President Mahinda Rajapakse’s Address at the Meeting of the All Party Representative Committee on Constitutional Reforms and the Panel of Experts
on Tuesday, 11 July 2006
We are gathered here today at a critical juncture in our peace process. All our sincere attempts at bringing the LITE to the negotiating table have not succeeded. But we will persist with our efforts, encouraged by the goodwill of the international community, and the endorsement of the peace-loving citizens of this country to prevail on the LTTE that the only alternative to peace is peace. Our only path to peace is through negotiations. It cannot be through war or campaigns of terror. It cannot be the peace of the graveyard. It must be a Peace that is alive and vibrant, just and honourable and sustainable to all the people of Sri Lanka.
While our attempts at bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table continues, we have a responsibility to address the national question. The issue we are dealing with is of the gravest importance. The problem has dragged on for well over two decades and has retarded our progress; we have not been able, over this period, to fulfill the true dreams and aspirations of our people. Over this same period, so many other countries less developed than us, have surpassed us and have been able to deliver to their people hope, benefits, higher standards of living and a better quality of life.
Successive Governments have taken initiatives to resolve our national problem without much success, which points to a weakness which we need to overcome. However we have the capability, the values and the commitment to do so. In the past we may not have demonstrated the political courage to take the bold decisive steps necessary, and as a result have failed to improve the quality of life of our people leading to dashed hopes and aspirations, not to mention lost opportunities. I regard it as my bounden duty to do my best with all sincerity and commitment, however difficult the task is, to strive for peace on behalf of all our people. I will take whatever measures necessary to bring peace with honour and justice to my country; your country; our country.
However, it is not a task that can be performed only by the President of the country however powerful the office of the Executive President may be. Finding a political and constitutional solution to the national question requires a multi-party effort and an inclusive approach. We need to devise a HOME GROWN solution with the support of our people. I think it important that any solution must be underpinned by our great traditional values and heritage moulded by the four great religions practiced in our country - i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The core human values of compassion, kindness, understanding, generosity, forgiveness and trust are ingrained in our religions and consequently, in us, and must form the basis for any solution to the national question.
It is also important that we study the experiments in political and constitutional reform in other parts of the world, including our region, bearing in mind our own specificities as well as commonalities. We must look to other inspiring examples and draw the appropriate lessons.
I have every confidence that we will succeed eventually, with the good will and support of the world community and the determination of our people. Our success will enable us to hold ourselves as a good example to the rest of the world in conflict resolution as there are many more such conflicts around the world.Your proposals will be the ones which will be examined for adoption by the APC. Thus your role and contribution is critical. I would urge that your proposals be creative and imaginative. I wish to take this opportunity to place before you what I consider to be some elements that need to be encapsulated in the broad framework for a political and constitutional solution to the national question.
The international community, notably India and the Co-Chairs have endorsed our approach - a solution to the national problem must exclude any division of the country. Each party represented here, has its own solution to the national question. We will discuss and synthesize these different approaches and develop our own Sri Lankan model. We must explore all past attempts from the Bandaranaike -Chelvanayakam pact onwards. We must draw appropriate lessons from the experience of other countries. I will not impose a solution on the country. But in keeping with the sentiments enunciated in the Mahinda Chinthanaya, you will through your deliberations provide a broad framework that will generate a consensus among all parties.
In the settlement of the conflict we cannot for short term expediency sacrifice our cherished democratic values and our commitment to the rule of law. Nor can we ignore the human rights standards sweeping through every corner of the globe. There is justifiable cause for our insistence on these issues, arising from the wanton killings of Tamil political and other Tamil leaders whose only crime was that they held views contrary to that of the LTTE. There are other situations where the fundamental rights of individuals might have been infringed. We will insist on democratic values, political pluralism and the tolerance of dissent being established within the shortest possible time throughout the country. We will make every effort to advance human rights standards in every part of this land. The challenge is to evolve a solution that meets these fundamental basic needs. The rule of law, basic decency in the conduct of those in authority are also core values that we must safeguard.
The LITE will need to respond equally to these rightful expectations and we hope that the settlement that we offer will pave the way to embrace these values which are a norm in all civilised and developed societies the world over. People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement, without over-reliance on the centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities.
In sum, any solution needs to as a matter of urgency allow people to take charge of their own destiny. This has been tried out successfully in many parts of the world. There are many examples from around the world that we may study as we evolve a truly Sri Lankan constitutional framework including our immediate neighbour, India.Improving the lives of Sri Lankans all over the country is our ambition. Improving the lives of the impoverished in the North and the East is a priority. Having suffered much over these two decades of a war imposed on them by the LITE, we must create a safe, stable and meaningful environment that enables the impoverished in the North and the East to participate in economic activity, which will give them the capacity to progress towards their life ambitions.
The government has committed US$1.25 billion for this purpose and we are encouraging active private sector and international agency involvement in the development of the North and the East. Rapid development is quite achievable within a short time given the international community’s desire to engage in the reconstruction effort and the local entrepreneurs’ desire to invest in this area. The government remains committed, to channelling investment funds to the North and the East. I believe that the beneficiaries of such development must be the people of the North and the East. One thing that eludes us is peace. But that is no justification for prolonging the return of normalcy or allowing impoverished people to continue in fear and poverty, whether it be in the conflict-affected North and the East or the rest of the country. One cannot take a fatalistic stand that the future will be somehow and somewhat better for the future generation. Why not make it happen now?
The solution we offer should be one that offers an immediate resolution to the ones affected. It is not enough to keep people waiting in fear for an uncertain future.Any solution must be seen to be good and reasonable enough to address the concerns for which great suffering has been endured. Large numbers have sacrificed their lives; lives of many others have been devastated and resulted in displacement of family units who have migrated to safer countries to avoid conflict. Many a mother's tears have flowed over the lifeless body of a child killed in this needless conflict.It therefore behoves on particularly the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well stretched hand of accommodation. Any solution must therefore address these expectations as well.
The role of the All Party Representative Committee as well as, its Panel of Experts is to fashion creative options that satisfy the minimum expectations that I had enumerated earlier as well as provide a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question. I have invited the LTTE to engage itself on this process. It is only by doing so that the aspirations of the Tamil people can be addressed, not through streams of blood and shattered limbs.There are well-wishers locally and internationally who will be glad to help with ideas that address the concerns of both sides. I would also suggest that the interest groups in our society be invited to contribute their views in a specified period of time so that such ideas too may be considered.
In conclusion, I wish the All Party Representative Committee and its Panel of Experts all success in their collective endeavour in formulating a political and constitutional framework for the resolution of the national question. It is imperative that the process moves speedily and effectively. After more than two decades of a protracted, cruel and violent conflict, the country cannot wait any longer to usher in a just and a sustainable peace for all peoples of Sri Lanka irrespective of their place of origin, ethnicity and religion.
My hope is that this conflict that has torn brother from brother and sister from sister can be brought to an end now. Let the soothing thoughts of peace be a balm in your discussions. Let your work provide hope to every tear drenched eye and an inspiration to every flickering dream.
May the blessings of the noble Triple Gem be with you.