H.E. Mr Lakshman Jayakody
Special envoy of H.E. the President of Sri Lanka and Deputy Chairman of the National Planning Commission at the
World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination , Xenophobia and related Intolerance
Durban, South Africa
1 September 2001
May I at the outset congratulate you on your election to the Chair of this important conference. It is singularly appropriate that this event is held in South Africa since the struggle by the people of South Africa remains as a beacon against racial discrimination. In 1994, people in this country broke away from the past and collectively laid the foundation for a democratic nation where equality and human dignity are the guiding principles. We, in Sri Lanka, recall with pride and satisfaction our solidarity with the people of South Africa in this effort. Today we look forward to the leadership of South Africa through you Madam for the success of this conference. I bring with me greetings from my President Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for a successful outcome of this landmark event.
Sri Lanka also recognizes with deep appreciation the contribution made by Madam Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights towards success of this conference. Her vision, commitment and guidance throughout the preparatory process will no doubt lead us towards the successful completion of our work.
From time immemorial the fear of "the other" and the urge to dominate and exploit “others” have engendered racism and intolerance, despite frequent attempts by many to control and banish these human weaknesses from our midst.
Globalization of economic and social forces resulting in an unprecedented mobility of people, increasing in magnitude and complexity, has once again brought forth the worst in human beings. Racism and intolerance are such attitudes which compel us to look deep in to our value systems, to review the bad not to repeat, and to revive the good to make it better. Therefore, it is also time for stocktaking. We cannot wish away the past. We should ensure that history does not repeat itself. We need to recognize past injustices and wrongs, and repent and repair on the one hand, and set on a course that is forward looking and contains a road map for a better future, on the other. We would like to make this century a period of hope and reconciliation and therefore cannot afford to fail for the sake of our future generations.
My country, the island nation of Sri Lanka, is a multi ethnic nation. In our recorded history of over 2000 years, we have absorbed many strands, strains and trends that arrived in our shores from all over the world. Embracing of such diversity over two millennia has enabled our society to better understand the importance and the contribution, "the other" can make for the betterment of a society. The basic social ethos of Sri Lanka is based on the predominant ethic of tolerance enriched by all major world religious traditions present in my country. The core values of our society therefore teaches us that all human beings are born equal. We believe human duties invariably enrich human rights. There is no room for intolerance, racism or any other form of discrimination in the mainstream of our society.
We are also mindful of the growth of ethnic consciousness in social and political space as a world-wide phenomenon, perhaps, as a counter to globalising trends in other spheres. Sri Lanka is not immune from this trend. The manifold adverse impact of such developments in our multi ethnic society has made the task of post-colonial nation building a matter of highest national priority. In this regard, we recognize socio political stability devoid of ethnic prejudices as an essential condition for further development of our society and the economy. With this objective in mind, in 1994, our Government established a Ministry for ethnic affairs and declared a national integration policy as well as a mechanism within which different ethnic groups work together while maintainting group specific collective identities. This policy presents a framework for unity in diversity by providing a space for each ethnic group to remain distinct while developing mechanisms for close interdependence. This effort covers a vast spectrum of activities and encompasses all areas of public policy domain.
We also observe several dangerous and retrograde trends that militate against social harmony and economic well being of our globalizing village. We have not yet been able to banish ideologies based on ethnocentric exclusivity. Like in some parts of the world, Sri Lanka too has been touched by the terror , horror and violence of this trend that goes against all norms and ethics of the civilised world of the past, the present and the future. In my country extremist groups often use tribalistic rhetoric ostensibly to achieve communal aspirations and some engage in violence and terror. Nevertheless, Government of Sri Lanka having recognized that such conflicts require political solutions is determined to arrive at political arrangements that empower and secure all communities. People in my country, as those in similar predicaments elsewhere, will need all the support and understanding of the international community to overcome and reject ethnocentric ideologies and selfishness. We abhor and reject all forms of violence perpetrated ostensibly to achieve racial and ethnic aspirations or to preserve exclusive ethno-political domains. We in Sri Lanka expect the message that will go out of this conference will be loud and clear and will set norms and bench marks for all nation states, groups, non state actors and civil society at large that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance as well as all means employed to engage in such practices will not be tolerated any more by the civilised world.* * * * *