Lankan Diaspora have a dynamic role to play: Prof. Peiris at Asia Security Summit

Lankan Diaspora have a dynamic role to play: Prof. Peiris at Asia Security Summit

June 7, 2010   01:54 am


The emphasis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not on retribution, not on punishment, or the imposition of sanctions. But, rather, on restorative justice, enabling people to pick up the pieces, to get on with their lives. The State is firmly resolved to put at their disposal all the resources that would facilitate this difficult task, Prof. G.L.peiris told the 9th IISS Asia Security Summit on Sunday.



Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs Professor G.L. Peiris’ speech ‘Counter-Insurgency and Strengthening Governance’, at the 9th IISS Asia Security Summit, ‘The Shangri-La Dialogue’ Fifth Plenary Session held in Singapore on Sunday 06 June, 2010.



Provisional Transcript:



“I consider it a privilege to be asked to share some thoughts with you this morning on the themes of counter-insurgency and good governance. I propose to broach the subject from the perspectives of my own country, but I would like to dwell on some of the aspects of these themes which have a far more than national significance. I think Sri Lanka can justifiably be looked upon as a microcosm of the challenges and the opportunities that exist in this very complex field.



“The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said that when ‘hearts beat together’, he was quoting a poem he liked, ‘then even clay can be turned into gold’. I think the challenge confronting Sri Lanka is how exactly to achieve this in an excruciatingly painful situation, when the island is emerging from two decades of conflict, and attempting to find its feet, and to focus on accelerated economic and social development.



“Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, used to ask in his public speeches several decades ago why could not Singaporedevelop like Ceylon? That same thought is reflected in several pages of his autobiography, ‘The Singapore Story: From Third World to First.’ Because when we received independence from the British in 1948, we were looked upon as an example for economic development throughout the Commonwealth. At that time, our per capita income was way ahead of that of all countries of this region, including Korea,Thailand, Malaya, and we were just a few dollars behind Japan.



“During the last 20 years, the one inhibiting factor with regard to our progress was the phenomenon of terrorism, violence.



“Happily, as the Chairman pointed out, that is behind us, and we have the opportunity, which we did not have for two long decades, to drive the maximum benefit for the country’s inherent strengths, in particular, the uniquely high calibre of Sri Lanka’s human resources. The question is how exactly do we achieve this in the post-conflict scenario? It seems to us that the sequence is important. We have to determine our priorities: where do we begin and what are the matters that we have to address subsequently? In our minds, there is no doubt that the point of departure is a humanitarian concern for people who have been displaced by two decades of conflict. There is a need to resettle them in their natural habitat. The government of Sri Lanka is proud of its achievement in having, within the short space of a year and a half, resettled 80% of 297,000 people who were displaced by the conflict.



“But, it is important for us to ensure that this process does not consist exclusively of physical relocation: we must ensure that the people who are resettled have access to adequate incomes. Consequently, there is a sharp focus on the restoration of livelihoods, the revival of the economy of those parts of the country which have been ravaged by the war. Today, we are working closely with the private sector to open factories, schools, hospitals. All of that is part of an economic renaissance which the country is seeing at this moment.



“It is therefore, and it has to be a multifaceted response. Apart from the focus on resuscitation of the economy, we also have to think of reviving the political process; the holding of elections, which could not happen at the local government level for a decade and a half, because of the turbulence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country. In the Eastern Province, we have completed the holding of elections, and in the North, the process is well underway. This is of particular significance because it is necessary at this stage to give the minorities the opportunity of choosing their representatives freely, without duress or coercion, and it is the duty of the government to provide this space for the spontaneous emergence of a legitimate, democratic Tamil leadership to replace the large numbers of Tamil leaders who were destroyed by the LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). That is the matter of principal concern to us.



“Then, to return to the wise words quoted by the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, if hearts are to beat as one, if clay is to be transformed into gold, then we have to put in place structures and mechanism that will enable people to leave behind them the pain and the anguish of the past and to confront the future with courage and fortitude.



