Speech by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington D C, July 23, 2002
Mr. Chairman, Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars and distinguished members, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address you on the issue of terrorism and peace on which both your nation and mine have suffered so tragically in recent times. In its most violent form terrorism means death. The death of innocent people whether they are those who were so brutally sent to their death in the World Trade Centre on September 11, or those innocent civilians who perished in the bombing of the Central Bank in Colombo in January 1996.
What the atrocity on September 11 showed us was that terrorism is now a global phenomenon.
We grieved deeply with the people of the United States as we saw the twin towers collapse, and we mourned with the people of the world as the death toll showed its global reach.
Many people in our small island were reminded of the violent ways, in which their own loved ones had been removed from them.
But our grief and our sympathy turned into resolve. We continue that resolve by pledging our unwavering support for your efforts to ensure a world free of terrorism. Mr. Chairman, global terrorism respects no borders and gives no quarter.
It can appear anywhere at any time and the destructive ingenuity of the terrorists continues to dumbfound saner men.
For sure there is nothing about international terrorism that we can or should condone. No cause justifies the use of terror against innocent people. Nevertheless we have to look at the underlying grievances which ignite and fuel terrorism to be able to understand how to fight the common enemy.
Look at any place that terrorism raises its head and you will find poverty, injustice, insecurity and fear. The evil in a few, feeds on the fears of the many which are exploited to build a web of destruction.
To be sure that we defeat terrorism we clearly need a two pronged approach.
The international terrorist is not really moved and motivated by these injustices, for him the driving force is evil. A personal political agenda led by a malevolent heart. These are the people who have to be pursued and destroyed. Against these people, the military option seems to be the only choice.
But there is another form of terrorism connected to armed struggle and guerrilla warfare. This is a terrorism which emerges from a national context with no direct links at first to the global terrorist.
Today in Sri Lanka we are attempting to find a solution to this form of terrorism. That is where the other approach may come into its own.
The other approach comes when we look at those root causes and see that terrorism is feeding off poverty, insecurity and perceived injustice.
Some of the affirmative actions taken by successive governments in Sri Lanka in favour of the majority Sinhalese who were discriminated under the Colonial Rule already affected the Tamil people - for example the use of their language opportunities for education and employment. Leaders failed to deliver equal justice and equity in fair measure among the communities.
A whole community was alienated by the injustices they felt and experienced. For two decades the mainstream political parties were unable to resolve the issues affecting the Tamils.
The Tamils tried peaceful protest which soon degenerated into violence. With the underlying grievances being unattended the stage was set for terrorist groups to emerge. Whatever the causes, the reality became the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE. Most of you in this distinguished audience have an idea of the chain of events that make up the mounting tragedy of Sri Lanka.
Earlier this month, Senator Lugar submitted a draft resolution encouraging the peace process in Sri Lanka. This has been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It captures some of the elements of our tragedy in language which the US public and political leadership can readily appreciate.
The resolution refers to the "long valued political pluralism religious freedom, democracy and respect for human rights" that the Sri Lankan people have enjoyed. It refers to the estimated 65000 deaths on account of the 19-year conflict and the almost 1 million displaced persons over the course of the conflict. In respect of Sri Lanka's population of 19 million these statistics are grim. Related hypothetically for instance to the current population of this country of 284 million our figures would translate to 972,000 deaths and 15 million displaced in the US. Viewed from this perspective the US can appreciate the profound effects of the conflict on our people.
To make peace is perhaps more difficult and complex than to make war. My Government, which won the Sri Lanka General Elections in December last year on a mandate to end the North-East conflict has sought a different course of action. We entered into a permanent ceasefire with the LTTE on 23rd February this year. From this we hope to move to peace talks in the near future.
Discussing the ceasefire before the Parliament of Sri Lanka on 4th April, I recalled the words of Abraham Lincoln on the American Civil War: "Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds".
Our collective character and resolve as a nation and society will be tested and challenged at every turn. Nevertheless I have confidence and a realistic sense of optimism that this time we shall consolidate the peace that has been initiated and sustain its momentum.
I believe this for a number of reasons.
Firstly as I said in Parliament all citizens of Sri Lanka are stakeholders in the peace process. Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others are in a sense, shareholders in this national enterprise: dividends will be declared for all except for a few merchants of death who will be the only losers. Our people's yearning for peace is deep.
Secondly we build on our past experiences. There is a continuum which animates our efforts.
We frankly acknowledge the mistakes of the past as well as the problems that lie ahead in the future. We have benefited by the positive steps taken by past Governments. We have for example, continued with the help provided by the Norwegian Government in facilitating the peace process. The Norwegians who were initiated in to the process by President Kumaratunga have been pivotal in helping to build trust between the two sides and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission manned by Scandinavian nationals has been invaluable in monitoring the Ceasefire Agreement.
