Peace | Speeches

Forging Ethnic Harmony and National Reconciliation

Inauguration of the National Consultation on Ethnic Reconciliation

Colombo, Sri Lanka

July 26, 2002

Your Excellencies,
Honourable Governors,
Chief Ministers,
Members of Parliament,
Secretary to the President ,
Government officials,
Leaders of Political Parties,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Friends.

At the outset I would like to thank all of you having accepted my invitation to be present here today, at the launch of the National Consultation on Ethnic Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. This is not anything new when we look at the recent history of our country. It could be called the second major attempt at forging ethnic harmony and national reconciliation. The first attempt by any Government was the ‘Sudu Nelum’ movement which was initiated 7 years ago. This is another step taken along the path of ethnic harmony, reconciliation and finally peace in our land. We believed that this was an opportune moment to commence this second effort, because the present Government has commenced the 6th attempt at ending the military conflict and forging a durable and lasting peace. We have moved forward a considerable amount positively along that path in this new attempt at, but as Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar mentioned, I too strongly believe peace cannot be achieved only by winning wars or I would like to add even by signing memorandums of understanding, ceasefire agreements or settlements. Peace must also be achieved if it is to last a long time, in the hearts and minds of the people. For this purpose for the first time, my first Government began an extensive an intensive effort at forging this peace in the hearts and mind of our people beginning with the majority Sinhala people through the Sudu Nelum movement, and other numerous associated actions which were started by the Government, which went in tandem with many other efforts commenced and undertaken by non governmental organizations, and other such groups. We also believed that today three days away from the 23rd of July when we remember a certain 23rd of July 19 years ago would also be a good moment to commence this movement. We cannot forget that one moment of our history that shook our nation to the deepest depths of its social fabric, to the depths of our collective national soul.

My friends I am sure, you would agree with me if I say that those three days were the most shameful three days in Sri Lanka's great and noble history. We therefore believe that once again at the highest levels of Government and State we should commence the widest possible consultation and dialogue amongst all our peoples. Amongst our people belonging to every ethnic community, religious denomination, political beliefs and creed and so on, on the need for peace, on the need for forging new systems, institutions and procedures for ensuring reconciliation, for bringing about ethnic harmony and harmony amongst all other communities we also believe that the moment is opportune to undertake the strengthening of existing systems and procedures to achieve this same objective.

