doing this? Four of your predecessors did not do it. Those elections were not held for twenty-eight years.” So the advice was tendered to His Excellency the President, in all good faith, by some members of the government “why are you inviting for yourself a host of problems? It is in anticipation of those problems that you predecessors did not do it.” But President Rajapaksa, to his credit said “the time has come to do what is morally and ethically correct rather than what is politically expedient.” And there was a sequence to it. President Rajapaksa said, “I have started by dealing with the humanitarian concerns of 296,000 people who were displaced. I have subsequently turned my attention to the economic development of the Northern Province, the GDP of which is growing three times as rapidly as the GDP of the rest of the country.” He has addressed the humanitarian factors, then the economic factors, next comes logically and sequentially, political empowerment which cannot happen without the suffrage. So he said, “No, whatever the difficulties may be I am going to give the people of the North the franchise, the right to elect their provincial council.” And we knew very well, there is no harm in saying it frankly, the government knew very well that that election would not be won. Nevertheless, the President had the political courage to make a decision which four of his predecessors did not make. He held that election. So now the Provincial Council is in existence, and there is a Parliamentary Select Committee process. With regard to our response to the challenges with which Sri Lanka is today confronted, the thinking of President Rajapaksa and his government contains these salient characteristics: one is in order to move this country forward, and to provide satisfaction to our people over a sustained timeframe, it is not enough simply to measure economic development in terms of GDP, per capita incomes and so on, and this is something President Rajapaksa has consistently said. When we were planning the Commonwealth Summit, he told us repeatedly, “Choose as your theme something that has meaning to the vast mass of our people. Let it be something with which the people of our country can identify.” And that is why we chose as our overriding theme, ‘Economic Development with Social Equity.’ And many leaders of Asia, in informal discussions that I had with them, sometimes when I went to invite them, they particularly commented on the value of that theme. So what we are protecting in this country, last weekend I addressed a series of meetings in several districts, and I told our people, “You must protect what you have won. Don’t take things for granted. Don’t assume with a sense of complacency that all this is there before you to be enjoyed in perpetuity.
You must bestir yourselves. Protect the hard won victories.”
With regard to the security dimension, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has every reason to be proud of the fact that what we have achieved is not only for the 20.5million people in this country, but today this Island is rendering yeoman service in preserving the tranquility of the oceans, around us. We have a Joint Working Group with the government of Australia, and the government of Australia has publicly expressed warm appreciation of the role, in particular of the Sri Lanka Navy, in mitigating one of the most distressing human problems that the contemporary world has had to deal with. We are closely associating ourselves with the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Commission. All of this would not have been possible if terrorism was alive and kicking in this country. I say quite realistically that the landscape of the entire subcontinent would be different if terrorism was flourishing in this country. So this is not an achievement for the exclusive benefit of the people of Sri Lanka but it is an achievement which transcends the shores of this Island.
The effectiveness of President Rajapaksa’s government in confronting these challenges to the rising nation of Sri Lanka, is underpinned by one other consideration which seems to me to be very crucial. And that is a very healthy emphasis on cultural traditions. I have seen this myself. When the National Anthem is sung there really is a difference today. The way people react with a sense of pride, “This is ours. We associate ourselves with this.” Now that feeling was not there earlier. The spontaneous pride that people feel in belonging to this nation is today very much a factor in the contemporary political and social landscape of this Island. This country has a solid cultural foundation. Traditions that we have protected and nurtured and developed over the centuries. Traditions that have made us what we are. And these are the traditions that give us strength and the courage to confront the future with confidence.
Mr. Minister what is the purpose of having an election in the North when the Government is not allowing the elected representatives to function as per the 13th Amendment. The Government now talks about the Select Committee to do away with the 13th Amendment. Why don't you proceed like what your Select Committee did to impeach the CJ Shirani Bandaranayake.
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