Foreign Relations | Speeches

Global Cooperation and Economic Development

53rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly

New York, USA

September 21, 1998

Mr President
Excellencies
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

Permit me to extend to you, Mr. President, Sri Lanka's warmest congratulations on your well-deserved election. We wish you well and have no doubt that you will guide the work of this session with wisdom, skill and commitment.

The Assembly owes a debt of gratitude to His Excellency Hennadiy Udovenko, which we acknowledge with pleasure, for his wise and astute leadership of the 52nd Session as its President.

This year Sri Lanka celebrates the golden jubilee of its independence. We reclaimed our freedom in 1948 ending nearly five centuries of colonial domination.

We have given shelter within our land to all the great religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. We are a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. We are deeply committed to the democratic way of life. Our people have exercised universal adult franchise since 1931. We have a parliamentary system of Government with elections held regularly where the voter participation of our voters in the electoral process is uniquely high, as much as 80% on average. We have an independent judiciary and a free media. The Rule of Law is observed and respected. Fundamental rights are guaranteed and rendered justiciable. We are constantly alert to the protection of human rights even in the face of grave provocation from some lawless elements that are bent on destroying our democratic society.

Shortly after the achievement of our independence Sri Lanka became a member of the United Nations.

In the preamble to the Charter, our founding fathers expressed their determination to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. They re-affirmed their faith in fundamental human rights. They pledged to establish an environment in which international law and treaty obligations would be observed, and to promote the economic and social progress of all peoples. The United Nations has succeeded in keeping its basic promise of savings the world from the holocaust of a global conflict.

But more than 50 years after the Charter we cannot conclude that the world today is a safer place than it was when the United Nations was founded.

Global nuclear disarmament remains a distant dream. Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction have proliferated with no concern for the safety of humankind despite the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Members of the nuclear club who possess these weapons show no inclination to dismantle them, although the cold war has ended and inter-State conflicts have lessened. The United Nations has the responsibility to re-double its efforts to achieve global disarmament. That is a duty we owe to mankind, to unborn generations. We do not accept the thesis that these weapons are safe in the hands of some.

The Non-Aligned Movement has been demanding for a long time that the Conference on Disarmament should establish, as its highest priority, a Committee to commence negotiations on a program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a time bound framework.

In 1976 my mother, Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, addressing this Assembly as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement spoke of disarmament in the following words:

(quote) "General and complete disarmament has been a declared objective of the United Nations and of the international community for nearly three decades. Despite many initiatives taken by this Organization. The world has witnessed not even the semblance of disarmament but a race for supremacy in destructive power, based on the myth that peace can be preserved only by strident and single-minded preparations for war, and the refinement and sophistication of its techniques. It is indeed a sad reflection on the moral and intellectual standards of the 20th century, its values and priorities that so much of the world's resources, which might have been devoted to the eradication of poverty, ignorance, disease and hunger are being wasted for the production of monstrous weapons.

We do not accept the thesis that disarmament is the special preserve of powers that possess the paraphernalia of war. Every nation and every individual has a right to peace and, as much as peace is indivisible, so is the responsibility for its preservation. Hence the call of the Non-Aligned Nations for a Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, and agreement for a World Conference". (unquote)

At the recently concluded NAM Summit held in South Africa under the distinguished Chairmanship of President Nelson Mandela, the Movement once again expressed its preoccupation with the issue of global nuclear disarmament. In the years ahead the clamour for disarmament among the great majority of nations will grow in volume. The Non-Aligned Movement has consistently called for the Geneva based Conference on Disarmament to establish, as the highest priority, an ad-hoc committee to commence negotiations on a program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a time-bound frame work. In addition, there is also a proposal for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. We have to address these challenges as we approach the new millennium. The longer we shirk our responsibility, the greater the danger that looms ahead.

Mr. President,

Today I have the honour and privilege of addressing this assembly as the newly appointed chairperson of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which met in Colombo a few months ago.

SAARC represents one-fifth of humanity. South Asia is heir to a rich and complex plurality of cultural and religious traditions of great antiquity.

Like any other Association of sovereign States we have our share of problems. But I wish to convey to you my confident belief that our Summit meetings last year, and this year, have marked a turning point in the life of our Association. Our leaders are aware of the awesome obligations that we jointly owe to the hundreds of millions of people who inhabit our region. We are determined to put aside the political differences that bedevil relations among some of us, in a common and united effort to improve the quality of life of all our peoples. The message I bring from the Colombo Summit is that the prospects for enhanced economic, social, technological, and scientific cooperation in our region are exceedingly bright. It is the will of our leaders, as vigorously manifested at the Colombo Summit. I am deeply indebted to my fellow Heads of State or Government for their invaluable advice and cooperation, especially grateful to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan for the magnificent spirit of friendship and understanding they showed for the collective regional interests and concerns.

