Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Statement by
The Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Prime Minister of the
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

at the 58thSession
of the United Nations General Assembly

26th September 2003
New York

Mr President

Mr Secretary General

Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

Please accept my congratulations Mr President on your unanimous and well deserved election as President of the 58th UN General Assembly. This is a difficult period for any person to preside over the UN General Assembly and I wish you every success. I wish also to thank HE Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic for his exemplary work as the outgoing President.

Last year addressing the General Assembly I referred to the commencement of the peace process in Sri Lanka and promised to report on its progress.

The progress of the peace process in Sri Lanka is because we stopped talking about talking to each other - we started doing the talking. We have been lucky because the international community did not simply talk about helping us - they did it.

In moving from conflict to peace in Sri Lanka we initiated fundamental change in policy and strategy. We shifted from confrontation to negotiation, identifying and recognising the root causes of the conflict. The success story that Sri Lanka is fast becoming also demonstrates the value of the support of the international community acting in concert. That the global community moving with a common purpose can succeed in re-establishing peace, democracy and prosperity has been amply demonstrated in the Sri Lankan experience. After 20 years of conflict our people are now enjoying the fruits of 20 months of peace. The role of the international community. in enabling us to move from war to peace has been outstanding. The facilitation that Norway provided, has resulted in bringing the Government and LTTE together in several rounds of negotiation. President Chandrika Kumaratunga's continuing declaration of commitment to a political solution has been invaluable. The moral and material support which our other front line sponsors - India, the EU, Japan, Canada and the US along with the multilateral institutions of the UN and the rest of the international community have given, and continue to give us, has guaranteed that our efforts to consolidate and maintain the peace will strengthen and develop. In Oslo last November our international partners endorsed and underwrote a paradigm shift in policy when the Government and LTTE accepted that the future political order in Sri Lanka would include moving towards a federal polity where the unity and territorial integrity of the country would be ensured. Again, in Tokyo in June this year, 52 nations and 21 multilateral agencies, many of them of the UN system, pledged their support to Sri Lanka's peace efforts, rehabilitation and development programmes. The massive, and unparalleled, financial contributions alone totalled US $ 4.5 billion over a four-year period. These are indeed landmark events underlining the value and strength of international action.

I must however inform this Assembly that like in all negotiations of a peace process we find ourselves today at a temporary impasse in the talks. Within the next few weeks we should know the results of a comprehensive review undertaken by the LTTE in response to our earlier proposals regarding an interim administrative arrangement for the north and east of our country. That they should take so much time and effort can be seen as a positive sign.

We in turn will look positively at the proposals put forward by the LTTE and will do everything in our power to keep the peace process moving forward to a successful conclusion.

Meanwhile our collective efforts, handsomely supported by the international community and the multilateral agencies, at providing relief, rehabilitation and development to the conflict affected areas of the country proceeds apace. Economic growth is marching ahead from a negative growth of - one per cent in the year 2001 to possibly 6% this year and tourism is booming.

Yes Mr President, so far this has been the story of Sri Lanka. And yes, Mr President, there have indeed been some success stories in the UN too in the recent past, in Haiti, Somalia, Angola, Kosovo, East Timor.
But these are not enough.

Mr President,

The UN represents an unique concept and international order formulated by the allied powers to address the challenges to peace and security, and to development and democracy in the aftermath of World War II.

President Roosevelt in his 1943 Christmas Eve radio talk said that as long as Britain, Russia, China and the United States stuck together in determination to keep the peace there was no possibility of an aggressor nation arising to start another world war.

But the world the UN is called upon to represent today is an immeasurably changed world.

Today's problems, as the Secretary General has reminded us are problems that respect no borders, and no laws. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, alienation and exclusion, conflict, global terrorism, disease and endemic poverty are among the foremost of these.

Inescapably, the UN remains the central, indispensable forum in which we can collectively and democratically respond to the challenges that we in common face. But the UN itself is under enormous stress. This strain comes from the structure of the UN itself.

As a result the adequacy and effectiveness of the rules and instruments devised over 50 years ago, to bring order and reason to the post World War 11 international scene, are being questioned. The apparent irrelevance of the current multilateral rules and institutions to deal with the manifold problems of today compel our urgent attention.

