It is vital to ensure that the wellbeing of a country like Sri Lanka, emerging from conflict and entering an era of stability and prosperity, should not be put in peril by domestic political interests in other countries, Minister of External Affairs Prof. G. L. Peiris said.
Prof. Peiris, addressing members of the political establishment, the media, diplomats, scholars and representatives of civil society at Academie Diplamatique Internationale in Paris, said it was well known that the Diaspora has substantial political clout in many Western countries, not only in terms of voting but also with regard to financial and organisational capability.
It is quite apparent that the attitudes and postures of some Western countries in multilateral fora are determined, to a large extent, by assessment of domestic electoral fortunes, Minister Peiris said.
He was confident that France, with its political cultures shaped strongly by nationalist sentiment and commitment to social equity in international relations, would have empathy with Sri Lanka’s cause at this challenging time.
Sri Lanka, a proud and accomplished nation, has the courage of its convictions, and is prepared to engage with the world in respect of all aspects of its current experience.
Minister Peiris said he would be forthright in his presentation which would be characterised by readiness to explain the complexity of issues. Given the value of the French contribution to humanism, modernity and universalism, the Sri Lankan experience is bound to strike a chord in the collective consciousness of the French.
One of the pillars of current Government policy in Sri Lanka is emphasis on reconciliation, he said. Prof. Peiris referred to the moving ceremony two weeks ago in Colombo, where President Mahinda Rajapaksa presided over the reintegration into society of 1,800 ex-combatants who returned to their villages after exposure to vocational training which assured them of access to livelihoods and incomes.
Prof. Peiris said that as a former Vice Chancellor of one of the largest universities in Sri Lanka, he was proud of the success achieved in efforts to bring youth who had been misguided into espousing violence, back into the democratic mainstream. Some of them have secured admission to universities, while others are gainfully employed in the public or private sectors, or in self-employment projects.
The Minister underscored the importance of the international community rejoicing wholeheartedly in these salutary developments without any preconceived judgments or partisan attitudes. He explained to his audience the crucial role of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in addressing in a constructive spirit the pain and anguish of the past and in building the foundations of a future typified by promise and expectation.
As a mechanism sensitive to local context and aspiration, it is entitled to respect; and any adverse presumption is a reflection of prejudice which will inflict harm on a delicate reconciliation process, Prof. Peiris continued.
Reconciliation, in Sri Lanka’s view, has significant economic dimension. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that the economy of the Northern Province is growing by 22%. The Minister gave an account of infrastructure development in that region, with particular reference to highways and railroad systems, the large volumes of capital made available by the banking system to entrepreneurs, with resulting generation of employment, the success of private sector-public sector partnerships and the revival of agriculture activity and fisheries.
Important as the economic aspect is, it does not by any means over the entire spectrum of reconciliation, the Minister observed. He referred to political empowerment symbolised by resuscitation of the electoral process in the form of the holding of elections – universally acknowledged to be free and fair – to local government institutions in the Northern Province, and the Government’s resolve to hold Provincial Council elections in the early months of next year.
Prof. Peiris expressed confidence that a French audience of thinkers and policy makers would place a premium on fairness and equity. Unjust value judgments about Sri Lanka had arisen from the reports of the Panel of Advisors appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Assessed by any objective criteria, the report is deeply flawed, the Minister asserted.
Among its indefensible features are the opaque modalities of gathering evidence, involving recognition of anonymity for those providing vital information for a period of thirty years, arriving at the conclusion that there is “credible” evidence of grace wrongdoing by the Sri Lankan State when the Panel itself admits that it had no authority to investigate, and in fact did not investigate, and the presentation of unfounded allegations in the form of a narrative, the accuracy of which the Panel declares itself unable to vouch for.