SAARC too, like the Non-Aligned Movement, recognises that the twin current of globalization and liberalisation which are swirling around us contain both the potential for prosperity as well as "the seed of a dangerous new process of uneven development." It must be remembered that developing countries need special consideration in regard to the problems they face in globalising their economies.

However, what is abundantly clear is that not a single State, not even the most powerful can hope to remain immune from economic disease and contagion. Ripples have spread widely from the economic upheavals of East Asia and Russia. The maladies that spring from economic globalisation require remedies which are global in scope, remedies which must take account of the ailments of all States, and not be based solely on the prescriptions advanced by those who may seem to be secure.

United Nations bodies must play a critical role in all this, particularly by facilitating and fostering international cooperation for equitable development that could resist the economic contagion that now afflicts us. The international monetary mechanism has proved desperately inadequate in handling the recent crises. We now have to think in terms of a new financial architecture to obtain radical reforms of the International Monetary System. This should aim at achieving a balance between the adjustments demanded as against available financing. I wish to propose three areas of action that merit serious consideration:

Firstly,that a lender of last resort" facility must be formulated by the IMF to meet the problems of volatile capital movements. Secondly, that effective international surveillance devices must be designed to anticipate problems before the demolition squads of speculators move in. Thirdly, that the resumption of the Special Drawing Rights of the IMF is a vital requirement of the proposed restructuring. The major voting powers of the IMF, as well as the developing nations, will have to consider larger allocations than are now contemplated. In the meantime, we should beware of attempts to liberalise capital accounts, before the modernisation of national financial structures and the reforms of the International Monetary System are in place.

A constructive dialogue between developed and developing countries must be pursued on the basis of mutual benefit and on shared responsibilities. Closer consultation should be promoted between groups like the Group of 7 and those of the developing countries such as the G77, and the G15.

Institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) must live up to their declared aims and genuinely facilitate a transparent, rule-based trading system that would permit stable growth.

UNCTAD should not be neglected. It should be strengthened as the focal point in the UN family for the integrated consideration of issues of trade, finance, technology and investment.

More funds for development activity need to be diverted from the United Nations administrative budget. The United Nations Agenda for Development which was launched with great expectations seems to be losing momentum. Its implementation should not be delayed.

Mr. President,

Development is not merely a matter of economic growth and financial enrichment, to be measured in statistics, which could sometimes be misleading and illusionary. The totality of the human condition must be enhanced and improved. Our commitment and responsibility towards economic and social development should not be minimised and made secondary to other issues which though important do not touch on the well-being and survival of humanity. It is a grievous indictment on us that the age-old problems of grinding poverty and starvation still exist in the world. I appeal to the assembled nations not to allow ourselves to be beguiled or dazzled by the explosion of exciting new technologies, the seductive blandishments of global trade and high finance to the extent that the poor, the deprived, the desperate fall away from our agenda into the limbo of forgotten things. We must not forget that the least developed countries have special problems that cry out for attention. We must strive mightily, relentlessly, to banish these problems in the next century.

The G77 has proposed that a Third World Summit be held in the year 2000 to mark the dawn of the new century and the new millennium. Sri Lanka supports the proposal as an opportunity for developing countries to chart their own agenda for development in the new era.

The countries of SAARC have agreed at Colombo that to complement economic progress, a Social Charter be drawn up for the benefit of our peoples in South Asia. This Charter would focus on determining practical, basic norms in the areas of poverty eradication, the empowerment of women, the mobilisation of youth, the promotion of health and nutrition and the protection of children.

We must make a special effort to dissipate the effects of the discriminatory, social and psychological perceptions that affect the status of women. The SAARC Heads of State or Government condemned violence against women, as well as acts of discrimination and humiliation which further depress the dignity of women. There was particular concern over the plight of women and girl children caught in situations of armed conflict. In Colombo, the seven SAARC States finalised the draft text of Regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution, which will be signed at the next Summit in Nepal. Within Sri Lanka, my Government has adopted a national plan of action based on the relevant conclusions of the 4th United Nations Conference on Women held in Beijing and on the specific of our own national situation. The Constitution of Sri Lanka enshrines the fundamental right of equality between the sexes. We have ratified relevant ILO Conventions guaranteeing equal remuneration and other benefits to women. Sri Lanka has also strengthened legal provisions against harassment and sexual abuse of women.

