Address by Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar,

PC Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Delegation of Sri Lanka

at the Fifty-Sixth Session

of the United Nations General Assembly

New York Tuesday 13 November 2001

(check against delivery)


Mr. President, distinguished delegates

Every speaker from this podium during the special debate on terrorism, the debate on the Dialogue Among Civilizations and our current general debate has said, suggested or implied that September 11 has changed the world irrevocably. Indeed it has. A democracy is an open society. Movement is free. Speech is free. All the citizens of a democratic society are free to lead their lives in freedom subject only to the rule of law. Fear and the spirit of democratic freedom are two totally opposite states of mind. Yet, today, fear stalks the United States of America where democracy has flourished vigorously for so long, bringing prosperity to its people and taking human achievement to unimagined heights of excellence.

There can be no argument that terror in all its manifestations must be fought relentlessly and globally. Gone are the days when a country affected by terror, as my country has been for two decades, can be told by the international community "we are sorry about what's happening in your land but there is nothing we can do to help because we have no laws to combat terror". When our Central Bank was bombed and destroyed, when the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, one of the holiest shrines of Buddhism, was bombed and saved from destruction only by a miracle, when a commuter train carrying workers home was attacked with explosives, when thousands of men, including monks, women and children were slaughtered, when Muslims were massacred in a mosque, while at prayer, when a President of Sri Lanka, Ministers and Members of Parliament and many other elected leaders were assassinated, let alone a Prime Minister of India, when the incumbent President of Sri Lanka was attacked by a suicide bomber at an election rally killing and wounding scores of innocent bystanders and grievously wounding her in the right eye the sight in which is lost - all this and much more has happened at the hands of a terrorist group in Sri Lanka - we received merely sympathies, condolences, expressions of shock and outrage, while the funding that fuels the terrorism in my country went on apace in the great, liberal democracies of the West. When half the number of aircraft in our national airline were wiped out by the same terrorists on July 24th we were advised by some governments to negotiate. We were reminded that "violence begets violence". That approach has changed dramatically, or so it seems, in recent times because terrorism has assailed the national interests of many countries. Terrorism is no longer the curse of the poor. Now, more than ever before when a terrorist attack takes place somewhere in the world, "send not to know for whom the bell tolls", as John Donne said nearly four centuries ago, for surely "it tolls for thee".

The United Nations has focused sharply on building consensus to fight terror. Two important UN Conventions were adopted with admirable speed - the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing and the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing. Another important Convention is being considered at this session by the Ad Hoc Committee for the Elimination of International Terrorism which is chaired by Sri Lanka. Since we have been so severely affected by terrorism it is but natural that we should play a leading role in designing the legislation which the international community should adopt and implement to combat terrorism.

There is a particularly abhorrent brand of terrorism - the forcible conscription of young children for battle widely practiced by the terrorists of Sri Lanka and well documented by Amnesty International, UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict - that the world should never condone. It would be a permanent blot on the conscience of mankind if these poor children were to be consigned unnoticed, uncared for, to their miserable fate.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, while terrorism must be fought, and continue to be fought, relentlessly and by everyone everywhere, sooner rather than later the international community will have to give its collective mind to the question of analyzing and diagnosing the causes of terrorism, preventing and finally eliminating terrorism before it becomes a problem of such deadly dimensions that it threatens the whole world. The causes of terrorism cannot be ignored. To examine the roots of terrorism and the culture in which it breeds in a systematic, objective, well informed manner is not, by any means, to yield to terrorism. It is not a manifestation of weakness for the international community to examine the root causes of terrorism. It is axiomatic that a contented people do not rise up to destroy the society in which they live. If the world has become a village surely we must take care to ensure that villagers living down one road in the village are not given cause to become resentful and angry at the opulence enjoyed by other villagers living down another road, only a stone's throw away.

Might I suggest, therefore, that this General Assembly consider the convening of an international group of eminent persons with the appropriate backgrounds from all relevant fields, representative of all regions of the world, appointed by the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Security Council and the Secretary General, with the request that they report to the General Assembly and the Security Council and the Secretary-General within an appropriate time-frame: on terrorism and its prevention.

Thus, inescapably we will have to revisit and readdress the old questions that have haunted the United Nations ever since it was born - the questions of poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance, injustice. These questions have been with us for a long time. They have received, to a large extent, answers which are no more than faint hearted attempts to forge solutions which look grand on paper but are incapable of implementation for the lack of funds and the lack of political will.

The formulation of policy has always been far easier than the implementation of policy and, when we look to the future through the ultimate prism, namely, the funding available, we face, once more, the bitter truth of which our colleagues from the developed world have been warning us year after year: the "funding globally available" is far from promising.

