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Accountability, justice, reconciliation through domestic institutions: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

  • Prez tells UN General Assembly only homegrown solutions will bring lasting results
  • Says environment conservation a key priority
  • Urges protection of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage
  • Asks UN to treat all nations equitably, with due respect

The Sri Lankan Government is committed to fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions, stated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday (22).

“Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development. It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable, and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender,” the President stated.

He noted that to ensure Sri Lanka does not experience again the violence that occurred during the 30-year war, it would need to address these core issues, towards which end the Government is ready to engage all domestic stakeholders and international partners, including the UN. He however added that lasting results could only be achieved through homegrown institutions, and stressed that Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Judiciary, and independent statutory bodies be given “unrestricted scope to exercise their functions and responsibilities”.

On the other hand, the President welcomed international co-operation on the intelligence sharing front, noting that this would be vital to overcoming the threat of terrorism.

He also encouraged international support in economic activities, stating: “Sri Lanka welcomes the support of the international community as it engages in the task of reviving its economy and carrying out its national development programme. We intend to make full use of geostrategic location and our robust institutions, strong social infrastructure, and skilled workforce, to attract investment and broaden trade relationships. My Government is focusing on extensive legal, regulatory, administrative, and educational reforms to facilitate this.”

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a major roadblock in the path to prosperity worldwide, and as President Rajapaksa noted: “The challenges surrounding production, distribution, deployment, and acceptance of vaccines must be overcome urgently if the spread of dangerous new virus strains is to be prevented.”

In this vein, he illustrated that Sri Lanka had been somewhat of a success story, having fully vaccinated nearly all those over the age of 30, with those over the age of 20 targeted to be fully vaccinated by end-October, and the vaccination of those over 15 to begin soon, adding: “The rapid progress of vaccinations was enabled by co-ordinated efforts between healthcare workers, Armed Forces and Police personnel, Government servants, and elected officials.”

Noting the economic issues caused by the pandemic, the President pointed out that local and global travel restrictions had slowed growth and devastated tourism, which he stated was “one of Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners and a sector that supports nearly 14% of the population”.

Additionally, he noted, the pandemic required a significant portion of state expenditure to be directed towards financial interventions for small and medium businesses, as well as grants of cash and rations to low-income groups, thus also hampering national development programmes in the longer term.

However, echoing the sentiments of many of the other leaders at the assembly, he noted that a greater challenge is posed by the effects of climate change, to which Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable.

“As emphasised in the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the unprecedented effect of human activity on the health of the planet is deeply worrying. Addressing the grave threats posed by climate change and the loss of biodiversity requires decisive and urgent multilateral action.”

In noting the measures Sri Lanka has taken towards sustainability, including being a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion, leading the Action Group on Mangrove Restoration, and adopting the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management, the President also highlighted the Government’s recent move to ban chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and weedicides.

“The conservation of our environment is one of our key national priorities. We aim to increase forest cover significantly in the coming decades. We are also working to clean and restore over 100 rivers countrywide, and to combat river and maritime pollution. We have also banned single use plastics to support ecological conservation. Sri Lanka recognises the urgent need to reduce use of fossil fuels and support decarbonisation. Our energy policy seeks to increase the contribution of renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower to 70% of our national energy needs by 2030.”

President Rajapaksa, who noted that Sri Lanka’s Buddhist tradition emphasised preserving the environment, also called on the UN and international community to ensure the protection of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage.

In conclusion, he noted: “If, in keeping with the theme of our General Debate today, we are to truly build resilience through hope, we must all strive towards the common good. It is the role of the United Nations to facilitate this by treating all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage.”