We propose to do this by inviting various groups of people to express freely their views on how this should be done, to express their fears, their hopes, to give us their suggestions and proposals and then we intend to put all this together of course in a summarized brief report and present it, first to the Government and then to the country , so that those actually and directly engaged in the peace process could take into account all those concerns , proposals, and suggestions as they go along the path of reconciliation and peace. In fact we also believe that it was a pity, for whatever reason, the first serious of effort of reconciliation which I mentioned, begun in 1995 which had great success has been allowed to peter out and die down for no known definite reasons. So we think it is high time that we began a similar process in a newer and different way. I remember in 1995 when we began and took forward the Sudu Nelum Movement, there existed in this country a great deal of suspicion, fear and a lack of understanding among the majority community about the need for peace , the need for reconciliation and so on. I believe that in the three years beginning form 1995 when this movement was actively taken forward with great dynamism we were able to convey to and convince the vast majority of the Sinhala people for first time in independent Sri Lanka that there was no other solution other than adopting the path of peace to resolve the differences that existed between our peoples. When we began in 1995 there was a large majority of the Sinhala people who had doubts that negotiations and political discussions were the only way to resolving this problem, simply because until then no other alternative had been presented to them by those who governed and by those who mattered until then. The movement of 1995 began actually in 1993 when some of us political leaders, took the bull by the horns, whether it is called courage or what I do not know, and for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka went on election platforms to do something that no one else had done until then. We told the people that we wanted a mandate mainly to end the war to end military conflict and to resolve the problems of the Tamil and Muslim people of this country through discussion and negotiation, this in addition to resolving other problems economic and social. I remember what I was told by some very senior political leaders when I first announced this on an election platform in 1993. I was told I was making a very serious mistake however I believed I was not. It was not a spontaneous or stupid statement but one which came through a deep understanding, and after many casual and formal surveys among the Sinhala people. It was in the belief in the great goodness of our people, it was in full awareness and knowledge, that the majority, the vast majority of the Sinhala people would accept the proposal that we were making to them. History has proved that since then through 11 electoral victories, where on every one of those election platforms we made the same call, we made the same proposal and we won those elections. It is as a consequence of that when the Peoples Alliance was elected to power in 1994 that I proposed to some of our people that we begin some thing like movement like the Sudu Nelum Movement and we took this with great enthusiasm with our young people to the villages. We had immense success, but unfortunately, when the 5th attempt at peace, the first one by the Peoples Alliance Government failed after 8 months of cessation of hostilities, and a ceasefire, even through all that we continued that effort , we formulated new constitutional drafts, which contained very wide powers of devolution which we proposed to offer to the regions to the minority peoples, we continued with this while the LTTE was waging war and the Government had to respond militarily. We continued to request the opposition to help us to complete this process. It is regrettable that for 7 years the opposition refused steadfastly to give us that support but now that is behind us. I informed the new Government specially the Prime Minister and the new cabinet of the Ministers, that we will not in anyway hamper, hinder or obstruct the 6th process of peace which was begun by this new Cabinet of Ministers and the Prime Minister that we do not intend to behave in anyway like the then opposition behaved for 7 long years, that we do not intend to punish that opposition which today is in power for what they did to our effort at peace and I as Head of State, Head of Government, and Head of the Cabinet and the Commander in Chief have given the maximum support I can, I have permitted the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers to utilize powers that are exclusively assigned to the President without any restrains or conditions put on it and I have not insisted on being informed in great detail of the negotiations that are going between the Prime Minister and the LTTE unless the Prime Minister wishes to inform me of those details. I have taken it upon myself to advise the Prime Minister, I have nominated also Honorable Lakshman Kadirgarmer with whom the Prime Minister has long chats to give whatever honest advice that he can given our long experience of 7 and half years of negotiations, of attempts at negotiations, of strategies and tactics to persuade the LTTE to come to the negotiating table to the Prime Minister without any holes barred and I know that Honourable Kadirgamar does that whenever he is requested for advice by the Prime Minister. I continue to give advice whenever it is sought but there would come a time when as Head of State when I know the final responsibility, Constitutional, Legal and also the moral responsibility lies with the Head of State for the final decisions. I would have to answer the people of my country to all of them not the people of one ethnic community or one group but the entire Sri Lankan people who I consider to have equal rights, who I believe should have the same privileges and opportunities to live as decent human beings with dignity in this country and at that moment of reckoning I would like to be aware of what the peoples of my country believe should be done in order to achieve peace. On one hand obviously the LTTE on the other, the other Tamil people of this country who may agree with the LTTE ‘s politics or not , the Muslim people of this country, their political leaders, the Sinhala people of this country, all their political leaders, leaders of their society, groups, interest groups, among all the Sri Lankans. In other words I wish to continue the process of consultation and dialogue which I began with my first Government 8 years ago. Once again now so that I as Head of State will be properly informed of the hopes, aspirations, beliefs and the proposals and perhaps the refusals of all my people. We intend to carry out this process in the most in impartial manner possible. It will be completely non politicised I will nominate people to represent me as I cannot be present at every consultation, who will be chosen Leaders of society and of political parties who would wish to be part of this process. We will invite all without any narrow considerations of politics or anything else and we hope that they will all participate fully and honestly, in this process.

At this moment I do not wish to speak for much longer, I only wish to state that as the Head of State of this country but even more so as a citizen of Sri Lanka who loves this country as dearly as every one of you here, as a mother and as a woman who hopes that my children and yours will no more be called upon to experience the horrors that our generation was compelled to experience, to live through, in the last 20 years of our history and perhaps even more especially the last 20 years the last 19 years to most specific, will not have to live through those experiences and that they could look forward to a brighter future for our country , a country in peace – marching forward to that destiny that all our peoples so richly deserve after all these years of immense suffering, sadness and tears.

I wish to thank my office and all those other friends who made this event possible by organising it and to all of you for your participation here today and for all other future advice, participation and all other assistance that you would give us to make this process of consultation a success.

Thank you.