"FOR LARGER FREEDOM: PURSUIT OF PEACE IN SRI LANKA
" - HER EXCELLENCY CHANDRIKA BANDARANAIKE KUMARATUNGA
ASIA SOCIETY, NEW YORK
14TH SEPTEMBER 2005
It is a pleasure to be here at the Asia Society once again.
Over the past eleven years as President of Sri Lanka, I have
had the occasion to visit New York City, several times. During
these visits, I have also invariably visited your Society and
addressed you. My visits to New York and the United Nations
have become inextricably linked to my having to deliver a talk
at the Asia Society. So that now I have begun to think of a
visit to New York as a visit to the Asia Society. I also take
great personal pleasure in getting an opportunity to brief the
distinguished members and guests here about the situation in
Sri Lanka, and to reflect on the challenges Sri Lanka faces
in achieving peace and development, and consolidating democracy.
Speaking before a distinguished and learned audience
such as you is also a challenge. As someone who left a doctoral
academic program in politics because I could not resist the lure
of politics in the real world, I continue to suffer from envy
of those who engage on a daily basis in intellectual activity,
and hold in awe those who have something to say that is not just
novel, but intellectually so. So Mr. Chairman my opportunity to
address you has also become for me an intellectually fulfilling
challenge to describe our policies with regard to the key issues
we face, and also how our thinking about it has evolved. I hope
this could give you some elements to reflect upon similar political
challenges in other parts of Asia, if not the world. This is also
the last address I will make to the Asia Society as President
of Sri Lanka . And I wish to express that I will always cherish
the hospitality the Asia Society has extended to me over the years.
It is a sad and tragic moment in the United States
today because of the destruction wrought by hurricane Katrina.
We have been humbled before the power of nature, just as we were
on December 26th last year by the Tsunami. I wish to express the
sympathy and solidarity of myself, my government and the people
of Sri Lanka with you at this moment of incredible challenge.
In an address to the nation two days after the Tsunami struck
in Sri Lanka, I said:
"This is a moment of great humility for
us all. We have been incredibly humbled by Nature's great forces.
An ineluctable truth has been laid bare before us all. The mighty
forces of Nature have compelled us to learn a lesson that some
of us refused for long to learn……This disaster has
not been selective in the destruction it has wrought. …Nature
does not differentiate in the treatment of peoples. Loss of life,
loss and destruction of property take place irrespective of whether
it is in the North or South. It knows no difference between religions
or castes: the high and low in society or the rich and the poor.
It is necessary that we reflect carefully upon this lesson nature
has taught us."
I dare say that these thoughts are no less relevant
to you as Americans, even though, or especially because, you live
in what many call the sole superpower in the globe today. And
so my heart goes out to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and
Alabama, and the wonderful city of New Orleans, especially the
poor and the helpless who have suffered from the hurricane, and
my government and I are ready to assist in any small way we can.
Mr. Chairman, you may recall that my Foreign
Minister, Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar was with me, here, last year
when I visited you at the Asia Society. He was assassinated just
over a month ago. His killing is a dastardly act committed by
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Mr. Kadirgamar was
an opponent of Tamil and Sinhala extremisms.
He opposed the terrorism of the LTTE and he supported
a federal solution to the conflict within a democratic and plural
Sri Lanka that addressed the aspirations of all communities -
a longtime demand of many Tamil political leaders. He was killed
for his courage in acting on his views. And he was killed because
he happened to be born a Tamil, who worked for a united and democratic
Sri Lanka. Something the LTTE, which claims to be the sole representative
of the Tamil people, does not yet agree with.
His assassination not only challenged my personal
commitment, but also that of a vast majority of the people of
the country to pursuing a negotiated settlement with the LTTE.
