Says definition of independence has changed over 68 years
Insists mandate for reconciliation will be carried out with respect for territorial sovereignty
Pledges to restore honour of Sri Lankans and the military while promoting economic growth
Slams Opposition for peddling racist agendas and misleading public on UNHRC resolution
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Unity was the central theme of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Independence Day address yesterday, where he attempted to inspire confidence in the Government’s reconciliation measures ahead of the arrival of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner over the weekend.
Reaching out directly to citizens, President Sirisena recalled the historic ethnic issues left unaddressed, and at times made worse, by previous Governments and insisted if the problems had been tackled at the right time, Sri Lanka would not have to undergo the horror of a three-decade conflict.
“I believe that if we had taken the steps that should have been taken after May 2009, we would not have faced the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2015. The people of this country have given a mandate to the Government and to me on 8 January 2015 to resolve these issues and to build national reconciliation among Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay people of the country,” the President said.
The President also sought to set the record straight on the reconciliation measures to be taken by the Government in line with the UNHRC resolution, which has received much attention over the last few months.
“There are incorrect interpretations given about the resolution presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. I clearly state that we are facing these resolutions in order to protect the pride and dignity of our country, our people and our security forces, and also to make our tri-forces be an internationally renowned armed force.”
“We should face these resolutions with patience, discipline and decorum so that our country could be respectfully recognised by all international organisations including the UNO and all states in the world.”
He also appealed to the public to set aside racist and hard-line agendas set in motion by opportunist politicians and keep an open mind on what the Government was attempting to accomplish.
“I request all of you to set aside narrow political gains and to unite for the future of our country to fulfil our duties towards the nation.”
“Specially, I would like to mention to political rivals to commit themselves to fulfil their responsibilities in this regard, using their knowledge and wisdom while enjoying the freedom, democracy and all other rights ensured by us.”
The President’s statements were clearly aimed to counter increasing popularity of extremist organisations such as “Sinha-le” and statements made by Opposition politicians led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the implementation of Government pledges before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last September would pave the way to create a separate state and dishonour the military.
“Some political rivals with hopes of capturing power are giving false interpretations to mislead the people about the Government’s process of implementing these resolutions. I clearly state it will be freedom, democracy and reconciliation which will be brought by implementing these resolutions. These political rivals and various extremists are carrying out disinformation campaigns to implant wrong ideas to create unrest in the minds of the members of the security forces.”
The President also took pains to emphasise his respect for the armed forces, repeatedly stressing that the Army’s “honour would be safeguarded”.
“On this day, as we celebrate the 68th anniversary of the independence, I pledge and assure you as the first public servant, Commander-in-Chief of the Security Forces and President, that we fulfil all these responsibilities while safeguarding independence and territorial integrity, strengthening the reconciliation process in the country as well as protecting the dignity of the Government, security forces and the people.”
Reaching out to the people, Sirisena expressed confidence that the mandate he was given in January 2015 for reconciliation would continue to be held steadfast by the people and it would be a vision that all Sri Lankans would strive to achieve.
“I respectfully request everybody to work collectively, binding together with harmony, friendship and brotherhood to prepare our tomorrow to face the forthcoming decades to make our noble country a great nation in the world.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe greets President Maithripala Sirisena on arrival at the Independence Day celebrations