Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture


By Dominick Chilcott,

British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka (10 December 2007)

Mr Desmond Fernando, Chairman of the Dudley Senanayake Foundation, Mrs Sagarica Delgoda, country representative of the Friedrich Nauman Stiftung "fur die Freiheit", members of the board of directors of the foundation, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen.
When Desmond Fernando asked me to give the tenth Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture, I little realised the heavy responsibility and the signal honour that entailed. I subsequently found out that previous speakers were drawn from the A- list of liberal politicians in Europe and this country. So I am very conscious this evening of standing in a tradition which started in 1989 with Lord Steel, the former leader of the Liberal Party in Britain, and includes Count Lambsdorff, a past President of Liberal International, as well as at least two former Prime Ministers and many other luminaries in contemporary political and academic life.

Thank you, Desmond, for inviting me to join that distinguished list of liberal thinkers.

The right way to start this lecture is to pay tribute to Dudley Senanayake. He was clearly no ordinary politician. In fact, his integrity of character and his probity in public life would make him a very unusual politician judged by the standards of today. But I suspect that, even in the 1950s and 1960s, the decades in which he was Prime Minister of this country on four separate occasions, Dudley Senanayake’s qualities set him apart.

It is a well known ruse that politicians who seek high office often protest that they do not do so, but are willing to serve if the country needs them. In almost all cases, this is bunkum. Politicians are usually astute enough to know that admitting to their over-vaulting ambition would harm their cause. But in Dudley Senanayake’s case, it appears that he had genuinely to be asked to become Prime Minister, the first time, on his father’s unexpected death.

For Dudley Senanayake was not motivated primarily by personal ambition, nor by the thrill of exercising power. He was a man of principle who lived by the values he espoused. The President of the Methodist Church in Ceylon described him, at his death, as a man whose "deep humanity and sense of fair play and justice endeared him to all communities". It has been said of him that his respect for democratic institutions was carried to a degree that sometimes weakened his own political base. Again, the contrast – for better or worse - with Sri Lankan politics these days is striking.

How would Dudley Senanayake view today’s politics? As someone with a strong attachment to the principles of good governance, he would, I judge, be concerned at some aspects of contemporary political life.

I am sure he would have welcomed the adoption of the 17th amendment by Parliament in September 2001, mainly at the initiative of the People’s Alliance and the JVP. As you know, its aim is to depoliticise key public institutions by creating independent commissions to administer the Police, Judiciary, Public Service and Elections. Despite its limitations, the law was widely hailed at the time as a move towards a corrupt-free, merit-based system of public administration. So the fact that the 17th amendment has been inoperative, for some time now, would be a matter of regret and concern to him.

Similarly, Dudley Senanayake would be disturbed at the many allegations made these days about corruption in politics. He would be pleased at the existence of a parliamentary committee to investigate corruption but surprised that 22 of its 30 members are government ministers. It must be the only oversight committee in the world that consists mainly of ministers. This is not to cast aspersions on any of the individuals concerned. But the conflict of interest involved must undermine the credibility of such a committee.

He may have thought the position of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee actually worse than that. Because, in many cases and this is no secret, MPs have been made ministers, not because there is a job for them to do, but because it buys their loyalty to the government. I think Dudley Senanayake would have disapproved of this sort of politics. He would have seen the risk that using the perks of ministerial office – official vehicles, bodyguards, fuel allowances etc - to persuade MPs to cross the floor would corrode standards of political life. He believed the principal purpose of becoming a minister was to serve the people, not to feather one’s own nest.

No country that is governed by human beings will be free of corruption. It affects all of us. The important thing is for countries to have effective institutions in place to catch and punish people for corruption. That at least provides some deterrent. Nothing makes corruption spread faster than a sense of impunity. That’s why bodies like Parliament’s anti-corruption committee matter so much.

Dudley Senanayake is usually described as being a liberal. Lord Steel said "he was a man who put liberal principles first". Count Lambsdorff called him "a person whose primary desire was the enlargement of the content of individual freedom" and that such a man "is, of course, a liberal".

In Sri Lanka, the contemporary picture of liberalism is pretty confused. There is a Liberal Party here but its voice on human rights, individual freedoms and accountable government – core liberal values - is silent. This is a major handicap at the present time.

Surveys by the World Bank on good governance and by other bodies, for example Transparency International’s index of perceptions of corruption, tell the same worrying story. Sri Lanka is not, by any means, the worst country in the world for governance and corruption. It sits in about the middle of the country rankings. But in recent years it has begun to slide backwards, albeit not dramatically, relative to other countries. Liberals need to speak up and reassert their values.