With regard to children, my Government has recently passed legislation setting up a National Child Protection Authority directly under my supervision. This Authority deals with such issues as child employment, the sexual exploitation of children, education, health and the plight of children trapped in armed conflict. We have formulated a "Children's Charter" and a National Plan of Action to provide for the safety and protection of our children. While we are conscious of the tragic incidence of child prostitution and pornography in Sri Lanka, we have also traced the insidious international linkages which aggravate the problem further. We urge the international community to tighten laws and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that those responsible for such heinous crimes will not receive refuge anywhere.

A particularly cruel offence against the innocence of children is their forced recruitment by a terrorist group in Sri Lanka to serve as suicide killers in the name of a cause they are too young even to comprehend.

This is just one sordid aspect of the activities of a terrorist group known as the "Tamil Tigers" or the (LTTE). They seek to dismember Sri Lanka with the objective of creating in our land a mono-ethnic and racist entity - an objective totally unacceptable to the overwhelming majority in the country and even to the very community whose cause the LTTE claims to represent.

Mr. President,

We believe that ethnic grievances exist in Sri Lanka I said so publicly in my address to the nation at the 50th anniversary celebrations of our independence this year. I said that the golden jubilee of independence is an occasion for reflection, as well as the renewal of hopes and aspirations. It is an occasion to savour applause for our achievements; it is an occasion to rue the consequences of failure. I went on to say:

"We must also with humility examine our failures. We have failed in the essential task of nation building. We have meandered and faltered along that path, whilst among our neighbours in Asia and in many other countries peoples of various racial, religious and linguistic communities live in harmony. The causes of this failure will be judged by history. Others will apportion and assign blame.

Let us, those of us, who have undertaken the responsibility to guide and govern the Nation, march towards the future in unison putting behind us mean desires for petty personal or political gain. The Nation's need today is so great and urgent that it permits space only for largesse of heart and mind, which will supercede in the national interest all that is irrelevant and small."

My Government is firmly committed to redressing ethnic grievances peacefully through political discussion. We have presented a comprehensive proposal for redressing the ethnic grievances through wide ranging devolution of political power. The vast majority of our people, of all communities have welcomed these proposals. Only the LTTE chooses to prowl the path of violence resorting to terror to achieve goals which they alone espouse.

However, we have kept the doors open to the LTTE to join other Sri Lankans in negotiating a settlement of all outstanding ethnic issues if it eschews terrorism and its bloody call for a separate State.

The LTTE's claim to be a "liberation organization" while it murders hundreds upon hundreds of the Tamil people it claims to liberate, when they disagree with the LTTE's terror politics. Several Tamil leaders of democratic political parties, including members of Parliament, two Mayors, as well as Tamil human right activists have been brutally murdered.

The LTTE's claim to a liberation organization is negated by its unilateral resort to violence and its constant refusal to put its claims to the true test - that of participating in an open, democratic and peaceful process of consultation with the people.

By contrast, in Palestine, Chairman Arafat pursues what he calls "the peace of the brave" confident not only of the justice of his cause, but also the strength of support freely given by the Palestinian people to achieve their inalienable national rights in Palestine. During the SAARC Summit, our leaders expressed growing concern at numerous setbacks affecting the peace process in the Middle East including illegal attempts to change the jurisdiction and borders of Jerusalem.

Over the past few years the Government of Sri Lanka has in various international fora strongly advocated the need for collective international action in order to overcome the scourge of terrorism. Our reasoning has been that a group like the ruthless LTTE which continues to frustrate every effort at finding a negotiated political settlement to our ethnic problem have found sustenance in the liberal asylum policies that prevail in some countries. This group which recruits children as young as 10 years and indiscriminately targets innocent civilians, assassinates the elected representatives of the people including Tamil political and human rights leaders, destroys places of religious worship, and assassinate foreign Heads of Government on their soil, are permitted to operate freely in many countries. They maintain an international network which engages in fund raising, narcotics trafficking, trade in illicit arms, the smuggling of illegal immigrants and in more recent times maritime and cyber terrorism.

Addressing the United Nations 50th Anniversary celebration in New York three years ago, I observed, and I quote, "concerted international action is essential to combat terrorism and to compel the terrorists to renounce violence and enter the democratic process. Unfortunately effective action to that end has been frustrated through sterile philosophical debate about the nature of terrorism."

I am happy to note that since then significant measures have been taken in this sphere. The adoption of the "UN Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings" earlier this year, has been a considerable moral victory for the international community in its fight against terrorism. Sri Lanka is hopeful that all States will speedily take steps to implement the necessary domestic legislation, aimed at giving effect to the commitment made in the Convention, in order to ensure that terrorists are neither provided safe haven nor permitted to raise funds, within the borders of one State to sustain terrorist activities in another State.

