Over the past four days, I have had a series of positive, constructive discussions here in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General of the United Nations asked me to visit at what he sees as a moment of historic opportunity for the people of this beautiful country: your democratic elections and peaceful transition have not only inspired the citizens of Sri Lanka but also captured the attention of Sri Lanka’s many friends in the international community. I want to thank the Government of Sri Lanka for its generous hospitality in helping to arrange my visit on relatively short notice.
While here, I had the opportunity to meet President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime MinisterRanil Wickremesinghe, Acting Foreign Minister Ajith Perera, the leadership of the JHU, SLMC, TNA, and the diplomatic community. Yesterday in Jaffna, I met with the Governorand the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council. In addition, I was able to listen to, and compare notes with, a divergent group of civil society representatives both here in Colombo and in Jaffna. Those I met over the past four days inspired me with their visions for a prosperous, democratic country, at peace internally and with positive, close, mutually beneficial relations regionally and internationally.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. We are also approaching the 60th anniversary of when Sri Lanka’s first Permanent Representative to the UN, Sir Senerat Gunawardene, presented his credentials. In the years since then, Sri Lanka has made many important contributions to the Organization. I am thinking of the leadership roles that prominent personalities from Sri Lanka have played in the UN – people such as Justice Christopher Weeramantry, Jayantha Dhanapala, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Andrew Joseph, and Shirely Amarasinghe. The current Governor of the Northern Provincial Council represented your country with distinction in New York during a particularly challenging time.
Thousands of Sri Lankan citizens over the decades have contributed to UN peacekeeping efforts, including those currently deployed to important missions in Haiti, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The Secretary-General believes strongly that we now have the opportunity to build on this existing foundation to renew and strengthen the partnership between Sri Lanka and the United Nations and between Sri Lanka and the international community.
We in the United Nations recognize that Sri Lankans from across the country suffered during a long conflict. No community was immune, and, despite the work of many commissions, the list of grievances and unresolved issues remains long. As demonstrated by the speech of The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs before the Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, we are encouraged by this government’s commitment to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights. This is very much in line with the 2009 joint communiqué issued on the occasion of the UN Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka soon after the end of the conflict. In our view, credible, tangible progress in these areas is a prerequisite to the achievement of sustainable peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka.
In that spirit, I have urged government leaders to take steps in the short term to address issues regarding land, detentions, disappearances, and the military posture in civilian areas. Over the longer term, I have underscored in my meetings the expectation by the United Nations and by the international community that the government will – as it has promised -- develop in the coming months a strong framework for accountability that meets international standards and norms and that is seen as credible across Sri Lanka. These are not easy tasks, but we believe that they are essential tasks, expected by the international community and also – more importantly – by the citizens of this country themselves.
Without question, there is still a wide trust deficit between communities in Sri Lanka, especially between the Tamil and the Sinhalese. We have thus encouraged the national leaders and political stakeholders to work on all of these issues in the spirit of inclusion and consultation. Inclusion requires that all communities be willing to participate in these processes. As requested by Sri Lanka, the United Nations is committed to assisting in the process of accountability and reconciliation, through the Peacebuilding Fund and other facilities, as appropriate. But it is first and foremost for Sri Lankans themselves to shape how to address issues of the past in order to find a common future.
With regional allies and the world focused in a positive way on Sri Lanka, and with the citizens of Sri Lanka having drawn from Sri Lanka’s strong democratic history and traditions to promote a peaceful transition, this is a historic moment to seize. I know that the Secretary-General himself and the United Nations system more broadly will stand with the people and leaders of Sri Lanka, as they address credibly and thoroughly the accountability and reconciliation issues that, once resolved, will contribute to Sri Lanka’s long-term peace and prosperity. In this 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding and the 60th year of Sri Lanka’smembership in the UN, we welcome the promise of renewed partnership.