Address to the United Nations General Assembly (Rajapaksa, 2006-09-20)
On behalf of the Government and people of Sri Lanka I congratulate you, Madam President, on your assumption of the high office of the presidency of the General Assembly at its sixty-first session. I am happy to note that a lady from a sister Asian country will guide us through the current session. As Sri Lanka was the first country in the modern world to elect a woman as Head of Government—Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike—your assumption of this high office is of special significance to us. To Mr. Jan Eliasson I convey our gratitude for the leadership he provided during the work of the sixtieth session.
In 1970, when I was first elected to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, a paragraph in the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations gave substance and direction to my future political life. It was “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”. Having been a human rights campaigner at the grassroots level throughout my political life, I found it natural that my new Government should be committed to carrying the message of democracy to all corners of our multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country. “Democracy, equity and prosperity” is our clarion call.
In addition, my country has been influenced by the core Buddhist values of non-violence, loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and mindfulness. With this sense of direction, our Government has committed itself “Towards a new Sri Lanka”, guided by a vision of peace, where every Sri Lankan citizen may live with dignity and self-respect, in freedom and without fear, free of want, and where every child may enjoy childhood and grow up with hope and expectation.
However, Sri Lanka’s dream is threatened by a terrible affliction that impedes development, undermines democracy and challenges fundamental freedoms. I refer to the bane of terrorism which confronts my country and many other countries of the world. I reaffirm my Government’s firm commitment to supporting all global efforts to combat terrorism whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head. Terrorism has become closely intertwined with organized crime. It is now directly linked with people smuggling, the trade in illicit drugs, the illegal trade in small arms and money-laundering. Terrorism is a major impediment to development and poses a terrible challenge to civilized society. We support all measures undertaken in the United Nations to meet this challenge. We have ratified all United Nations conventions in this regard.
In our capacity as Chair of the ad hoc committee on measures to eliminate international terrorism we shall spare no effort to realize the international legal framework to facilitate our common struggle against terrorism. It is our fervent hope that the comprehensive convention on international terrorism will soon become a reality.
The illicit trade in and trafficking of small arms and light weapons has contributed to the escalation of many local conflicts because of the easy availability of arms for non-State actors. Sri Lanka is concerned that, despite the commitment of the international community to wipe out this menace, the impact at ground level throughout the world is limited. We hope that the United Nations Plan of Action on this matter will be fully implemented and its scope further expanded in the future.
With regard to terrorism, I speak from personal experience in my own country. Exploiting minority concerns, which we are addressing politically, a ruthless terrorist outfit in Sri Lanka, the LTTE, has been terrorizing our people for over two decades. In an age when the world seeks dialogue and peace, the LTTE devotes its full force to violence, suicide bombings, massacre of civilians, indiscriminate armed assaults and the conscription of young children for war. Assurances given to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on the conscription of children for armed combat have been blatantly violated.
At the presidential election in November last year people in certain parts of Sri Lanka were cruelly deprived of their freedom to vote. Furthermore, in an act of ethnic cleansing more than 60,000 Muslims were forcibly expelled from their homes in the north. Our Government believes that some of the concerns of minorities in my country have deep roots. In this connection I recall the following words in the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.
Soon after my election, despite the violence unleashed by the terrorists, I expressed the conviction that we needed to address the causes of the conflict from a fresh perspective and with a new approach to develop a sustainable solution. We examined this issue with an open mind, and looked at every option with a view to evolving a national consensus to achieve an honourable peace in an undivided country. A consultative process is currently under way to prepare constitutional proposals to address the concerns of the minorities. I have invited the LTTE to participate in the process of seeking a solution to the conflict through dialogue.
As one of the oldest democracies in Asia, we are firmly convinced that the restoration of democracy, the creation of space for dissent, and the promotion of human rights in the conflict-affected areas are essential elements of a successful and sustainable process of peace. I hope that the international community will continue to extend to us its fullest support towards the transformation of the LTTE into a democratic civilian organization.
Our Government firmly believes that terrorism cannot be eliminated through military means alone. We remain fully committed to talking with the LTTE, either directly or through a facilitator. It is our hope that the LTTE will transform itself from a terrorist outfit into one that is committed to dialogue and democracy. Our Government stands ready to respond to any display of good will and a move towards a nonviolent approach.