Although, my government had the option of a military response,
we rejected it. And instead chose a different approach - to re-iterate
our commitment to a ceasefire and to a political solution, whilst
reviewing the approach towards negotiating with the LTTE we had
hitherto taken. Such a review has just begun at a practical level
with a call to the international community to help exert real
pressure on the LTTE, in order that we can engage them in a process
that will lead to a lasting peace, bringing about democracy and
This is also a good time for such a review because
of Sri Lanka's political calendar. A new President will be elected
in the next few months and he will get an opportunity to begin
fresh efforts to move the peace process. And so I can be a bit
more self-reflective about what such a peace process may look
As I reflect upon the different elements of the
peace process at the national level in Sri Lanka - bringing
an end to violent hostilities, rebuilding the conflict-affected
areas, strengthening human rights, and working out a political
solution - and the need to link these elements in a way
that leads to what we hope maybe a positive cycle of peace - I
see a resonance with the Secretary General's Report to the 2005
Summit - "In Larger Freedom".
There he observes that security, human rights
and development go hand in hand. Some say that in Sri Lanka, or
in other peace processes, it may be desirable in theory to tackle
each element of the peace process one step at a time - first
to end hostilities, then rebuild conflict-affected areas, then
strengthen human rights, and finally to workout a political solution.
However, reality is more complicated.
For example, a breakthrough in the political
solution can promote opportunities for development. Or efforts
at improving human rights can contribute to working out a political
solution. Or for that matter, socio-economic opportunities gained
from development can provide an incentive for avoiding war. In
other words, we need to be open to the possibility that the world
(particularly the world of war and peace) works in a non-linear
and sometimes chaotic fashion, even as we, as rational human beings,
may try to bring order to our understanding of it.
Conceptual Underpinnings of "Larger
Before I get into the details of the Sri Lankan
peace process, I would like to begin with basic principles, and
ask: what are the fundamental sources of conflict in a political
community where many different people live together? I see three
such sources of conflict: moral conflict over competing, if not
contradictory ideals; inequality even in the presence of a moral
consensus; and competition over goods and services. Let me elaborate,
As human beings, blessed with reason and
imagination, we think about the world we live in. We ask questions
of ourselves. Why are we here? What are we meant to do? How
should we treat others? What happens when we die? These questions
are so common, that they may appear trite? But they underlie
an important universality about us, and reflect our yearning
for something more than the houses we live in, the food we
eat and the pleasures we enjoy.
While these questions are common, the answers we supply to
them are diverse. They differ if you are a Hindu, a Jew, a
Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Jain, or if you are a
liberal, a Marxist, a rationalist, a utilitarian or a libertarian.
Clearly, each of us thinks that some answers are better than
others. And so we differ in where the answers to these fundamental
questions will lead us. But, if there is one thing we have
learned from these thousands of years of human civilization,
it is that we will always differ in the answers to these questions.
They have differed, in the past, and they will continue to,
in the future. No amount of rational and reasonable debate
will lead to a convergence on these ideals. You in the west
have a greater experience with the kind of violence this conflict
can cause with the religious wars that were a tragic part
of European history. But they led to important lessons, and
so political institutions evolved that gave expression to
human freedom - freedoms of conscience, expression and
association. These freedoms have now become an integral part
of all democratic societies, and we have learned to avoid
the dark lessons that you were forced to learn through experience.
The second source of conflict is inequality.
This is particularly true of societies that have a democratic
tradition, where there is both a belief that human beings
deserve to be treated with equal dignity, and that this ought
to be enshrined in practical arrangements. It is of course
hard to find a political community today where such sentiments
do not exist. So when people, even if they share the same
moral values, feel that they are not treated equally they
can resist and fight. While it has become fashionable today
to disregard inequality as a source of conflict, particularly
globally, I believe that it will always be an important source
of conflict, because of the deep belief we all have that unfair
advantage over another is, unjust.
And it is hard to find a political constitution today where
the equal worth of a human being is disregarded or seen as
irrelevant to setting up the rules that will govern a society.
The third source of conflict is competition
for scarce goods and services, because we still do not live
in an egalitarian world of abundance. We want more, so we
get together in groups to ask for more and fight for more.
These groups may be ethnic groups, political groups, neighbourhood
groups, religious groups or language groups. The source of
conflict here is not necessarily the group identity itself,
but the claims made by a group for a greater share of the
resources. When a province says that its development has been
neglected or when an ethnic group asks for more admissions
to university or when a city asks for more resources, they
are making claims for greater resources to be shared with
them. Whether or not these claims are justified, they can
lead to conflict.
