Biography Newsroom Writing & Statements

Honourable Minister, Guest of Honour Dr.Weeramantry, Deshamanya Dr.Sahabdeen, members of the A.M.M.Sahabdeen Trust Foundation, distinguished fellow recipients of the Mohamed Sahabdeen Awards, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I begin by thanking the Sahabdeen Trust Foundation for this award. Honours in my own country are more warmly appreciated by me than the accolades I have been privileged to receive in foreign countries. Receiving such an honour as the Sahabdeen Award from a highly respected civil society organization, also creates in me a deep sense of humility because of the past recipients of this award and the eminent company that I am in this evening. To be honoured together with the distinguished scientist Professor Narlikar of India and with two of Sri Lanka's most prominent intellectuals and role models - Kumari Jayawardena and Godfrey Gunatilleke - has set the bar so high that I seriously doubt I have been able to vault over it.

I owe Dr.Sahabdeen a special word of thanks. A brilliant student of Philosophy who succeeded in entering the prestigious and elitist Ceylon Civil Service, comparable to France's 'Enarques' - or the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) alumni - he retired prematurely to devote his time to academic pursuits and, to what I can best describe as, being a good citizen. Amidst the raucous noise and violence we hear and see, it is people like Dr.Sahabdeen who leaven and dignify our society. He reminds us, silently and unostentatiously, of the basic moral decency that continues to be the cohesive glue in our country and the heights of cultured living and selfless philanthropy that we as Sri Lankans, of all ethnic and religious groups, are capable of. As the famous 13th century Sufi poet Jalalud'din Rumi (well known to Dr Sahabdeen) once wrote -
 "What will our children do in
 the morning
 if they do not see us
 I wish Dr.Sahabdeen and the Sahabdeen Trust Foundation many more years of service to our country.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the invitation card to this event indicates that I am receiving my award for 'Peace and International Undertstanding'. My work in international affairs, in fact, is inextricably interlinked with my current task of achieving national security through a negotiated political settlement as a lasting healing process of the conflict that remains an open wound with the ceasefire agreement as a mere bandaid. For the security of all nations contributes towards international peace and security and in today's highly integrated world we are more inter-dependent than we realize. The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which reported at the end of last year to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has stated "Today, more than ever before, threats are interrelated and a threat to one is a threat to all. The mutual vulnerability of weak and strong has never been clearer."

And so, whether it is the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001 which increased the number of people living in poverty by 10 million and cost the global economy more than $ 80 billion or the potential of a disease being spread from one state through any one of 700 million international airline passengers to cause millions of deaths in a number of countries, we are faced again and again with the incontrovertible fact that global security is both collective and multi-faceted. Our own insecurity and our instability have an impact on regional and global security. It is a shared responsibility, which explains the interest and concern of so many members of the international community in helping us overcome our problems. The xenophobic reaction of some sections of our community to this fails to understand that in today's world the co-operation of other states is indispensable for our security. The violence, which has torn our country apart, stems from a fundamental failure in good governance and political management throughout our post-independence history. It was not initially caused by anyone but ourselves. It is therefore we alone who bear the primary 'responsibility to protect' our people of all groups from a resumption of hostilities with all the suffering, death and destruction that will surely follow.
With the memories of the genocide of Rwanda and the massacre of Srebrenica haunting the conscience of the world, the influential and far-reaching report of the Canadian-sponsored Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty of December 2001 recommended the basic principle that state sovereignty implies responsibility and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state. However where a population is suffering serious harm as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states - a long hallowed principle of international relations upheld by Non-aligned countries like ours - yields to the international responsibility to protect. The latter responsibility has to be exercised by the UN Security Council in accordance with the Charter and prescribed procedures. This concept of 'responsibility to protect' has gained wide acceptance and has undoubtedly influenced the reports of the High Level Panel and the UN Secretary-General which form the basis of the discussions going on the United Nations General Assembly today. It is however a principle viewed warily by a number of developing countries who see it as a form of neo-colonialism which will also not be implemented even-handedly as for example, with oppressed minorities in larger and more powerful countries.

