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Address by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera
at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture
Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations & Strategic Studies, Colombo: 24 August 2015
I have the honour today, as the Chairman of the Board of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, to speak a little about my late cabinet colleague Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar and also introduce our guest speaker, the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair.
On 12th August 2005, 10 years ago, this country lost one of her illustrious sons, the Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar. A fearless critic of terrorism, he courted death from the moment he took over the portfolio of Foreign Affairs in those challenging days for our country. Finally, ten years ago, a sniper’s bullets managed to silence him forever. Ladies and gentlemen Minister Kadirgamar was a much loved and much admired Foreign Minister of our country. He earned the respect and admiration of his counterparts, leaders of foreign countries, those of us who were honoured to be his colleagues in Cabinet at the time, and all those who had the pleasure of meeting him. Bestowed perhaps with a prophetic view of evolving global threats, he warned western democracies well before 9/11 that they were being too passive about the activities of terrorist organisations – especially their fund raising and planning activities.
A firm believer in democracy for both developed and developing countries, he cautioned the democracies of the world that terrorists were taking advantage of the very freedom and space which democracy allows, to destroy those systems. He urged that the democracies of the world must stand together to fight this scourge, lest we would lose the values, principles and freedoms that we cherish the most. It was during his tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs that the funding for the LTTE in western countries including in the United Kingdom in 2001, when you were Prime Minister sir, was stopped through effective legislation. That, in fact, marked the beginning of the end for the LTTE.
However, at times Lakshman has been misunderstood by some who claim that he believed in a military solution. This is far from the truth. Having had the honour of knowing him and working closely with him I can confidently say that Lakshman did not believe that there was a military solution to the crisis that this country faced. He was a firm believer in human rights and he was a firm believer in democracy. In fact he was the first person in the world in 1963 to conduct an Amnesty International investigation in a country, which was Vietnam. He always believed in a political solution and in the importance of addressing the grievances of the Tamil community. In fact I recall his speech to this effect at the launch of the Sudu Nelum Movement on 10 April 1997 where he spoke at length about the suffering that the Tamil people have endured over the years. He spoke about the importance of achieving for all people in this country, freedom not only from want, poverty and hunger but the freedom of spirit, and he urged the political leaders to adopt a bipartisan, consensual approach to the political solution of the conflict that has plagued our country. As a firm believer in upholding human rights, I recall how, when he took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he worked tirelessly on releasing detainees, taking on this task almost personally together with the Attorney General at the time. His efforts in ensuring Sri Lanka’s accession to the Optional Protocol of the ICCPR and his emphasis on the need to adhere to human rights principles, the rule of law and good governance are well known. So were his efforts at constitution making based on principles of equality to all.
In an address to the Kotelawala Defence Academy in October 2000 he set out the role of the solder in a democratic society. He emphasised the need for human rights and humanitarian law to be observed by the Government and the armed forces even in difficult circumstances of hostilities. He cautioned the soldier, and I quote
“when the day comes, and I believe it will come, for the Armed Forces to lay down their arms because they have done their duty and won their battles, the peace that is going to be constructed, basically by civilians, will be rendered possible only if the armed forces have seen to it that in fighting the war they also respected and had regard for, and wherever possible looked after, cared for and tendered the civilians who in those difficult times, were geographically on the side of the enemy. That is a difficult task but a task profoundly worthy of your best attention, your unflinching attention at all times, bearing in mind the supreme responsibility that you have not only for seeing to it that the country remains whole, but that the country remains ultimately united. Let us never have to rue the day when we won the war, but lost the peace for which the war was fought.”
Lakshman abhorred terrorism, he was a humanitarian. A realist but at the same time an idealist. He articulated his vision for Sri Lanka many times. I will quote from just one instance where he said:
“I believe that all our peoples can live together, they did live together. I think they must learn to live together after this trauma is over. I see no reason why the major races in this country, the Tamils, Sinhalese and the Muslims cannot again build a relationship of confidence and trust. That is my belief. That is what I wished for and in working for that, I will not be deterred….”
Had he been alive in May 2009 when the armed conflict ended, he would have, I am sure, prevailed upon the Government in power not to squander away the opportunity for durable peace by adopting a triumphalist approach. He would advocated a consultative, collaborative and truth seeking trajectory that is essential in our post-conflict situation. It is a pity that Lakshman did not live to see the end of conflict. We are poorer today in a sense without the benefit of his wisdom when we need it most as we embark on a journey towards reconciliation and lasting peace and we seek to set our nation firmly on the path of democracy, ethnic harmony, rule of law and good governance. The twin electoral victories of 8th January and 17th August, achieved by the people of this country through democratic means has enabled us today to reinvigorate our democratic systems, strengthen institutions, and take our country on a path of development and progress while achieving lasting and meaningful reconciliation and peacebuilding.
Ladies and gentlemen it is in this back drop we have today a very special person to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture, the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair the longest serving labour prime minister I believe in the United Kingdom. Something that stands out in Mr. Blair’s tenure as Prime Minister would have interested Lakshman deeply – and that is his role in the Northern Ireland peace process – the 1998 Good Friday agreement negotiations which paved the way for the political settlement between Sinn Féin and the DUP. In the foreword to a book by Alaistair Campbell, Mr. Blair ascribes his success as conflict mediator to empathy skills. He writes,
“In a conflict, there is suffering of a nature and on a scale that we, from the outside, can scarcely appreciate, because it is not within our experience. Each side has a sense of pain and of cruel consequence from the other side’s actions.”
The Rt. Hon. Blair, during his tenure at the helm of the British Government, was compelled to respond when the world was convulsed with unprecedented threat to international peace and security by actors who did not respect international norms, values and agreed conventions. By virtue of his office, he was required to take proactive measures not only on behalf of his own country but for the sake of international peace and stability across the globe. I am grateful to Rt. Hon. Tony Blair for agreeing to speak to us today, at the end of a private visit to Sri Lanka, and share his experiences in resolving the complex conflict in Northern Ireland. This lecture comes at a very propitious time when Sri Lanka is embarking on a journey of achieving reconciliation and a durable peace and I am sure that there will be much that Sri Lanka can draw, from the Northern Ireland experience.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Hon. Tony Blair is too well known for length introduction so let me know in my capacity as the Chairman of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute invite the Hon. Tony Blair to deliver this year’s Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture.
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