“How do we do this? We have set up a Reconciliation Commission, drawing upon the experience of South Africa in particular, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with which the name of Desmond Tutu is indelibly associated. The emphasis is not on retribution, not on punishment, or the imposition of sanctions. But, rather, on restorative justice, enabling people to pick up the pieces, to get on with their lives. The State is firmly resolved to put at their disposal all the resources that would facilitate this difficult task.



Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice, the United States Representative to the UN, has spelt out some of the requirements that need to be fulfilled if this exercise is to be successful. As I told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at my meeting with her in Washingtonlast week, ‘The Government of Sri Lanka has put in place a home grown, home spun mechanism.  We are not trying to reinvent the wheel; we can benefit from the experience of others, but at the end of the day we must have the resilience and the creativity to adapt successful experiences elsewhere to suit the circumstances of our own situation’. Hillary Clinton told me that she welcome that, she finds it refreshing. In her own words she said that, ‘This experiment holds promise’, and the Government of the US, in company with many of our friends, wish us well in this endeavour, as we move forward towards reconciliation, bringing people together, accentuating, not the things that divide them, but the whole reservoir of values which all the people of Sri Lanka share.



That is one of the exciting things happening in the post-conflict scenario in my country.  It is called the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission. This is buttressed by a vigorous initiative directed towards constitutional reform in my country. The Government of Sri Lanka has no illusions that a military victory per se is going to provide us with a durable and lasting solution. Problems that emanate from the hearts and minds of people require political responses, and tomorrow the President of Sri Lanka and I will be meeting representatives of Tamil political parties, to ascertain their own views with regard to constitutional reform. They must make a vigorous input into the processes of political reform.



Many governments in Sri Lanka during the last 15 years have endeavoured to put in place a viable political solution, but regrettably none of these efforts succeeded because of the lack of a sufficient consensus in the country in support of the implementation of the proposals that were made. We do not wish to add yet another leaf to the thicket; it is our effort this time to have as broad a spectrum of consultation as possible, in order to achieve a consensus that would enable the proposals that are ultimately made to be implemented on the ground.



I should tell you a word about the role that we envision for the Diaspora; that is a very critical factor. Our message to the Diaspora in the Western World and elsewhere is that they have a dynamic role to play; we do not want them to distance themselves from the exciting developments which are taking place in Sri Lankatoday. On the contrary, we are telling them to choose for themselves a constructive mode of engagement, not to associate yourselves, not to financially support destructive activities, to annihilate the people of Sri Lanka, but take part in the plans that are now afoot, to build infrastructure in the North and the East, irrigation systems, highways. We are adding 2,000 megawatts of power to the national grid in order to support factories that will come up in the rural hinterland ofSri Lanka, and we believe, Mr. Chairman, that there is an intimate correlation between a certain threshold of economic wellbeing and contentment, on the one hand, and political innovation on the other.  Bold political initiatives cannot be successfully implemented in an economic environment pervaded by poverty, disenchantment and depravation.



“The country went through a very difficult phase, which is now, happily, over, and exactly a month ago we went to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, voluntarily, without any pressure being exerted on us by any external actor, to tell the Parliament that we no longer need the elaborate security apparatus, which was put in place almost five years ago when the late Foreign Minister, the Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar, was assassinated. We have now expunged from the statute books of Sri Lanka more than 70% of the emergency regulations, under which the country was governed for the last five years.



That is where we are. We are in one of those phases in the history of our country to which the words of Shakespeare play; there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken in the flood leads on to fortune. Many things are in reach, and the destiny of our country will depend upon the wisdom, the quality of the decisions that we make at this time. The Government of Sri Lanka is confident that we have the support and the goodwill of the international community as we address these complex tasks.



I thank you Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, for the opportunity that you have given me to express these brief thoughts to you on the evolving scenario in my country.

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