Address to the 74th UN General Assembly by Mr. Ravinatha P Aryasinha,
Secretary, Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Delegation of Sri Lanka
30th September 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is indeed an honour to participate in the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) representing Sri Lanka. H.E. Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka, regrets very much his inability to have attended this Session.
Permit me to warmly congratulate H.E. Prof. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th session of the UNGA, on his election. Undoubtedly his longstanding experience will guide the work of this august assembly to a successful conclusion. Let me also thank the outgoing President H.E. Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés for successfully conducting the work of the last session.
I wish to extend Sri Lanka’s appreciation to Secretary-General António Guterres for his sagacious leadership and untiring efforts in achieving the objectives of the United Nations.
The theme of this year’s General Debate is both timely and significant, as we strive to build a world of peace and prosperity, by eradicating extreme poverty, ensuring access to quality education and striving to respond to climate change and promoting inclusion. As we complete the first cycle of reviews of the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda, it is clear that we have made substantial progress in achieving the SDGs. Yet, the end of the road is a long way off, with increasingly devastating impacts of climate change threatening to reverse these gains and impede our path to development.
Sri Lanka is deeply conscious of the impact of climate change. Though a low emission country, it has been compelled to bear the brunt of extreme and persistent adverse weather conditions of longer droughts and frequent floods generated by rising temperatures and sea levels. This has caused significant loss of life and serious damage to property and infrastructure, slowing down economic growth and impeding progress.
Our vulnerability has strengthened our resolve to implement measures to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. The “National Action Plan for Climate Change Impacts 2016-2025” policy, was introduced as a framework for concerted action in overcoming the highly destructive effects of climate change. We are partnering with key stakeholders, including the civil society with particular inclusion of youth and women, as well as institutions such as the Green Climate Fund, World Bank and Adaptation Fund, to enhance our capacity in this vital field. We have embraced nature-based solutions, such as expanding our mangrove forests to absorb carbon emissions and reducing coastal erosion, while enriching the unique ecosystem on which it thrives. We have also evolved a number of policies and programmes to address ocean pollution and lessen its impact on marine biology.
Sri Lanka reiterates its strong commitment to climate related global initiatives which includes the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol. Sri Lanka endorses the clear message of the Climate Action Summit held last week at this very venue that – we are on the brink of a climate emergency. To echo the words of the Secretary General Antonio Guterres at that forum, the impact on the entire planet and humanity as a result would be “apocalyptic”. It is imperative to strengthen our collective political will and accelerate global action in stalling its emergence.
The multitude of challenges brought about the climate change – including direct implications on food security, has also lead to forced and unplanned displacement. Inequality driven push factors, aggravated by climate change, have a definitive negative bearing on individuals and communities, forcing them to leave their usual habitats, resulting in mass scale migration of people.
Having adopted the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) – a voluntary framework for governing migration in a manner that it is safe, orderly, regular and responsible, it is now time for us to ensure its implementation. Being a voluntary mechanism, the success of the GCM framework depends on how far it can be adapted by a state into its national policies and programmes, striking the right balance between safeguarding national borders and having control over arrivals into its territory, and the humanitarian concerns related to individuals in need of international protection.
In this context, broadening regularized pathways for labour migration in our view can be a win-win situation for both labour-originating and labour-receiving countries. Through engagement in regional platforms such as the Colombo Process and Abu Dhabi Dialogue, Sri Lanka has been part of collective efforts towards formulating innovative solutions to better manage labour migration.
Climate change has also exacerbated the global phenomena of poverty, undermining human dignity and remaining as one of the greatest threats to the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Development Agenda. Sri Lanka remains committed to the international efforts on poverty eradication, and welcomes the declaration of “The Third UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty 2018-2027” through resolution 72/233. The alleviation of poverty has been at the heart of Sri Lanka’s development strategies for decades. The Government of Sri Lanka has launched a number of initiatives such as the “Samurdhi programme” to provide social protection and insurance to help low income families overcome the cycle of poverty.
We are aware that quality education remains the key to social progress and economic empowerment. It is a fundamental right and is crucial to our efforts in reducing unemployment, poverty and exclusion. Despite continued efforts globally, progress on ensuring the provision and access to quality education remains far from satisfactory. Rapid technological advancements, while providing opportunities for some, are likely to exacerbate the widening of the global digital gap. There is an urgent need to sharpen our efforts to provide quality education, particularly for women, girls and other vulnerable sections of society.
Sri Lanka greatly values quality education, as a means of eradicating poverty and achieving progress. We have a longstanding policy of providing universal and free education at primary and secondary levels since 1945, many decades before the introduction of the MDGs and SDGs. The policy ensures that people of all walks of life have equal access to quality education, which has borne fruit. Today, Sri Lanka’s literacy rate stands at 92%, one of the highest in the world. Sri Lanka also recognizes the importance of quality education at the tertiary level, as well as vocational training, which are crucial towards reducing unemployment. As such, Sri Lanka hosts the annual “Youth Skills Day” at the United Nations with Portugal, on 15th July every year.
