The Contribution of Law to the RIO + 20 AGENDA



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Remarks by Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona   Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka   to the United Nations .   

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,It gives me great pleasure to chair this workshop on the contributions of international treaties and of tribunals to sustainable development governance.  As the Rio+20 Conference draws closer we would all naturally look to the legal framework that would guide us post Rio+20 .  At the end of the day it will not be fine words and deleted brackets that will determine implementation of commitments undertaken at Rio, but the frameworks that we agree upon.   20 years ago at Rio, a similar process took place. The Rio principles were adopted. Many believe that a substantial part of them have now become part of customary international law. The Agenda 21 was adopted and continues to guide our actions.  The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity were opened for signature and both instruments are now in force. Both instruments also have protocols attached to them.  In addition to these high profile instruments, the international community has over the years adopted a range of other treaties which regulate our actions on various matters affecting the environment.  These cover the ozone layer, climate change, biological diversity, desertification, the seas, hazardous wastes, chemicals, fauna and flora, trade in endangered species, fisheries - the list is extensive.  Many of these treaties were negotiated under the auspices of the UN or at conferences mandated by the General Assembly.  The UN has played a vital role in expanding the global regulatory framework relating to human actions that affect the environment and, of course, sustainable development.  Indeed we have to be thankful to the UN for this. We are now entering an era of green development. In this context, the role played by international tribunals in advancing international rules of conduct is significant.  Going far back as the Trail Smelter Case, international tribunals have contributed to the development of rules relating to the responsibility of states, including for environmental issues.  Moe recently we have the judgments in the Nuclear Weapons Case and the Paper Mills Case. We have decisions of the International Court of Justice, the Law of the Sea Tribunal and arbitral awards which have played a critical role in advancing the law relating to environmental protection.  As you may be aware, a large number of Permanent Representatives who call themselves the ARCC, Ambassadors for Responsibility in the case of Climate Change, are developing a draft GA Resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the ICJ on the responsibility of states to mitigate human generated GHG emissions in view of the likely consequences of climate change and global warming. I look forward to the Panelists elaborating on some of these aspects this afternoon.   I shall now hand over the floor to our moderator, Ms. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, Head of Economic Growth &Trade, IDLO   

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Ambassador Dr. Kohona attended the High Level Meeting on ICT  and Sustainable Urbanization in Hong Kong


Statement by Ambassdor Kohona pn 16th  April,  2012 in Hong Kong

          It is a normal, widely observed historical phenomenon, that rural folk migrate to cities for a range of different reasons. These migrations could be temporary or permanent. The attraction in the cities could be, jobs, better prices for their products, education for their children, housing, or simply the bright lights. In many developed countries too, rural youth migrate to cities looking for the bright lights, in a metaphorical sense. As many believe, city streets are paved with gold.  There is a cost attached to these migrations.  Both for these people from rural areas as well as the current city dwellers and the managers of urban areas.

      Bridging the digital divide between rural and urban communities could help to curb the migration pattern in certain countries. Rapidly developing Information and Communication Technologies are now being acknowledged as being crucial to multiple service providers as well as a source of innovative employment creation. We need to be creative in this area, or shall I say, domain.

      Recognising this growing demand for urban amenities in rural areas, the Government of Sri Lanka first started developing the policy framework for moving certain industries into rural areas, making them readily accessible to rural communities. The result has been the facility for rural youth, especially for girls, to find employment in their own neighbourhoods. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans now work in factories and work places located in their own districts. Industrial parks have been set up far from the main cities. We have thus avoided the overcrowding of our cities unlike many other developing countries. We have also avoided many of the vexing social problems associated with overcrowded cities. Similarly, from early 2000 onward, Sri Lanka started a rapid ICT drive encompassing the whole country with a special emphasis on rural and backward communities giving them enormous benefits. The rural telecenter network was a special innovation, in which a collaborative partnership was promoted among the government, corporate and individual entrepreneurs and the civil society organizations.