In the words of the Secretary General, it challenges our ability "to deal with the least difficult issues and to do so effectively".

Hence the rationale for reform, which is insistent, compelling and radical and cannot be averted. For words without action are meaningless as we learnt in Sri Lanka at bitter cost.

Take for example the profound issues surrounding Iraq. There are members in this hall today who believe passionately that the United States and their allies were wrong to intervene in Iraq. Then there are those of us who feel that the United States and their allies had no choice but to intervene, that the failure of the United Nations had created the need for a world policeman however reluctant it might be. But Iraq is more than the divergence of views on a major issue. It shows the inadequacies of the present collective security system. A decision making system which grappled with the issue of Iraq for over a decade without solution and created a deadlock at a most critical time.

The UN has already paid a dreadful price. The attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad not only deprived the world community of some of its most devoted and talented servants but raised to the fore issues relating to the mandates entrusted to the United Nations by its Member States. It represents, undoubtedly, a direct challenge. A challenge which must be met.

Any reform must be radical in order that in the changed world, so different from that which it was called upon to serve in 1945, the United Nations has the capacity to cope with war, poverty, human rights, terrorism and a dramatically changed environment where weapons of mass destruction have become so potent a symbol. We have to move from rhetoric and cosmetic change to major surgery if we are to come out of the woods. Rhetoric is not a substitute for decisive action. Frantic activity is not a substitute for concerted action and the passing of resolutions do not make a tangible difference to the day to day lives of our peoples. And above all remember that inaction in itself is a deliberate and a considered decision to do nothing. We should not rival the League of Nation's impotence on Abyssinia.

The problems we encounter at the present times compel us to courageously and resolutely address and overcome the fundamental inadequacies that afflict our international institutions and processes.

This year we had the propitious coming together of three events which have framed thus far the political financial and economic ordering of our world. I refer to this present session of the United Nations General Assembly, the gathering of the Finance Ministers to discuss the Bretton Woods Institutions and the discussions at Cancun on the re-ordering of the World Trade regime. At all three meetings the call for structural reform was insistent and compelling. All three, the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Twins, and GATT were born out of the trauma and dislocation of the Second World War. For over 50 years they have served our many causes in varying ways at times with limited success, at times with despair in their inability to effectively deal with the fundamental problems of the day. After the Asian crisis the Bretton Wood institutions have come under close scrutiny and today we are discussing how the developing countries can have a bigger say in their decision making.

The recent experience under the Doha round of the WTO process at Cancun further illustrates the problems that face us. No one expected an agreed formula to come out of Cancun. On the other hand it need not have ended in collapse.

The Secretary General's report has identified many of the defects of the system that need to be addressed. Other Speakers too have made proposals in this regard. At this stage, I would like to mention that in our view any expansion of the Security Council as a result of Reforms must be of manageable number and Asia must be given its due numbers. This was ignored in 1945.

While many have urged radical reform of the structure of the UN so as to make it able to respond to the challenges which confront multilateralism in the present times, most have been hesitant to suggest ideas which are both practical and doable. I believe the time has come for all of us who accept in principle the value of this institution - the United Nations and the objective it stands for, to think out of the box; to think creatively and imaginatively and unconventionally.

If I were to hazard an approach it would be on the lines of going back to our roots. The outline of the UN prepared at Dumbarton Oaks in August and September 1944 were agreed to at Yalta in February 1945 at Head of Government level. The Charter was signed at the final meeting in San Francisco in April 1945. All this was completed in just 10 months.

I for one, would like to suggest that the Secretary General and a carefully selected group of political leaders could themselves come up with recommendations to Reforms to the United Nations. Their recommendations could be placed before a special session of the General Assembly at which Heads of States and Government will be present.

I suggest that the time frame for this need not be any longer than at the inception of the United Nations 58 years ago.

In conclusion let us remind ourselves that September 1 1th was a tragic wake up call for all of us. 19th August was a tragic wake up call for the United Nations.

We have before us a historic opportunity. To build a United Nations worthy of the people whom we have the honour to represent. To build a United Nations where honesty is not clouded by diplomacy, where realism replaces rhetoric and where action supplants treaties.


Thank you.