I feel honoured to join you in this event today to discuss the important issue of peace building.
I thank the Government of Sweden and the International Peace Institute for convening this meeting today.
The subjects that we are discussing, Peace and Peacebuilding, are essential elements in the post-2015 development agenda, especially for us in Sri Lanka, where we are working out the architecture of a durable peace.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The people of Sri Lanka began a remarkable journey of political reform on the 8th of January this year by electing a new president with a clear mandate to usher in reconciliation and good governance, strengthen the rule of law, and rebuild democratic institutions.
In the parliamentary elections that concluded last month on August 17th, the people of my country further cemented this mandate in one of the most peaceful elections in three decades.
The high voter turnout at both elections demonstrated that the people of Sri Lanka wanted its political leaders to stop the contentious political fragmentation, and move towards a lasting peace.
Healing the broken hearts and minds of our people, building a nation which takes pride in its diversity and ensuring reconciliation and development while guaranteeing non-recurrence is now our top priority.
In our Peacebuilding efforts, our Government has had to also deal with re-establishing and renewing Sri Lanka’s partnerships with the international community – the UN, the think-tanks and the INGOs, as well as some of our bilateral partners. Therefore, it is not only an inward looking journey where we try to formulate responses, or find answers by ourselves. We need the support of all of Sri Lanka’s friends out there to walk this journey with us until we are able to walk alone.
We have taken some steps to acknowledge our collective guilt and contrition for the suffering in the past. The Government pledged its commitment on 4th of February (National Day), to ensure non-recurrence.
We are committed to the reconciliation process by embracing each and every citizen in our multi ethnic, multi-cultural, multi religious nation as part of the whole. Today, for the first time in thirty-two years, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader is from a political party representing the Tamil minority, which is also the party in Parliament which received the third highest votes at the election.
Peace building, at its core, is a process that must strive to prevent future conflict and also address the root causes of conflict. Conflict is not a period specific event. It is a phenomenon that builds over time.
Our vision is to usher in a nation that is at peace with itself and with the world. A nation that engages with the international community and international organizations, shares information, and seeks solutions through collaboration, discussion and dialogue. As an active member of the UN for 60 years we are committed to the role of the UN not only as peacekeepers, but also as peace builders at every stage and cycle of conflict. We must engage in prevention, management, and transformation.
Keeping in mind the report of the Advisory Group of Experts on the Peace Building Architecture, it is important that the several UN bodies speak with one voice. I stand here today as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, taking modest pride in how well we have managed to bridge the political gap. This month we formed a national consensual government consisting of the two major political parties and several other smaller parties which would be essential to ensure policy and political stability.
We are grateful to the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund for recognizing our efforts this year in continuing to move forward as an engaged and vibrant member of the international community, committed to democratic principles, and respect for human rights as our bedrock.
We deeply appreciate the Peacebuilding Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office as they work towards supporting peacebuilding initiatives in post-conflict situations such as ours, and we look forward to engaging with them further, as Sri Lanka endeavors to return to her own. We are also committed to peacebuilding in a manner that will look at both long and short term peace dividends for our people who have suffered too long under repressive conflict situations.
As part of our peacebuilding efforts we are committed to conducting independent inquiries into disappearances, murders of journalists and activists and missing persons, the resettlement of the remaining internally displaced persons without delay, and the handing back of lands to people who have been dispossessed of their properties during the conflict. Non-return of these lands had been one of the major grievances of the people of the Northern Province.
In this regard our administration has already released approximately 1000 acres of land which had hitherto been held by the military in High Security Zones in the Northern Province. We are committed to ensuring that development is undertaken in an even handed manner across the country with particular focus on the most conflict ravaged areas in the north and east of the island.
Reconciliation will take time, but it is a vital tool in the peacebuilding arsenal, and its importance cannot be overstated. In Sri Lanka it includes truth seeking, justice, reparations and non-recurrence. Truth seeking not as a witch-hunt, but as an effort to heal and forgive, and in the interests of justice, the rule of law and accountability.
I would like to end by reiterating Sri Lanka’s commitment to positive engagement with the UN, international organizations, the world community and all stakeholders in working to strengthen human security, human rights and development, in our peacebuilding efforts.