Inclusivity is a key contributor towards development and progress of a country, in ensuring that no one is left behind. Social integration is key to development of a nation’s full potential, and therefore our quest for zero poverty is inextricably linked to inclusiveness. Our economic growth efforts have are being built on a strengthened, inclusive society. New policies on elderly care, empowering those with disabilities, and active engagement of youth in development efforts are some measures being pursued by Sri Lanka to broaden economic opportunities and participation. In this context, the Secretary General’s recommendation to mainstream the disability perspective into all social inclusion strategies is extremely relevant and noteworthy.
Challenge to Multilateralism
As we persevere in these efforts to reverse the negative trends, our ability in addressing global challenges have been compromised in recent times by the increasing threat to multilateralism. There is an imperative need to examine the basis for this phenomenon within a rules-based international order, so as to arrest this deterioration. Sri Lanka urges for greater efforts within the UN to revitalize multilateralism, driven by equality in order to make the world body more cohesive, relevant and responsive to the needs of all Member States.
As the UN approaches its 75th anniversary next year, this is an excellent opportunity to assess its successes and failures including its engagement with Member States. Partnerships fostered between Member States and the UN, over seven decades based on trust and equity must not be compromised and allowed to be hijacked by actors accountable to none and with selective political agendas. With change in the landscape of global politics, particularly with the emergence of non-state actors, as an organization composed of and driven by sovereign Member States, it is vital, that primacy and respect be given to decisions taken by member states, regarding essentially domestic matters.
In this context, our quest to strengthen the work of the UN General Assembly through its revitalization process is extremely important to ensure that it remains relevant as the main deliberative and policy making organ of the United Nations. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the UN policy implementers to refrain from being misled by entities with vested interests. The UN must also desist from making decisions without a valid consultative process, as its work has to be always member state driven. Failure to do so will not only vilify this august body and negate the values that it represents, but will also break the trust of Member States, jeopardizing the partnership with the UN.
Sri Lanka’s commitment to disarmament remains steadfast. With the increasing challenges to global arms control, disarmament and non- proliferation regimes, Sri Lanka continues to recognize the pivotal role of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), and urges the resumption of substantive negotiations under its mandate. Decision CD/2119 adopted in February 2018 under Sri Lanka’s presidency of the CD was a modest contribution towards bridging different viewpoints, focusing on the early resumption of negotiations. We see value in the continuation of this process.
Additionally, in the recent years, Sri Lanka acceded to a number of disarmament treaties, including the Ottawa Convention. Sri Lanka has also presided over the States Parties Meetings on the Conventions on Certain Conventional Weapons and also that on Cluster Munitions.
The 2020 NPT Review Conference will also provide an opportunity for Member States to deliver on its commitments, as the Treaty marks the 50th anniversary of entry into force next year. Sri Lanka reiterates its commitment to a successful Review Conference, focusing on progress in the three pillars of the Treaty.
As a Troop Contributing Country, Sri Lanka was pleased to endorse the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) Declaration of shared commitments last year and is confident that it would revitalize the collective efforts in making such operations effective and coherent.
Sri Lanka has been contributing to the UN Peacekeeping efforts since 1960 serving in the Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, Mali, South Sudan, Timor and Western Sahara, demonstrating our commitment to global peace and security. We look forward to enhancing our contribution towards a more secure and peaceful world, and obstacles must not be placed on Sri Lanka’s long standing Peacekeeping contribution to the UN.
Given Sri Lanka’s experience of the recent past in low and high intensity conflicts with terrorist groups, few countries can qualitatively match the troops sent by Sri Lanka who have extensive professional experience in all aspects of peacekeeping and providing humanitarian assistance. I take this opportunity to express gratitude to their contribution, and wish to particularly remember the three soldiers Corporal M. Wijesinghe who made the ultimate sacrifice in Haiti in 2005 and Captain H.W.D. Jayawickrama and Corporal S.S. Wijekumara in Mali early this year.
Sri Lanka is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestine territory including East Jerusalem, where the continuing expansion of settlements across the occupied West Bank is causing increased demolition of homes.
While restating Sri Lanka’s consistent and principled position that the Palestinian people have a legitimate and inalienable right to the natural resources in their territory and to statehood, we further recognize the legitimate and sensitive security concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples. In this context, Sri Lanka reiterates the importance of the early implementation of the UN General Assembly resolutions regarding the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to statehood and the attainment of the two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 borders. At this crucial hour, Sri Lanka joins the international community in calling for a just, lasting, comprehensive and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, in line with relevant international instruments and accepted principles. Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians will only make realizing an enduring peace more difficult.
Development & Peace
There can be no development without peace. Peace is a catalyst for stability, inclusivity and socio-economic growth. For nearly 30 years, my country was one of the worst affected by separatist terrorism, long before ‘the fight against terrorism’ became an international buzz phrase. With the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka in 2009, for nearly a decade we experienced an unprecedented ‘peace dividend’.
