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Mr.President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It gives me great pleasure to be in Havana today and speak on behalf of my country – Sri Lanka.
Our country has been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement from its very inception, 45 years ago. Sri Lanka’s association with the Movement, in fact, precedes the Belgrade Conference. We take modest pride in having played a role in the very founding of the Non-Aligned movement as one of the 5 convenors of the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in 1955, - a meeting which indeed inspired the birth of our Movement.
Let me express my deep gratitude to His Excellency Fidel Castro and the Government of Cuba, for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to us. His Excellency is not only the longest ruling current head of a non aligned government. He is also the world’s longest ruling current head of government as well. His Excellency is also the first head of government to take the leadership of the developing world for a second time - the first occasion being 27 years ago at the non-aligned summit in Havana in 1979.
Let me also congratulate Malaysia for her wise stewardship of our Movement through challenging times.
To Haiti, and St Kitts and Nevis, I join in extending a warm welcome as they join our family of Non-Aligned nations.
We are now a group of 118 countries. Our movement continues to grow, despite ill-informed statements by some that we are now irrelevant. We constitute over half of the membership of the United Nations. Yet, our ability to effectively influence developments at a global level remains limited.
As Cuba, a country which has been associated with our Movement for long years, assumes the leadership of NAM, we are provided an opportunity to take a hard and honest look at ourselves: And to do so in order that we may identify the problems that now confront our Movement.
The ideals of NAM have always been close to my heart. They have served to provide a strong influence on my vision and my ideology, over the years. The dedicated leadership provided to the Movement by its founders, including Prime Minister Sirimawo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, has been a great source of inspiration for me.
When I look back on my own life I find that it is from their vision, their courage and their convictions that I have drawn strength and inspiration, first as a student and then as a young Member of Parliament, to step into the forefront of public service in my country.
My strong support for our brothers and sisters in many countries of Africa and Asia, who were at that time still under colonial rule, and my support for the just cause of the Palestinian people, were the result of my commitment to the ideals of NAM.
At the inception of our movement, our objectives included decolonization and the ending of apartheid. We successfully accomplished these objectives by acting through our united strengths. Today however, the pursuit of individual interests seems to have weakened our pursuit of common goals.
We meet today in Havana, therefore, at an important stage in the growth of our Movement. While in less than 5 years we would complete half a century of our existence, our movement is faced, - more than ever before, - with the need to find solutions, - as a united force, - to the many challenges that confront not only the developing countries but the people of the world at large. Thus, while on the one side our original agenda has not been fully accomplished, we find – on the other – that many new challenges now need to be addressed.
The political rights of the Palestinian people remain to be realized. Human rights, including social and economic rights such as the right to development still remain to be achieved. We have also to yet achieve the democratization of global governance. At the same time, the problems of poverty, disease, hunger, under-development, environmental degradation and rapid urbanization, and the problems of conflict, continue to afflict many of our countries.
Excellencies, it is also evident that State sovereignty, civil society and the rule of law are increasingly threatened by the transnational networking in illicit arms, terrorism, narcotics, money-laundering and crime. Terrorism is, without doubt, the most de-humanizing and politically de-stabilizing phenomenon of our time.
Terrorism and liberation differ from each other, as much as the sky differs from the earth. Liberation, unlike terrorism, is a creative and a humane force. It is a humane vehicle of new visions for the progressive change of power structures on the one side and socio-economic structures on the other. Terrorism, by contrast, is a destructive force, - a de-humanizing force, - that cannot in any way be justified.
The people of my country have suffered for long years at the hands of a most ruthless terrorist outfit which resorts to the most hateful forms of terror. Suicide bombing, mine attacks, massacres, indiscriminate armed assault, and the forcible conscription of young children for battle, comprise their modes of action. They indulge in the progressive elimination of all political leaders, human rights activists, journalists and all those who do not approve their methods and agree with their views and objectives.
All efforts that have been taken by successive governments, including mine, to enter into dialogue with this group, have so far failed. Yet, even in the face of extreme provocation, we continue in our attempts to transform this dictatorial terrorist group that engages in violence, into a political force that would engage peacefully with the State and with other political parties and participate in a democratic political process.
Let us call upon the Non-Aligned Movement as well as the United Nations to strongly renew the commitment to fight terrorism whenever and wherever it decides to raise its ugly head. At the same time all of us together need to find innovative means and ways to combat terrorism, as it poses a grave threat to the political and economic well-being, sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation States.
Excellencies, we must also address the important fact that today the United Nations is also under pressure to change. We agree that change is needed. But the way the process is being followed and managed does not inspire sufficient confidence that reform and change in the United Nations would definitely be in the best interest of the majority of world’s people.
The Non-Aligned Movement should take an initiative in trying to bring about balanced change in the United Nations as well as in other multilateral institutions. It is vital that our Movement should take this role upon itself. Let the Non-Aligned Movement ensure that reform will increase, - and not decrease, - the relevance of the United Nations.
I am indeed happy that our Movement has unanimously decided that on the conclusion of His Excellency Kofi Annan’s term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, his successor should be from Asia. We indeed appreciate this decision.
Excellencies, my own political journey has been both long and full of challenges. Coming as I do from the far South of our country, I have grown to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of village life. The beauty of rural life is fast disappearing since the benefits of the process of globalization have failed to filter down to our rural areas.
Most of the development that occurred in our country after independence was centred on the towns. In terms of access to basic infrastructure facilities and public utilities, many rural areas fell behind. This resulted in the migration of people from village to town, and the accompanying problems of rapid urban migration which are well known to us all.
After my election as President of our country in November last year, we have adopted a development strategy which is pro-poor on the one side, and ensures more regionally balanced growth on the other. Our new development strategy provides for social and economic growth that is both comprehensive and participatory. Our objective is to raise the level of overall development, while raising the income levels and well-being of the poor who constitute around half of the country’s population. As we move towards this objective, we are also empowering people through community development projects at grassroots level.
But, as in the case of all our developing countries, for the economic strategy of my government to be successful it is essential that we the Non-Aligned Nations stand together to ensure that the developing countries gain adequate access to the policy making processes in international financing and trade. At the same time, we the developing countries must help each other by reducing the trade barriers between ourselves. Let us evolve a common culture of self-help for the South.
Let us find ways and means to ensure that all of us together achieve the benchmarks, - such as the Millenium Development Goals, - that we have set for ourselves. At the same time let us help each other in the matters of good governance, transparency, productivity, cooperation with civil society, respect for human rights and labour rights, and other such matters that are important to our people.
Let our Movement take decisions. Let us make both decisive and practical statements on these matters, and follow through effectively on our decisions, lest we become irrelevant and thereby fail our people.
Over 2500 years ago, one of the greatest philosophers and religious teachers of all times, Gautama the Buddha, - the Enlightened One, - said:
Passe ce vipulam sukham
Caje matta sukham dhrro
Sampassam vipulam sukham.
(Dhammapada: Chapter XX1: Verse 290)
“If by giving up a lesser happiness one may behold a greater one, let the wise man give up the lesser and look to the greater one”.
Excellencies, the will to act collectively for the greater good of all still remains the vital spark of our Movement. But today it needs to be fanned and fuelled. It is up to us, members of the Movement, to undertake this task. And let us do so with renewed hope and determination. Thank you.