While we enact legislation, we must also be eternally vigilant to ensure that terrorists do not find loopholes in our laws or use procedural delays to circumvent the emerging international consensus against terrorism.

We in Sri Lanka are particularly conscious of the capacity of terrorist groups to resort to the strategy of using front organisations for raising funds which end up in the LTTE war chest to contribute towards murdering and brutalising our people. Moral and legal sanctions against terrorists are not enough. Laws must be effectively implemented. Only by such concerted action would we be able to ensure that terrorists are compelled to renounce violence and enter the democratic process. I would like to thank India and the United States of America in particular for having recognised and declared the LTTE to be the terrorist organisation that it is, and for encouraging my Government to settle this problem by political means. I would like to add here that this is an internal problem that Sri Lanka is fully able and ready to resolve with the full support of its peoples. We will not tolerate any outside interference whilst we appreciate all the support given us by our friends aborad in resolving the conflict.

Mr. President,

If at this stage I mention Madam Aung San SuuKyi of Myanmar it is because I am personally aware of the loneliness, the anguish, the difficulties and dangers that a woman leader faces in political life. The people of Sri Lanka and the people of Myanmar and their Governments have been friends over many centuries. Our peoples share an invaluable heritage - the timeless message of the Buddha, the enlightened one who taught the world the meaning of compassion, tolerance and understanding. This message moves me to express the hope that political issues in Myanmar could be approached in a spirit of conciliation and tolerance.

UN Reforms:

In all this, a catalytic role can and must be played by the United Nations system. The United Nations has passed its half century mark. The Secretary-General has described the UN as "a noble experiment in human cooperation". Last year was designated the Year of UN Reform and we are happy that a major portion of the reforms introduced by the Secretary General have been implemented. Some others require further study.

We are aware of the financial crisis the UN is facing, due to the default of certain member states in paying their contributions. We urge them to pay their dues fully without conditions and on time.

We are disappointed that agreement has not been reached over the reconstitution of the Security Council to reflect better the generality of UN membership. The Council should be more representative and its deliberations more transparent and democratic, thus, responding to the concerns of all and shedding its image, not entirely inaccurate, of largely serving the interests of the major powers.

In the closing years of the present millennium, the world is a far more complex place than it was when the UN Charter was adopted. The range and ramifications of the issues with which the Organization must contend have dramatically increased. Change in the orientation of the United Nations must keep pace with new realities. The Secretary-General's Programme for Reform is a step in the right direction. Yet nothing will contribute more to the success of the United Nations than the extent of the commitment member-States have to the Organization's decisions. The credibility and strength of those decisions. If the UNO is to continue on its voyage ,into the 21st century, with renewed vigour - to achieve its objectives of peace, security, economic development and social reform, all its members must be empowered to participate meaningfully and at every level of the decision making process. To this end two important reforms must be placed on our agenda.

First that end the enlargement of the Security Council in order that it represents more fully, two thirds of the world populace is an indispensable requirement. The developing nations and the regions of the world in which they predominate, must have permanent representation on the Security Council. Secondly, the crucial role of the General Assembly in the decision making process of the United Nations must be recognised and guaranteed. The UN General Assembly is the supreme Parliament of mankind.

Today the era of the Cold War is over. Economic globalization is breaking down national boundaries to an extent which would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. The world is truly on the threshold of a new order which surely cannot be driven any more by the narrow national concerns that have paralysed the imagination of man for so long. Never before in human history have we been presented with the stupendous possibilities that surround us today of breaking the mundane bonds that bind us to banality and triviality. When the unconquered, unconquerable spirit of man is allowed to soar to its full potential we will achieve a world in which truth and justice prevail, a world which we can proudly bequeath to unborn generations of our peoples.

Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, my late father, addressing this Assembly in 1956, spoke as follows :

(I quote) "In an Organization such as this, the service that a country can render is not to be measured alone by the size of that country, its population, its power or its strength. This is an Organization which expresses itself most effectively by bringing to bear a certain moral force - the collective moral force and decency of human beings. That is a task in which the weak as well as the strong can render a useful service, and I give the Assembly the assurance, on behalf of my country, that we will make every endeavour to assist in the achievements of those noble ideals for which this Organization stands". (unquote)

Addressing this Assembly 42 years later I make bold to say that Sri Lanka remains a loyal and dedicated member of this Organization. We have made a contribution to the quality of its deliberations and to the implementation of its programmes. We are deeply committed to the principles of the Charter. We believe in the United Nations. We want it to be a strong, principled and effective body, the common inheritance of all mankind, not the preserve of a few wealthy and powerful States but the guardian of all, especially the poor, the weak, and the defenceless.
I thank you!