For us in Sri Lanka, it is still within our hands to remedy our problems through a negotiated political solution within the framework of a united, democratic and pluralist Sri Lanka where all religious and ethnic groups can live together in peace, equality, dignity and freedom. The international community and its institutions are ready to help us in this long overdue task of peace building for the cause of remaking our nation. A central truth that emerges from the UN Secretary-General’s important report of 21 March, 2005 entitled 'In Larger Freedom' is this - "..we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights. Unless all these causes are advanced, none will succeed." As we engage in the complex task of peace building in Sri Lanka, let us ponder on the wisdom in these words.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not only our national peace and security that is challenged and faces many threats. International peace and security is likewise under a great strain from a host of challenges and threats. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its latest Yearbook has noted that in 2004, 19 major armed conflicts took place in 17 locations and all of them were intra-state conflicts. Happily Sri Lanka, because of its ceasefire - however often that may be violated - is not among these conflicts. In the recent past, over 40 countries have been ravaged by conflicts displacing some 25 million people. Another alarming statistic is the fact that global military expenditure in 2004 is estimated at being US $ 1035 billion in current dollar terms. This corresponds to $ 162 per capita and 2.6 per cent of world GDP. The top 100 companies in the arms trade registered arms sales to the value of $ 236 billion in 2003. Nuclear weapons arsenals, among the 5 nuclear weapon states recognized within the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the three outside the NPT, number over 30,000 many of them on ready-to-launch alert status. The danger of terrorism has been aggravated by the possibility of terrorists gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.

But the threats and challenges are not confined to the commonly known military area of security. Today they abound in the non-military area through poverty with over one billion people living below the poverty line of one dollar per day and 20,000 dying from poverty each day; pandemics like HIV/AIDS which have killed 20 million and infected 40 million more, environmental degradation, climate change, natural disasters like the tsunami that we faced in December 2004 and a host of other economic, social and even cultural dangers.

An attempt was made in the Millennium Summit of the UN General Assembly of 2000 to address the urgent issues facing the global community in a collective response. That led to the adoption of the Millennium Declaration – a landmark document adopted by the largest assembly of Heads of State and Government ever to meet at the UN. Since then we have had the deeply divisive controversy over the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a group of states led by the US without the formal sanction of a UN Security Council resolution. This affected the concept of collective security on which a consensus had existed. Seeking to restore this consensus, a High Level Panel was asked to make recommendations. These recommendations are now in. We also have the UN Secretary-General’s own report based on the report of the High Level Panel and the report of Prof. Jeffrey Sachs on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. The delegations in the UN General Assembly are discussing a draft document for adoption by the Heads of State and Government in September this year. This is a critical exercise and NGOs as well as Governments are actively involved in shaping the outcome although, most regrettably, there has been very little public discussion of this in Sri Lanka. It is an opportunity in the sixtieth anniversary year of the UN to redesign a world body more suited to the challenges of the 21st century. The task ahead involves more than the reform and enlargement of the Security Council although that is certainly an important element. Specific recommendations have been made in the political, economic, human rights and institutional areas. They include the forging of a security consensus; conflict prevention; the establishment of a standby capacity for rapid deployment of UN peacekeeping; the creation of a Peace building Commission with a standing fund and a Peace building Support Office; agreement on the use of force in maintaining international peace and security; the elevation of the Commission on Human Rights into a standing Human Rights Council and a series of economic measures linked to the Millennium Development Goals and recent UN Conferences. This debate will go on in the next few weeks and the outcome will have a major impact on the UN and all our countries in the next few years.

As we reflect on how our world body can be reformed to face the challenges of the future based on the experience of the past, we must begin with a foundation of ethical values and principles that we can share. The use of the term ‘Ethics’ for a set of moral principles presupposes that we are all bound by a common understanding of what we mean. In a very broad sense, we are talking about the absolutely irreducible minimum of humankind’s cultural, moral and spiritual achievement over centuries of civilization. It is the quintessence of all religious philosophies and the highest common factor among all cultures.

Ethics per se would be of little value if they did not have a practical propensity to be applied to human affairs and the improvement of the human condition. It is widely, but wrongly, assumed that the realm of ethical values and the world of pragmatic politics are wide apart and that never the twain shall meet. The achievements of the UN illustrate that there can be a fusion between ethics and policy, and it is this fusion that contributes to the betterment of mankind and to peace.

We are still in the early years of the first century of a new millennium in the human saga, leaving behind the bloodiest century of all time. There is a unique opportunity for us to use the indisputable legitimacy and authority that the UN wields as a norm-building body, to shape a world order that is built more solidly on ethics than on the exclusive pursuit of individual profit or national self-interest.

