Chatham House Jan 11, 2017: Sri Lanka's Reconciliation Process
Key note Address: Hon Mangala Samaraweera MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka
Chair: Jonathan Goodhand, Professor in Conflict and Development Studies, SOAS
Text of Mr Samaraweera's speech:
High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, Mrs. Amari Wijewardena,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed an honour to speak at the historic Chatham House today, as one of the first speakers in the New Year. May I also take this opportunity to congratulate all of you at the Royal Institute of International Affairs for being chosen as the, “Think tank of the year by Prospect Magazine” which commended your work as “Reliably excellent” and a “Gold Standard of knowledge and professionalism”.
The topic on which I speak today – ‘The Reconciliation Process in Sri Lanka’, in fact holds special significance for us Sri Lankans this week. This is because, the Cabinet of Ministers recently declared this week, from January 8th to the 14th, as the ‘National Integration and Reconciliation Week’. This coincides with the completion of two years since the historic Presidential election of January 8th 2015, and this is the first occasion on which this annual National Integration and Reconciliation Week is being observed in my country.
As one of the main features of this Observance, on 9th January, in schools and state institutions including in Parliament, a Pledge for National Integration and Reconciliation was read out,
-resolving to work together, hand in hand, while respecting the richness of our diversity, to foster peace, understanding, mutual trust, and brotherhood; a new Sri Lanka united in it’s diversity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Several of my predecessors too have spoken here at the Chatham House. This includes the late Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar who spoke at length here, in 1998, about the danger faced by our nation at the time, and democratic societies everywhere, from terrorism.
Almost twenty years later, I feel fortunate to be here representing a country where the guns and the bombs have finally fallen silent.
Although the violence ended in May 2009, the healing of wounds of over two decades of conflict, achieving reconciliation and national integration, catching up on economic progress and development that eluded us due to conflict, and ensuring non-recurrence, remain challenging tasks for our Nation. Similarly, the tasks of improving governance, institutions, rule of law, and putting in place necessary measures to strengthen, promote and protect individual rights; while ensuring the dignity of all and building a truly national identity while preserving our pluralistic society – remain work in progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This week, 2 years ago on the 8th of January, the people of Sri Lanka courageously turned out to vote across the country to end authoritarianism, corruption and the politics of hate; they voted for a new democratic Sri Lanka where democracy, reconciliation, the rule of law and sustainable development would flourish.
This courageous decision by the people of Sri Lanka enabled us, for the first time in our country’s history, to form a Government of National Unity, bringing together, the two main political parties – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, and the United National Party headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Having achieved a significant number of promises set out in the 100 Day Work Programme of the Government, the most significant being the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, and the adoption of the 19th Amendment, fresh Parliamentary elections were called in August 2015.
The 19th Amendment, as most of you I am sure are aware,
- Re-introduced the two-term limit of the Presidency,
- Reduced the term of the Presidency from 6 to 5 years,
- Established a Constitutional Council,
- Restored Independent Commissions,
- Recognised the Right to Information as a fundamental right, and
- Recognised the Promotion of National Reconciliation and Integration as duties of the President.
The Government also had in its hands, the task of restoring Sri Lanka’s relations with the outside world, and restoring lost credibility.
The Government, since January 2015, therefore, started reaching out to the international community, re-engaging with governments and international organisations.
The power of Parliament has been strengthened. Oversight Committees have been set up with Opposition members chairing several key Committees.
The Right to Information Act, which was enacted by Parliament last year and is now in the process of being operationalized.
For full speech text:
Audience Questions included from:
Dr Shirani Rajapakse
Chandana Keerthi Bandara