These three sources of conflict are clearly intertwined and
can also be sources of conflict, globally, when we fail to
recognize and act on the equal dignity of all humans who live
in the world today. The United Nations Secretary General,
Mr. Kofi Annan, understands this when he says in his report:
"I have named the present report "In larger freedom"
to stress the enduring relevance of the United Nations and
to emphasise that its purposes must be advanced in the lives
of individual men and women."
The Secretary General's report is a search for a practical
way of recognizing and acting upon this equal dignity globally,
in a world of great inequality of wealth and power. He seeks
to do this politically by integrating human rights, with development
and security. The deeper conceptual point in the Secretary
General's report then is not just that people must have equal
access to say health, and equal civil and political rights.
But that equal access to health care is needed for equal civil
and political rights.
And equal civil and political rights are required
for people to have equal access to healthcare. The political philosopher
John Rawls captures this point by talking not just about equal
basic liberties but about the equal worth of basic liberties.
Similarly, Professor Amartya Sen refers to "Development as
Freedom" in order to emphasize that development is not simply
to increase growth rates in order to increase per capita income
and purchase more goods, but to improve health, education, housing,
so that people will have improved quality of life.
But it is not just political philosophers who
are concerned about the practical implications of treating people
as equals. We have interesting developments in what is called
"game theory" among economists that develops mathematical
models for dealing with the technical challenges of equal division
of goods among "n" persons in day to day situations.
In a friendly critique of the talk I gave last year at the Asia
Society, a web blog - pointed out some of these important
technical advances in conflict resolution, curiously known as
cake theory, because these models use cake cutting as a metaphor
for dividing goods equally.
These theories, even those that are technical,
have common assumptions. The first is that people want more goods,
not less. Second, the rules for how to divide up the goods must
be fair for all players or citizens, otherwise the game stops
or the political community ruptures. And third, whatever value
conflicts exist (religious or ideological) they cannot affect
the fairness of the rules of the game or how societies make rules.
In other words a constitution that says people X must have fewer
rights than people Y (and sadly their were constitutions at one
time, such as that of the United States that did imply this) is
not something that the world, or for that matter people X or Y
would propose, leave alone accept today.
I say this not to belabour a conceptual point,
but to emphasise that the ordinary citizens of societies that
are deeply divided about the rules of the political game, will
never argue that some must be treated less equally than others.
I have found in my experience of campaigning for a just and stable
peace in Sri Lanka, that the vast majority of Sri Lankans do not
believe that they must have an advantage over others simply because
of their ethnicity or religion. Like the hardnosed mathematicians
who think they are doing models without any ethical standpoint,
Sri Lankans who collide with each other about the rules of the
game, share with philosophers like Rousseau and Rawls a basic
commitment to equal dignity for all. And this is a moral and political
resource that I have always drawn on in advancing peace in my
Reviewing the Peace Process
It is this confidence in the people of Sri Lanka
that gave me the courage in 1994 to campaign on the basis of a
political solution to the ethnic conflict. We had a resounding
victory at nine out of eleven rounds of elections in a period
of eleven years, because the people unequivocally endorsed my
policy of a negotiated settlement in place of war, and a federal
solution as against a separate State. With the support of a broad
multi-ethnic coalition of parties I proceeded to talk with the
LTTE about ending the war, and discuss with all the parties in
parliament about a new more inclusive, political constitution
that would share power with all communities. While talks with
the LTTE broke down and they went back to war, my governments
continued in its efforts to bring them back to the negotiating
table. I proceeded to work with other democratic parties to discuss
a political solution and presented in parliament for the first
time in the history of my country proposals for a federal style
constitution. Unfortunately, we lacked the numbers in parliament
to make constitutional changes.
I believe that the qualitative changes wrought
by us in the approval to the ethnic question changed the reality
irreversibly in my country. It created the climate for the two
largest political parties to evolve for the first time an important
policy consensus: that war is not a desirable political option
for the country, that negotiations with LTTE to the end the war
should be pursued, and that a political C of a Federal type that
addresses the concerns of all communities should be designed.
