Speech by Hon. Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs
at the Asia Society, New York
26th September, 2010

Vice President of Asia Society, Jamie F. Metzl:

All of us realize the importance of this moment for Sri Lanka.  We all condemned the brutality of the LTTE.  We must realize the importance of a possibility for adjust an inclusive society.  How can we as friends work together.  All of us who care about Sri Lanka are pleased that the bloody and brutal war is at an end.  What can Sri Lanka do to seize this critical moment and unlock the potential of its citizens.

Decisions being made now are quite determining forof the future.  We have over the years welcomed several visitors from Sri Lanka, including Foreign Ministers and Presidents of Sri Lanka.  It is my pleasure today to welcome the Minster for External Affairs of Sri Lanka Prof. G.L. Peiris.   

Minister Peiris :

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here this evening and share some thoughts with you on several aspects of the developing situation in my country, which is of wider relevance  and not only of national interest or significance.  The topic today is “Sri Lanka; the way forward to Sustainable Peace”.  We in Sri Lanka, we have every incentive to ensure that the peace we have after two decades is sustainable.  At the time of receiving independence from the British in 1948,  we had the highest per capita income in this part of the world.  Lee Kwan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore has praised us and spoke of our potential.  But what held us back was the phenomenon of terrorism and violence and this is what we have now been able to overcome.  Now in order to sustain this peace we are putting in place a multifaceted strategy which consists of many elements.  One of the principle elements is the economic dimension. I think the sequence is very important.  There is so much to be done. 

15 months ago we started with 297,000 IDPs.  Now the number is down to 23,000.  Out of this figure about 10,000 are in transit in and out of the camps.  This means that the numbers actually in the IDP sites are about 15,000.  One of the major challenges we faced was the process of resettlement.  We want to resettle them in their familar habitat.  We want them to have access to meaningful livelihood.  This is in order to ensure that the people are not embittered. 

 For this purpose the Government of Sri Lanka has established links with the private sector.  We were able to encourage some of our leading companies and factories  to provide employment mainly for Tamil speaking girls who have now become bread winners in their families.   There is a massive programme for the rebuilding of infrastructure,  roads, irrigation system which are desperately needed, water for agricultural activity, rebuilding schools and hospitals etc. All of this is happening as an essential correlation to the process for resettlement of the people who had been displaced by the ravages of conflict.  

The Cabinet of Ministers recently met in Kilinochchi which the LTTE regarded as their headquarters.  We saw for ourselves the expressions on the faces of the people.  No longer any tension, anxiety or fear.  What is most striking about the atmosphere in Sri Lanka today, is a certain sense of expectation, optimism and the confidence with which they are facing the future.  We can see that there was no sense of tension or fear among the people, rather a sense of optimism.  The economic aspect is important.  It is a truism that there is a correlation between economic contentment and political innovation.  It is for this reason that the economic rehabilitation aspects acquires such importance. 

We are making a special effort to reach out to the diapora.  We are telling the diapora that they we want them to be engaged.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In many instances,  the diapora can be extreme with regard to events in their own countries  as they live far away.  We want to engage the diaspora to rebuild the country.  We are having a considerable inflow of groups of diapora from North America and Western Europe.  Significant flow of foreign exchange has also been brought in.  We have also the largest number of tourists on record this year.  The Janus Fund has invested in one of Sri Lanka’s blue chip companies, John Keels.  General Electric has invested some of its pension fund in the Sri Lankan stock market.  All of them have a high degree of confidence in Sri Lanka.  This is because of two factors.  Firstly, the war is over and secondly there is an unparallel degree of political stability. 

There is another aspect of this matter that needs to be addressed.  Military victory cannot give sustainable peace.  It is with this in mind that the President of Sri Lanka has appointed the LLRC.  The purpose of the Commission is to address grievances of the people.  This is not a time for jubilation or exultation.  The LLRC is a key instrument for carrying forward the healing process.  It has been inspired by processes elsewhere such as the Chilcott Commission in UK and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  We must digest what has been done successfully elsewhere and adapt it to our circumstances.  The members of the LLRC will go to Jaffna and they have already travelled to Kilinochchi to meet directly with the people who have been affected by the conflict.  They have invited international groups who have commented on the conflict such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group.  They claim to have doubts relating to what is alleged to have happened in the final days of the war – We have nothing to hide.  The Commission has submitted interim conclusions to the GOSL.  They are addressing issues frontally. 

The Government of Sri Lanka has placed highest priority towards evolving a political solution.  Successive administrations in my country have made persevering efforts to arrive at a long term solution.  All these efforts have one thing in common -  they all failed.  Why?  One principle element of the answer is a lack of consensus.  Today therefore our emphasis is on pragmatism.  Today we want to make sure that the solutions are not top down, and that they rise upwards from the people.  Therefore, we are engaging in consultations with Tamil political parties. 

We realize that we need to reactivate political processes.  The most heinous thing the LTTE did was to eliminate Tamil leadership.  Therefore one of the problems facing the Government is the lack of a negotiating partner.  Whom do you engage with?  We therefore, need to allow leadership to emerge from the Tamil community.  With this in view we started by holding local government elections in the East.  Those elections resulted in the election of a former child soldier as Chief Minister of the Eastern Province.  We need to replicate this in the North as well.  So far local government elections were held only in Jaffna and Vavunia.  We intend to proceed with this process of elections in the North. 

Then we are also addressing the implementation of the 13th Amendment.  It seems to us that the 13th Amendment is incomplete in a fundamental respect.  The 13th Amendment established a line of demarcation between Central government and the rest of the country.  54% of Tamils in Sri Lanka live in areas other than the North and East.  If empowerment and  devolution is to have meaning, then sharing of power has to be at the centre as well.  We are considering a bicameral legislature. 

I like to conclude on this note.  We have a valuable opportunity in Sri Lanka.  We do not want to let that slip through.  In order to make use of the opportunity we need a variety of initiatives  on several fronts;  humanitarian, political, economic and social. 

When I was 9 years old, I recall listening to Sri Jawaharlal Nehru.  The gist of what he said was that the more experience he has of administration, the less inclined he is to pontificate about what is the right solution for other people.  Similarly we are trying to evolve a solution that is suitable for our people.  We are at a moment which is similar to that which Shakespeare described when he said that “there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune…”   We are at the threshold of a great opportunity.  The Government is willing to seize this opportunity.  But we are also conscious that we cannot do it on our own.  We need the support of the international community as well.

I thank you. 

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