Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L.B. Mendis Memorial Lecture: “Sri Lanka’s Post-conflict Peace Restoration and External Aspects” delivered by Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo.
Posted on July 1st, 2012

PRESS RELEASE Issued by:  Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS)

Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) organized a memorial lecture commemorating the 2nd death anniversary of Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis, a giant in Sri Lankan diplomatic corps on June 22, 2012. The principal objective of the event as was mentioned by the Executive Director of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute was to recall, recognize and honour the service rendered by late Dr. Mendis to the Foreign Service establishment in Sri Lanka. The event was graced by the presence of many eminent personalities, particularly from the Foreign Service, government officials, academia, students and family and friends of Late Dr. Vernon L.B. Mendis.

The Executive Director of LKIIRSS Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera delivering the welcome address while referring to the outstanding performance and great service rendered by Dr. Mendis by setting up the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI), the academic wing of the LKIIRSS, emphasized the need to create awareness of such immense personalities among the younger generation. In that regard, he proposed to build a digital repository of all the works of distinguished diplomats and material on foreign relations of Sri Lanka to which the students and the general public can have access.

The prelude to the event was set by Deshamanya M.D. Dharmasiri Peiris, who shared his views on the relevance of talking about Dr. Vernon Mendis, their personal relations, what Dr. Mendis was like and how it was to work with him. As was revealed by Mr. Peiris, Dr. Vernon Mendis had been also a scholar apart from being a formidable diplomat, one of the few who had a doctorate in the Public Service at that time. Having brought in his academic intellect to the foreign relations and to the body of diplomacy, Dr. Mendis helped to set up the ethics and culture as well as the standard of diplomacy and management of foreign relations in Sri Lanka as a recently independent country. Deshamanya Mr. Peiris credited Sri Lanka’s success in managing good relations with almost all the countries in the world at a time when they were embroiled in cold war politics to the wisdom of people like Dr. Vernon Mendis.

The key speech of the evening on “Sri Lanka’s Post-conflict Peace Restoration and External Aspects” was delivered by Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo, a former Foreign Secretary as well as the Secretary General of SAARC. He identified five main external factors (discussed in detail in the following sections) which are essential to a successful and an efficient process of the quadruple “R”s [1) Restoration of peace and security, 2) Rehabilitation of the displaced, where they will have secure livelihood economic sustenance not in a strange environment, 3) Reconciliation among all the communities, and 4) Revitalising of the economy of the island].

The first external factor which has an immediate bearing on Sri Lanka is the immediate external neighbourhood of Sri Lanka (India). The nexus with India, one of the earliest, strongest external factors of the Island’s cultural and religious character as well as the political and security paradigm, has to be very carefully factored into the current revitalization process in Sri Lanka in the post conflict era. Ambassador Rodrigo reiterated the importance of being alert to certain domestic factors in India which exert pressure on the central government through what was called “coalition compulsions” e.g. voting against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. However, Indian assistance throughout, in times of conflict as well as post conflict has been vital.

Secondly, in order to discuss the significance of the United Nations and the impact on the global human rights industry on the national reconciliation in Sri Lanka, Ambassador Rodrigo brought to attention three instances in which the UN Security Council, UN Secretary General as well as the UNHRC decided in favour of the Government of Sri Lanka. The first instance was when the UN Security Council adopted a consensus statement on May 13, 2009 which recognised the legitimate right of the government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism, while condemning the LTTE for its act of terrorism over many years and use of civilians as human shields.  The second was when the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Government of Sri Lanka signed a joint statement on May 23, 2009. The particular document, evidence for close cooperation existed between Sri Lanka and the UN at that time, called for consultations “with other relevant stakeholders, members of the international humanitarian agencies and civil society to cooperate with Sri Lanka”. Thirdly, the UNHRC special session in Geneva on Sri Lanka adopted a Resolution on May 27, 2009 which reaffirmed the respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Sri Lanka and its sovereign right to protect its citizens and combat terrorism. Ambassador Rodrigo drew attention to an interesting point that for the human rights industry the focus was on continued critical references to Sri Lanka’s conduct in the “final phase of the conflict” which led to the setting up of the SG’s Panel of Experts as well as the adoption of the UNHRC Resolution in March, 2012, which is precisely the period on which the UN Secretary General himself and the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council had already pronounced.

The third external factor, Ambassador Rodrigo explained, is the spill-over effects on bilateral interactions as well as international bodies like the UN as a result of conflicts among different political parties and different shifting alliances which is a characteristic of governance and democratic processes (locally as well as externally). This became evident when UN-Sri Lanka relations deteriorated in the aftermath of the sit-in protest in front of the UN office in Colombo in 2010 as well as when Indian delegation voted in favour of the US Resolution at the UNHRC session in March 2012 citing domestic compulsions.

The fourth external concern was the manner in which power wielded by some sections of the Sri Lankan Diasporas is becoming problematic at present. The residual rump of the LTTE groups based in Canada, UK, US, Australia, the EU and Norway is the driving force behind these movements. Even though the majority of Diaspora does not support the LTTE’s terrorist and racist cause, various other factors such as genuine personal concern about the situation in Sri Lanka, peer pressure and force, fund collection, desire to live abroad, and links with underworld criminal cartels involved in people-smuggling, contribute to motivate a large number of the Sri Lankan Diasporas in the ongoing campaign affecting Sri Lanka.

The final point raised by Ambassador Rodrigo addressed the larger global perceptions (misperceptions) about Sri Lankan foreign policy and its linkages and relationships with other countries. He referred to the discourse on China’s involvement in the Indian Ocean Region as well as in Sri Lanka involving theories surrounding the concept of “String of Pearls” which has created a threat perception about China. Ambassador Rodrigo pointed out various attempts by India and China to improve and deepen their bilateral relations despite India being also sensitive to China’s presence in the Indian Ocean in order to secure access points for their energy transport routes. He stated that such mutually helpful links between China and India relieves Sri Lanka which would otherwise get caught up in geopolitical rivalries.

In conclusion Ambassador Rodrigo underscored the importance of having a peaceful environment in carrying out Sri Lanka’s process of reconciliation without being caught up in accusation on human rights violations, pro-LTTE Diaspora politics or being affected by “ƒ”¹…”coalition compulsions’ arising from interactions between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.

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