However, on 21 April – Easter Sunday – this peace was shattered by a heinous terrorist attack in Sri Lanka which took the lives of over 250 of our citizens and foreign nationals, and injured hundreds. This was an act of radical extremist terrorists who were inspired by and claimed allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
This challenged the pluralistic society in Sri Lanka that had zealously guarded the normalization, reconciliation and development process, arduously rebuilt since the end of the separatist terrorist conflict in the country. Despite the attempts of these terrorists to destroy the country’s social fabric, the resilience and trust between our communities and the law enforcement authorities ensured that citizens themselves warned of impending attacks and assisted in apprehending the culprits.
This incident also reminded us that no country is immune to the bane of radicalization, extremism and terrorism. It has reaffirmed our resolve to fight these global menaces, and urge all countries to work in collaboration to address the root causes.
We thank the UN Secretary-General and our friends in the international community who unreservedly condemned the Easter Sunday attacks and supported the Government of Sri Lanka in numerous ways. Sri Lanka appreciates the UNSG’s personal commitment culminating in the visits of the Executive Director of the Counter Terrorism Committee (CTED) to Sri Lanka, and that of the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).
Terrorism & protecting human rights
The events of the Easter Sunday bombing also taught us that ‘fighting terrorism’ must go hand in hand with ‘protecting human rights’: one cannot be compromised for the other. This very delicate balance has often been elusive – with states veering towards one extreme or the other, applying double standards to similar situations and often politicizing these issues.
We as a nation have found ourselves up to the task of overcoming the challenges posed by the violent extremism on Easter Sunday. The citizenry was secured within a relatively short period of time, and law and order restored; our institutions asserted themselves, each in their role to ensure that people, communities and society as a whole, were able to feel safe again.
Therefore the post Easter attack period has proved to be a ‘litmus test’ to Sri Lanka’s resolve to adhere to human rights standards, while fighting terrorism, and also determine the strengths and shortcomings of the democratic institutions that have been strengthened in recent years. In this context, a Ministerial Committee headed by Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, has been established by Cabinet to study and propose amendments to the draft counter terrorism legislation currently under consideration by the Parliament. Conscious of our international obligations, Sri Lanka is also consulting with partners in striving to bring about domestic enabling legislation that would make us compliant with more recent Security Council resolutions on combatting terrorism – relating to terrorist financing, border security, returning terrorist fighters and countering violent extremism.
Efforts are also underway to curb the terrorists’ use and abuse of the internet and social media platforms, including by evolving legislative measures and law enforcement mechanisms to counter radical ideologies leading to violent extremism.
In this context, it is necessary to develop the critical thinking capacity of youth, strengthen community bonds, inculcate a sense of civic duty, and build community resilience to mitigate the effects and influences of extremist ideologies conducive to terrorism that may escape the eye of law enforcement authorities. In this regard, the role of the community and its resilience against local drivers of extremism is essential in preventing violent extremism.
The recovery over the past five months demanded that we be resolute in governance. If we are to truly overcome these challenges, we must move to incorporating a ‘Whole of Society’ approach to that with a ‘Whole of Government’ approach.
Human Rights & Reconciliation
As Sri Lanka steps into the second decade since the end of its internal armed separatist conflict, we remain committed to promote and protect the human rights of our people through a comprehensive process that would deliver permanent peace to our country.
Recent Events have also reaffirmed the independence of our Judiciary, as well as the resilience of our democratic institutions, including the public service. These events also concretize our public’s trust in democracy and the rule of law, and despite numerous challenges, the country has progressed in its course towards reconciliation and durable peace
In this context, I am happy to note that there has been significant progress in addressing the many facets arising from the conflict. The Offices on Missing Persons and also on Reparations are now fully operational. The Cabinet of Ministers is also discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Sri Lanka has maintained a constructive and continuous engagement with the UN including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Human Rights mechanisms, where since the standing invitation of 2015, Sri Lanka has received 10 special procedure mandate holders and working groups.
Independent Institutions also play a critical role in this regard, and it is encouraging to note that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, was re-accredited with the ‘A’ status by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in May 2018.
You would agree, that these are not simple steps for a country to take, especially when it had suffered through a 30 year long conflict.
Promoting a peaceful, just and reconciled society is not only an objective itself, but also a pre-requisite for a sustainable and inclusive approach to development that leaves no one behind. Each country has its own unique post conflict situation. While we can learn from other experiences, in charting our own path to reconciliation we are committed to find innovative and pragmatic solutions to protect the country’s national interest and the well-being of all Sri Lankans, guided by the provisions of the Constitution.
In conclusion, I wish to reiterate Sri Lanka’s commitment to a rules-based global order. We value the spirit of multilateralism and cooperation. Even though humanity faces numerous challenges, I am confident that we are well within our capability to address these in a collective, constructive and cooperative manner for the betterment of all, and our future generations.
I thank you.