We continue to take unilateral humanitarian measures, which extend even to terrorist cadres. As a responsible Government we will continue to provide unhindered access to conflict-affected areas to the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations agencies and other recognized humanitarian agencies.
More than 53,000 Muslims were evicted from their homes by the terrorists following the recent violence. They are the innocent victims of the LTTE’s ruthless policies. Following Government countermeasures, almost all have now returned to their homes. The Government has assumed responsibility to provide medical supplies, food and other essential items to the internally displaced persons living in the affected areas.
I am pleased to state that, despite the conflict in our country, the economy of Sri Lanka continues to grow at a commendable rate. In the first quarter of this year we recorded growth of 8.1 per cent — the highest in 28 years. With our determination to further enhance growth with equity, we have adopted an economic strategy that will provide opportunities for all citizens, while giving adequate space to the private sector as the engine of growth.
We continue to maintain the highest rating in South Asia on the Human Development Index. We have already achieved some of the Millennium Development Goal targets in primary school enrolment, gender equality and maternal and infant mortality rates. We hope that the increased economic opportunities in the country will further encourage the LTTE to opt for a negotiated peace.
We follow a pro-poor development strategy, with a focus on regionally balanced growth. Our objective is to achieve overall development while raising the income levels of the poor through the empowerment of communities living at the grass-roots level. In this connection, Sri Lanka hopes that debt forgiveness will continue to be expanded to encourage the development of developing countries. It is only right that those who reach the heights of development should pause to lend a helping hand to those who have fallen behind due to circumstances.
I wish to acknowledge the role of President Clinton, the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, and the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, for their assistance with tsunami-related support. I also acknowledge the support given by many other countries. I am pleased to state that, despite being a developing country, we are now well on the way to recovery from this massive disaster, in many instances as a result of the efforts of our own people. We urge our development partners to stay involved with us in this long-term effort.
We in Sri Lanka see the United Nations as indispensable in creating a just and secure world order. We, the 192 Members of the United Nations, must continue to have faith in our collective capacity to reform the United Nations so that it is made more effective and more relevant to the needs of its Members in facing the challenges of the twenty-first century.
We are pleased with several important measures that have been adopted since the sixtieth session. Given my personal commitment to the promotion of human rights at both the local and international level, the establishment of the Human Rights Council, with enhanced status and capacity to promote and protect human rights worldwide, is a cause for delight. I am happy that Sri Lanka was elected to the Council last May. In honouring a pledge made during the presidential election last year, we have already started work on crafting a human rights charter in Sri Lanka. Consistent with our goal of safeguarding human rights, my Government will establish an international panel to observe investigations into certain alleged human rights violations that my Government has already condemned.
The establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission is another important landmark achievement of the United Nations this year. We are pleased that Sri Lanka has been elected to its organizing Committee as a founder member of that important body. The needs and concerns of those affected, the specific theatres of conflict, and the realities on the ground of each specific situation must necessarily be taken into account in the Commission’s work.
We are also encouraged by the general agreement that the Security Council must be strengthened, as it does not reflect current geopolitical realities. We therefore look forward to the continuation of work towards Security Council reform, towards making its composition more representative and its decisionmaking more democratic. It is essential that the Security Council reflect the current geopolitical realities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
For long years now, on the basis of our commitment to human rights and dignity, we have had a lasting interest in seeing the emergence of peace in the Middle East. Recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people is of concern to me and to my country. Many Sri Lankans have in recent years made the Middle East their temporary home. We are pained by the recent escalation of violence in that region and the devastation in Lebanon. It is our sincere hope that Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) will pave the way for peace and security for Lebanon and the region.
The Preamble to the Charter requires that we “unite our strength to maintain international peace and security”. Let us all, Members of the United Nations, focus sharply on this commitment. Let us dedicate ourselves to its realization and let us mobilize our collective energies towards the achievement of peace and security worldwide.
Let us make peace the goal of the present decade. Let us all unite for peace. May all living beings be free of suffering, be healthy and be prosperous. May the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem be with you all.