The shared values set out in the United Nations Millennium Declaration serve as a common ethical base. They are reiterated in the draft document before the General Assembly. They comprise six of the most basic aspirations of humankind – freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility. From each of these fundamental values we draw our guidance for the specific action plans to which the international community must commit itself. It is a moral compass for us all. Individually these values represent powerful forces that have inspired and motivated humankind throughout millennia of history. They have been the accelerators of human progress. Collectively, they also represent the benchmark against which we must judge our performance as individual nations and collectively as the world community in taking humankind forward to a better and safer world.
The values are, firstly,

  • Freedom – the spur that rid the world of slavery, colonialism and apartheid: it is the ethical value that protects men, women and children from fear, exploitation and abuse, from injustice and deprivation; and from want and hunger.


  • Equality - is what drove societies to abolish discrimination on the basis of colour, creed, wealth, ethnicity, aristocratic origin and gender; It is the ethical value that empowers individuals in society and nations in the international community whether big or small, rich or poor, mighty or meek.


  • Solidarity – is the sense of a common identity as one human family with reciprocal duties and obligations that has led to social contracts and social security within countries and to the aid and assistance of the wealthy and developed countries to those who are stricken with disease, disaster and endemic poverty: it is the ethical value that must ensure the elimination of injustices, asymmetries in globalised development and absolute power.


  • Tolerance - is the glue that has bonded us together as human beings with mutual respect for each other despite our astonishing diversity both within nations and in the international community: it is the ethical value that will prevent ethnic and religious conflict within nations and the ‘clash of civilizations’ on a global scale ensuring instead a ‘dialogue among civilizations;’ and the celebration of human diversity as an endowment.


  • Respect for nature - is what has preserved the available and potential natural resources of our planet Earth and our ecological system as our common heritage to serve the genuine needs and not the greedy wants of mankind: it is the ethical value that will guide us to sustainable development managing our consumption of resources equitably and wisely so that we pass on the world which we occupy as a trust, to generations to come in at least as healthy and wholesome a state as we received it from preceding generations.


  • Shared responsibility - is the common realization that we are one brotherhood and sisterhood placed together in a world that is more integrated than ever before through the processes of globalization and that the management of public goods has to be achieved optimally through participatory, people-centred endeavours and good democratic governance at the national level and through multilateralism and international organizations – with the United Nations as its apex – in the collective response to global challenges to international peace and human security: it is the ethical value that will prevent humankind from anarchy and self-destruction through selfishness and profligacy and the insurance policy to achieve a rule based international order founded on the bedrock of international law, human rights and justice.

The translation of these ethical values to the daily world of human interaction – to do the right thing for the right reason – presents all of us with an enormous challenge. Already, there are danger signals that illustrate the erosion of our ethical base. Terrorism, nihilism and anarchism are ominous symptoms. Are they the result of perceptions that the policies pursued in the past have been divorced from ethics? Or are they the emergence of new threats for which our collective response must not be militarism but a return to implementing our shared value base of ethics – honestly, transparently and consistently?

It would help our task of rebuilding a consensus on common security if we had a barometer to measure the performance of all our leaders in the achievement of implementing ethics as policy. The world has seen the evolution of numerous indices for human progress. We have economic and social indicators ranging from Gross National Product in quantitative terms to the Human Development Index in qualitative terms. There are other more specific indices such as Corruption Index from Transparency International and a Freedom Index from Freedom House. I would hope that research organizations, think tanks and NGOs would combine their efforts to devise an Ethical Policy Index ranking countries in accordance with their adherence to a commonly accepted set of ethical values such as those enshrined in the Millennium Declaration of the United Nations. That will contribute to some pressure on governments to be accountable to their people in adopting policies that will be of widespread and durable benefit. It is but one of many tools we can propose in the quest for a greater role for ethics in the formulation of policy to respond to the new threats to security and to the other challenges facing humankind today. It is an urgent task to preserve and develop the mainsprings of our common humanity for a new and glorious chapter of human history, which Sri Lanka can enjoy along with other members of the international community.

A return to basic ethical principles and values are no more urgently needed than in our own country where advocates of exclusivism, prejudice, hate and violence stand in the way of rebuilding a peaceful and prosperous nation.

Let us remember the words of Buddha, as recorded in the Dhammapada:
 “The others know not that in this quarrel we perish. Those of them who realize it, have their quarrels calmed thereby.”
It is time we calmed the quarrels among ourselves.

  Thank you.

  Related Links  
  Key Statements  
  Selected Reading  
  Gallery   Visit Gallery
  Email   Email to a friend
  Print   Print this page