I am proud to say that it would now be difficult to reverse the
political momentum towards peace created by my Governments.
Mr. Chairman, let me now discuss in some detail
the four elements of the peace process in my country that I mentioned
earlier - bringing an end to armed hostilities, rebuilding the
conflict-affected areas, strengthening human rights, and working
out a political solution.
Ending armed hostilities has been an important
step in changing the climate for peace in Sri Lanka. In February
2002, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, signed
a ceasefire agreement with the leader of the LTTE, Mr. Prabakharan.
While there are elements of this agreement that have an adverse
effect on the sovereignty and security of the country, its overall
influence on the context for peace has been and still is positive.
For one thing, it saved many lives. It allowed civilians, particularly
those living in the conflict-affected areas of the North and East,
to farm, fish and trade more freely than they had done before.
There was greater people to people exchanges as students, businessmen,
civil society leaders, government officials and even politicians
got an opportunity to see for themselves how their fellow citizens,
particularly in the conflict-affected areas lived. The ceasefire
also provided a more conducive climate that enabled several rounds
of peace talks to take place, where important commitments on the
road to peace were sought and made.
Despite these important advances following the
signing of the ceasefire, we are now at a point where we have
exhausted the positive climate created by the ceasefire and are
at the risk of escalating violence. The primary reason for this
is the increasing number of violations committed by the LTTE.
The Nordic staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission of observers who
monitor the Cease-Fire Agreement has ruled that the LTTE has committed
more than three thousand violations, while the Armed Forces of
Sri Lanka have committed about one hundred and fifty. The actual
violations committed by the LTTE as ruled by the Norwegian led
monitoring mission, includes more than one thousand and five hundred
child soldiers have been recruited and hundreds of cases of extortion.
This is backed up by reports from Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch and the UNICEF. The LTTE has also engaged in assassinating
democratic political opponents, mainly Tamil. Whereas the violations
of the ceasefire by the Sri Lankan security forces, the same Nordic
led monitoring team has ruled on, are primarily incidents of harassment
While the ceasefire is necessary for the pursuit
of a political process that will lead to peace, it is obviously
not sufficient. It is clear that the human rights element of the
Cease-Fire Agreeement needs to be worked out in greater detail
and more attention paid to it, if the peace process is to move
The second element of the peace process
is development or rebuilding the conflict-affected areas of
the North and East. I have always believed that one of the
reasons why the Tamil people in Sri Lanka felt marginalized
was because the regions where they have traditionally lived,
have been among the least developed in the country. These
areas have some of the lowest literacy rates, lowest growth
rates, and this has been further exacerbated by the armed
I have, since 1995, tried hard to develop these
areas, including areas dominated by the LTTE, and even during
the fighting. Initially these efforts were rebuffed by the LTTE.
They tried to kill a senior minister I sent to Jaffna to engage
in development work for the Tamil people.
Over the last few years we have quietly changed
the attitude of the LTTE towards development activities carried
out by the government. They have extended cooperation to the Ministry
of Relief, Reconstruction and Reconciliation, which I happen to
head, in carrying out work in areas they dominate. We are deeply
committed to undertaking development work in those areas. It is
the Governments duty to ensure that all of our citizens irrespective
of where they live, what ethnicity they belong to, or even who
they are forced to live under, must have access to health, education
and economic opportunities. Second we believe that development
is good for peace. It gives the people living in those areas,
particularly the youth, options other than being recruited and
forced to carry arms. And it gives the LTTE an opportunity to
engage in useful and constructive work that benefits the people
directly, instead of preparing for war. Finally, it provides an
area where the government and the LTTE can work together on concrete
activities that can build confidence and even some trust that
is vital for any peace process to move forward.
It is for this reason that I risked the stability
of my government and signed a joint mechanism - Post-Tsunami
Operational Management Structure - with the LTTE to engage
in reconstruction of the tsunami affected districts of the North
and East. Unfortunately, some clauses of this mechanism are being
temporarily stayed by the Supreme Court for constitutional considerations.
