National Observance of the United Nations Day – 2017

H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, paid an official visit to Sri Lanka from 31 st August to 2 nd September, 2016, on the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government and his visit was co-ordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the United Nations Office in Colombo.

During his brief visit, he held talks with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, several other Ministers, Parliamentarians, Chief Ministers and Community Leader. He also visited Galle in the South and Jaffna in the North of Sri Lanka, to assess the present situations.

An event was held on 2 nd September, 2016 at the Hilton Hotel in Colombo which was well attended by Hon. Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentarians, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, senior officials of Non-Governmental Organizations, Government Officials, community representatives, etc., at which H.E. Ban Ki-moon spoke on the SDG 16: Sustaining Peace – Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations Association of Sri Lanka, Mr. Errol Smith, along with its Executive Chairman, Mr. M.M. Zawahir, Deputy Executive Chairman, Mr. M.M.M. Rushanudeen, Vice Chairman, Brig. Gen Granville Elapata and Assistant Treasurer, Mr. Dharamadasa Vitharana, participated in this event at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Two mementos were presented to H.E. Ban Ki-moon by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Association of Sri Lanka – Mr. Errol Smith, extending our warm greetings and in commemoration of his visit to Sri Lanka.

Addressing the assembly on this occasion, Secretary-General of the UN, His Excellency Ban Ki-moon said at the outset, that it was an honour for him to be here and talk about the links between Peace and Sustainable Development.

He said that since his last visit to Sri Lanka in 2009 where he saw great suffering and hardship, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and in need of humanitarian aid after the terrible conflict that tore the country apart, he was happy to see today that the picture was very much different. He congratulated the Government of Sri Lanka and its people, for the progress made in the right direction with determination.

Speaking about United Nations he said that the UN turned 70 years last year (2015) and that it was a landmark for both Sri Lanka and the United Nations. He also said that in spite of the great turbulence that prevailed, it was also a year of inspiring collaboration with the world leaders coming together in September, 2015 in New York to launch the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda – the UN Plan of Action for People, Peace, Prosperity, Partnership and the Planet, followed by the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change in December, 2015.

At the same time, he said that the United Nations carried out a series of reviews on peace keeping and peace building in the region and the progress on involving women in peace and security as well as the capacity of the UN to prevent and manage conflicts and build peace. This led to parallel resolutions by the UN Security Council and the General Assembly on Sustaining Peace, which reaffirmed the shared responsibility and renewed commitment to work together to tackle the root cause of violence. He also mentioned that in May, 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, world leaders, humanitarian organizations, people affected by crisis, the private sector and others, came together to reaffirm the centrality of political will, to prevent and end conflicts, address the root causes, reduce fragility and strengthen good governance.

H.E. Ban Ki-moon articulated that the New Government led by H.E. President Maithripala Sirisena had set out an ambitious reform programme and has made significant progress in its implementation since the people of Sri Lanka voted for good governance, reforms, an end to impunity and the abuse of power as well as the restoration of the rule of law. He also congratulated the Government and people of Sri Lanka for passing the 19 th Constitutional Amendment and the recent Right to Information Act. He further said that he was happy to note that the steps taken by the Government have paved the way to build confidence and trust, and strengthen transparency and accountability.

He cautioned that Sri Lanka is still in the early stages of regaining its rightful position in the region and the international community and that there is still much work to be done in order to redress the wrongs of the past and to restore the legitimacy and accountability of key institutions, particularly the judiciary and the security services Commending the Government on its moves to restore the credibility and independence of the Human Rights Commission, he said that it is now important that the Commission receives the respect and resources it needs to carry out its work effectively in order to ensure reconciliation and respect for human rights of all Sri Lankans, without regard for ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or any other factors. He urged the speedy return of land so that the remaining communities of displaced people can return home and also the parallel reduction of the Military presence in the North and East which would help build trust and reduce tension. These he said would need to be done but emphasized that there was no fast route to achieving it. It will take many years of political courage and determination, he said, whilst assuring that the United Nations would be a partner in every step of this journey.

The 2030 Agenda marks a watershed in the way we have formally linked peace and security to sustainability development which points towards reducing violence, promoting harmony and prosperity and making the world safer for all, with the entire 2030 Agenda being centered on respect for human rights, it’s aims to ensure that no one is left behind by reaching out to the most vulnerable and marginalized first, he said.

He emphasized that Sustainable Development Goal 16, focused on providing a peaceful and inclusive societies and the clearest example of this approach. Goal 10 on reducing inequalities, Goal 5 on gender, and several other Goals focusing on inclusivity in education and economic growth. In conclusion, H.E. Ban Ki-moon applauded the courageous and vibrant civil society of Sri Lanka and urged them to bring forward their brightest ideas as well as constructive criticism when it is due. He further, saluted the women and young people of Sri Lanka and stressed that he looked forward to their, taking Sri Lanka forward on a new path of peace and reconciliation. He also pledged that the United Nations would always be there to support Sri Lanka in every step, in the way forward.

Article by: Errol Smith, Secretary-General of the UNASL