Thirdly we acknowledge that we need bipartisan support. The Opposition parties must be partners in this national endeavour. This should not be undermined by narrow sectoral and partisan diversions. The situation that exists in Sri Lanka today is not unlike that which characterised France sometime back. The need for co-habitation has been stressed. Cooperation is not an option: it is an imperative in the national interest. We need to overcome what in Parliament I called the parochial, opportunistic and divisive politics that often overwhelms a united national outlook.
Fourthly, the human element in the peace process has been given primary importance.
The Ceasefire Agreement addresses a number of day to day problems faced by the Tamil community.
It facilitates the free movement of people and goods throughout the country. It would present the people of the North and East also, with the opportunity of freely engaging in their livelihood, be it farming, fishing, government service or business. All Sri Lankans need to be given access to the same quality of life regardless of race, sex, religion or where in the Republic they live.
The intersections and synergy between peace and development are well known. As the conflict ceases and the guns fall silent, peace will be on trial.
The conflict has damaged the economic strength of many communities in the North and East and in villages in the adjacent areas, affecting the lives of people of all communities: Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim. It is essential that the torn fabric of their lives and their sense of dignity and self reliance are once again restored. But the war has also had disastrous effects on our total national economy through its implications for foreign investment, tourism and our capacity to produce and export. Sri Lanka has the highest per capita income figures in the region but more needs to be done to deliver the benefits to all of our citizens.
We have already commenced the arduous process of economic recovery. Economic reconstruction is in many respects part of the process of political healing in a polarized society. It is vital to consolidate in economic and social terms each small step we take on the path of peace.
While the ultimate responsibility for equitable economic development lies with the people of Sri Lanka, we need the support and assistance of the international community not so much in the form of handouts, but rather to enable the provision of opportunities for our people's sense of enterprise and innovation to bear fruit in the immediate context as well as in the long term post-conflict situation. We take comfort from the help given by the United States and others.
Sri Lanka liberalized its economy as early as the mid 1970s - the first in South Asia - to provide space and encouragement for individual initiative. Today we are implementing a far reaching economic recovery programme that will result in an increase in the rate of the economic growth. Our economy will be more open and freer in its linkages with the rest of the world. That means eliminating the barriers that inhibit rapid productivity, investment flows and fuller employment throughout the Sri Lanka economy.
Our poverty reduction programme is about to be launched and we are moving ahead with our economic recovery programme.
If we are to achieve higher economic growth, this must be based on increased investment and some of our key reforms are aimed at significantly improving the environment for foreign investment.
The interventions and heavy regulatory burdens that have limited economic performance in the past are being rapidly removed. Our commercial legal framework will be further strengthened to provide the foundation for successful economic development. If we carry out all of these measures, we build a strong economy we create real worthwhile jobs and we make poverty a thing of the past. Then we shall have removed one of the most potent root causes for terrorism in our country.
I have talked about the need for confidence building. When we feel confident to proceed to the next stage, that of negotiations, we shall have achieved a great deal in bringing ourselves and the LTTE closer through greater understanding.
The process will not be easy. The more the ceasefire agreement is being adhered to, the fewer the accusations of human rights abuses and the less inflammatory the langauge between the two sides.
This would make it easier for us to take those critical decisions that will bring Sri Lanka closer to normalcy, returning to a peaceful, prosperous society where all communities live in harmony free of terrorism.
We view these negotiations with a warm heart and a cool head. We wish to bring our communities back together in ethnic harmony whilst keeping our guard up. While talking we must continue to address the underlying grievances which bred terrorism in our country. We are a nation with many different ethnic groups and religions. That provides diversity and wealth that we should use to our advantage, not be a cause for division and mistrust.
As the confidence building continues and as the communities draw themselves back closer together, as they once were, then we can start to address the perceived injustices that have divided us in the past.
Already we are working to see that north, south, east and west of the country get equal treatment and a fair share of the plans we have for the future. The inequalities in this day and age can, and will be ironed out through a stronger collective resolve. The question of language today is less of an issue and more readily resolvable. The opportunities for education for all are very much part of our economic development plans and the prospects for jobs will improve as our programme moves into action.
The old injustices of yesterday will seem irrelevant in the Sri Lanka we intend to build tomorrow. Our aim is to bring all our people together in social harmony. Working as a nation within the world community.
That way we in Sri Lanka will have moved the cause against global terrorism forward one small, but significant step.
Whenever a situation of terrorism rising from a basically national, local context is resolved, we are that much closer to winning the fight against international terrorism and ultimately to the establishment of a world free of terrorism.
President Woodrow Wilson, whose memory this Center honours, spoke of the right of all peoples "to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another whether they be strong or weak". Our approach is based on similar principles.
I would like to think that our present goal of building peace in Sri Lanka and our contribution to the making of a world free from terrorism would have met with his lasting approval.
Source: Daily News (Colombo), July 25, 2002