Nevertheless, the idea animating it - that
the government, the LTTE, leaders of the Muslim and other communities
can cooperate on development and build mutual confidence - should
not be underestimated as steps towards peace. We believe that
development is an area of common concern with the LTTE, which
offers a great deal of political space for greater cooperation.
This is because while there is a real desire for more developmental
work in the North by the people living there, there is also a
recognition and support for this work in the South.
The LTTE has been engaging in a systematic campaign
of child recruitment, where they are abusing the lives of the
most vulnerable members of the Tamil community. The LTTE have
also been killing political opponents - members of Tamil
groups who do not agree with them. The fact that these activities
also took place prior to the Cease-Fire Agreement, and did so
at a higher rate, is no excuse for not making every effort to
bring them to a halt now.
A peace process, Mr. Chairman, cannot and does
not operate in a vacuum. People demand that a process of peace
should include active engagement, commitment and good conduct
of all parties to a conflict. In a democratic society, the opinion
of the people is paramount and fundamental freedoms are sacrosanct.
Therefore a peace process cannot move forward as long as the people
of the country, comprising of all communities, perceive and believe
that a party to the conflict remains immune to the consequences
of its actions and does not demonstrate signs of sincere commitment
to peace. This has serious implications for the ability of any
elected Government to garner the support of the people to its
approach to the peace process.
Strengthening human rights in the context of
the peace process is vital to saving lives, improving peoples
living conditions, and restoring public confidence in the possibility
of peace. It is therefore important that the parties seriously
consider ancillary arrangements derived from the Cease-Fire Agreement
that can lead to new mechanisms for monitoring and implementing
human rights as a part of the peace process. This is also an area
where the United Nations with its panoply of conventions and its
universality can play an important guiding role. Whatever the
risks to the peace process inherent in dealing with a challenging
issue like human rights, it is my conviction that the failure
to do so will lead to a greater risk to the peace process.
The fourth element of the peace process
is the political solution. I have always stated that you cannot
defeat terrorism, militarily alone. It is also a political,
social and economic phenomenon. While there may always be
individuals who may take up arms or engage in wanton acts
of violence, these individuals become strong and powerful,
because they attract large numbers of others who feel marginalised
to join with them. So when I understand terrorism as having
root causes, I mean political social and economic causes,
and not military ones. To put it more concretely, we as a
responsible government would have to address the challenge
of transforming the State so as to include all communities
- Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim - equally. And this requires
a durable political settlement.
I have argued that it is hard to neatly separate
the key elements of a peace process - ending armed hostilities,
rebuilding the war-affected areas, strengthening human rights
and working out a political solution. Rather than thinking of
a political solution as following these developments, we should
think of it as making these developments possible. In other words
a political solution is a framework that will contribute to ending
armed violence, re-building the country and strengthening human
rights, not one that precedes or succeeds these.
So security, human rights, and development are
linked, both at the national level and the international level.
And a durable peace is not possible without understanding these
I want to conclude my talk by highlighting what
I see as the dual challenges we concretely face in Sri Lanka -
transforming the State and transforming the LTTE. As I have mentioned
in my talk we need to transform the State so it is more inclusive
- equally reflecting the concerns of all communities. My view
and the view of overwhelming sections of Sri Lankan society is
that this will involve transforming the State from a unitary one
to one that is plural and federal in nature. Through a series
of proposals to parliament and discussions inside and outside
parliament my party and I have been at the forefront of the efforts
to transform the Sri Lankan State .
While a transformation of the Sri Lankan State
from a unitary to a federal one may help include the Tamil community
and the Muslim community, it alone will not bring lasting peace.
To achieve peace we also need to deal with the second equally
important, but neglected challenge - transforming the LTTE from
a dictatorial and ruthless militant group that regularly engages
in the use of terror, to a political force that engages with the
State and does not resort to violence to make its arguments heard.
This process needs to be analyzed and addressed
in a conscious and systematic manner together with the LTTE. And
just as the LTTE has a stake in the transformation of the Sri
Lankan State, all Sri Lankans have a stake in the transformation
of the LTTE.
The challenge of dealing with these dual transformations
will not be easy for any single political party in Sri Lanka,
however powerful. It requires a broad consensus and joint action
between the major political parties and groups in the country.