     Sri Lanka's current e-Gov policy and associated projects have ignited a rapid e-service drive, serving a significant portion of the country’s population. Accordingly, more and more information on public services has become available for citizens electronically (via the internet and through the official government call center services). Now, time consuming and costly visits to urban centers to access government services has become unnecessary. There is further room for development, but significant advances have already been made, given our limited resources.

      The national broadband policy of Sri Lanka too is helping narrowing the digital divide. The planned island-wide national backbone network also supports this policy. The service is open to private enterprise and a fierce competition has begun to provide services, making Sri Lanka a leader in this area. Of course, business is a beneficiary from this. More than 80% of Sri Lankans now have access to cell phones.

      Sri Lanka’s fifth largest component of the GDP is the ICT-based business process outsourcing (BPO) industry , which is now set to surpass traditional industries and services in a couple of years.  This target set by the private sector along with government-sponsored rural ICT infrastructure which will help job-seeking youth to engage in ICT/internet based income generating activities, thus discouraging the traditional inclination to migrate to cities looking for the "source of decent jobs".

It is also noteworthy that Sri Lanka’s first women BPO started on this year’s International Women’s Day in Jaffna. This city suffered severely during the 30-year internal conflict.

The increasing ICT literacy (increased from 5% in 2004 to 30% in 2011) will drive a significant portion of rural youth to ICT based “green” jobs. The government plans to increase the number to 75% by 2016.

     The same result can be expected if Sri Lanka can improve distance education facilities and resources in ICT-based media which would help to reduce rural children going to ad hoc after school tuition facilities in cities. However, substituting teachers standing in front of a class room with such new technologies is a challenge, specially developing educational material in local languages. Providing a solid base for education will help improving social development indicators of developing countries sustainably.

    Today’s challenge is to manage time and space for ever increasing demands in cities despite many resource constraints. In this context, ICT helps managing urbanization sustainably by modern means. Improved digital communication facilities, population databases, online payment systems, security systems and supply-chain management systems can be mentioned as the ICT tools of sustainable urban management.

  Developing new townships with ICT infrastructure, which are flexible for rapidly advancing new technologies are therefore imperative to mitigate many negative results of urbanization. To improve sustainability, energy-efficient ICT and supportive systems should be developed and implemented.

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Large investor presence, a valuable vote of confidence in Sri Lanka – President at Sri Lanka Expo 2012


You are a strong and valuable vote of confidence in Sri Lanka; an expression of growing trust in the new opportunities for export trade in a country that was famous for international trade from ancient days, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

Addressing "Sri Lanka Expo 2012”, organized by the Export Development Board (EDB) at the BMICH this morning, the  President said the presence of investors here today shows the failure of the efforts of those who still support the agenda of separatist terror that prevented development in Sri Lanka for more than three decades.

“You are here today, with a measure of confidence in Sri Lanka that has not been diminished by false propaganda that is currently spread by those who are trying to prevent investment flowing to our country. 

The large international presence at this event is a clear indication of the growing awareness in the world of the new investment opportunities in Sri Lanka, the President said. 


For text of President Rajapaksa’s address visit:

Climate Change - Faltering Negotiations (?)

Statement  by : Ambassador Dr Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lankato the UN in New York

Pace Law School - Pace University

The Durban Conference in December 2011 was another step in the tortured negotiations designed to address the ever growing threat of climate change with its attendant consequences of sea level rise, glacier melt, drying of forests, peat lands and the tundra, unprecedented forest and peat fires, changing weather patterns and unusual climatic phenomena. All of which will have major consequences for human habitats, employment, agriculture, global tourism, food security, and in some cases, the very existence of countries. The threat of climate refugees is beginning to loom large. The overwhelming majority in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has taken the view that human induced causes are responsible for global warming. Without doubt, the consequences of this change will be felt mostly by those who are least capable of responding to them, the poor in the world.

South South News Interview with Ambassador Palitha Kohona

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