And, we in the developing world have also been warning our colleagues for so long, when a developing country is unable to generate a sufficiency of domestic capital, public or private, it is to international capital that we, in the developing world, have to turn; and, as international private capital is sensitive to the rate and continuance of profitable return, it is only official development assistance (ODA) that remains.

Mr. President, on November 8th, only a few days ago, at the European Union's Development Council in Brussels a Common Statement was delivered by the five Ministers for Development Cooperation of Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Their words convey far more effectively, and with far greater authority, than my words could possibly do, the thoughts of developing countries on the question of development aid and, therefore, I take the liberty of quoting that Statement in its entirety:

"In the Millennium Declaration, the international community recognized the fight against poverty as the greatest challenge to our system of global governance.

The events of September 11 have made it even more crucial to deal with these problems. We not only need a global coalition against terrorism. We need a global coalition against poverty as well.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, at the Conference for the Least Developed Countries in May 2001, remarked that only a few countries have lived up to the goals of devoting 0.7 percent of their GNP to official development assistance, and that the LDCs suffer disproportionately as a result of that.

We need better and more effective development assistance: policy-coherence, lower transaction costs by harmonization of procedures. We need sharper focus on the importance of strong institutions and sound economic and social policy. But we cannot expect to reach our common goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015 without increasing aid volume.

There is no need for a new set of standards. All UN members, with the exception of the US, have accepted a long established standard volume of ODA for donor countries: 0.7 percent of GNP. But the international community is still a long way from making this standard a reality.

Although the EU has stressed the importance of the 0.7 percent target in the conclusions of the European Council in Goteborg, the EU's record is no exception: in 2000, member States gave an average of only 0.33 percent of GNP in ODA. This is better than the OECD average of 0.24 percent but still a long way from the target.

In fact, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg are the only EU member States that meet the ODA standard. Norway, a non-EU member, is also part of this exclusive club. Luxembourg, the newest member of this group, has proved that it is possible to raise ODA to 0.7 percent of GNP in a short period of time. Together we make up the G-0.7.

The G-7 is full of promises. If all the rich countries would just implement what they have committed themselves to, as the G-0.7 have done, we would not encounter these financial constraints. Having said that, we do realize that ODA is not the only way forward. We also must take into account fair distribution of resources, debt relief, open markets, good governance and the role of the private sector. A reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is a great challenge to the EU.

We welcome new and innovative financing options, but the main problem is that some countries are not providing adequate ODA resources. Obviously there is a lack of political commitment in setting budget priorities. These countries need to change their political priorities in order to comply with their international commitments.

EU Declarations like the one made in Goteborg do call for that much needed compliance - that is to say, they call on us to keep the promises we have already made - but they do so only in general terms. We now need to pick up the pace.

We call on EU members to make a firm commitment at the International Conference on Finance for Development in Monterrey in 2002 and to formulate individual plans and time tables in order to make concrete progress in reaching the goal of 0.7% of GNP to ODA.

Today's EU Development Council in Brussels is a good opportunity to further strengthen the relations in our global world. It should send a long awaited signal that we are serious about our commitments to developing countries". unquote

I wish to place on record the high appreciation of my government to the governments of Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden for those frank and refreshing observations.

We in the developing world will certainly look to the Conference on Financing for Development that will convene in March next year, with much expectation. We cannot but hope that notwithstanding the continuing difference in positions, a secure foundation for a 'partnership" for the future will be formed there, within which both the strong interests of the developing world and the strong concerns of the developed world could be adequately accommodated.

And I would think that undoubtedly the developed world too, will, after the events of the eleventh of September, look to the future in a different frame of mind than before that fateful date. The "development, stability and contentment of all" are no longer charitable objectives. They are in the self interest of "all".

Most certainly, neither we in the developing world nor those in the developed world can allow abject, desperate poverty, without any hope of a better future, to become a fertile field for those who wish to fan the flames of discord and hate and make it their business to wreak death and destruction and terror and mayhem.

Mr. President, 56 years ago almost to this day, the Constitution of UNESCO was proclaimed in words that have a prophetic resonance today.

I quote
"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;

Ignorance of each other's ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war;

The great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races;

A peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind". unquote

Mr. President, these are noble words of timeless quality. But words, however noble, which remain untranslated into deeds become shallow, tawdry, degraded.

All nations, all the peoples of the world must realize that we are slipping into a crisis of a kind we have never encountered before. The spectres of fear, doubt, uncertainty, mistrust, suspicion stalk the world. The hour is late and grave.