Good governance matters. Dudley Senanayake saw that. He understood too that good governance fostered more development. Daniel Kaufman, the director of global governance at the World Bank Institute, argues that surveys reveal the value, in development terms, of good governance - what he calls the ‘development dividend’ of good governance. He has been bold enough to put a figure on it - about 300 percent. In other words, a country that has today $2,000 per capita income per year today can attain $6,000 per capita income per year in the long term if it improves its rule of law, controls corruption and increases government effectiveness.

Of course, it is not easy to speak out against corruption, graft and the lowering of standards of public life. It takes courage. Many people feel that the space within civil society to express dissenting views is under great pressure. One of the unintended, but nonetheless, observable effects of the resurgence of the internal conflict has been to polarise society. There is a tendency to put people into one of two camps – either one is an uncritical supporter of the military campaign against the LTTE or one’s loyalty to the Sri Lankan state is considered suspect.

That’s a dangerously false dichotomy. There are a million shades of grey (and many other colours) between the black and white over-simplification of being pro-war or pro-LTTE. Traditionally it is people of liberal views who are in the vanguard of speaking up for those intermediate colours. Let their voices be heard.

There is one other aspect of Dudley Senanayake’s life that I wish to mention, the agreement he signed with the moderate Tamil leadership in 1965. This agreement addressed three key issues for the minorities: language, devolution and land. It was an agreement that could have re-enfranchised the Tamil-speaking minorities. Dudley Senanayake’s failure to muster sufficient support for it in the South had tragic consequences for the country. Had it been implemented, it is quite possible that Sri Lanka today would have been a vibrant, prosperous, multi-ethnic country at peace with itself.

This episode showed Dudley Senanayake’s strength and weakness. He had the insight to understand what was needed to reach an accommodation with the minorities. But he did not have the political skills or muscle to convince his fellow Sinhalese.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My lecture this evening is titled "the new diplomacy for the new century". Sometimes diplomacy can be seen as a sort of timeless stately minuet. All this Excellency-calling, the big cars with flags and the VIP treatment doesn’t convey an image of dynamism and change. But the practice or method of diplomacy is not set in stone. On the contrary, it is changing, and changing quickly. I shall try to set out what those changes are and what their significance is.

Sir Harold Nicholson, a British historian, professional diplomat, MP, journalist and man of letters, gave a series of lectures at Oxford University in 1953, which were later published in a book called "The evolution of diplomatic method". In those lectures, Sir Harold described several different kinds of diplomacy – ancient Greek and Roman, renaissance Italian, 18th century French and what he called egalitarian or American diplomacy, championed by President Woodrow Wilson after the First World War.

Sir Harold describes how many of the rules of the older schools of diplomacy are no longer practised. For example, any person claiming to be an ambassador in ancient Athens, without having been given the proper credentials by the Assembly first, was liable to be put to death. Fortunately for one Sri Lankan national, currently in detention in the UK, that practice does not apply in modern Britain, otherwise the penalty for reportedly entering the UK on a diplomatic passport with a false identity might be very severe indeed.

In 15th century Italy, Venetian ambassadors seemed to have had a particularly hard time. They were forbidden to take holidays during the period of their diplomatic missions. Their wives could not accompany them, since they might gossip. And ambassadors were expected to take their own cooks to lessen the risk of being poisoned. These days we bring our wives, who presumably gossip less than 15th century Venetian women, but hire our cooks locally.

The serious point Sir Harold makes is that as the world changes, the way of carrying out diplomacy changes with it. My point is that the world, in the half century since Sir Harold’s book, has changed very fast indeed. And we are seeing the way states deal with one other, the diplomatic method, change quickly too.

It is a cliché, but nonetheless true, that the world is now a much smaller place. We inhabit a global village. In Britain, our cut flowers come from East Africa, our computers are made in China and run software invented in the United States, our clothes come from Sri Lanka and so on and so forth. We are able instantly to communicate with people all over the world whether by phone or email. Cheaper flights allow us to travel to foreign countries more often.

If the image of the cold war period was of the Berlin Wall and division between different political systems and ways of life, the image of the modern world is of the internet and the billions of connections being forged between people all over the world. We now inhabit a world in which we can rightly talk not just of the wealth of nations, but of the wealth of networks. Humanity is no longer divided into clearly defined and distinct groups – Western, Communist, Non-aligned, Third world or whatever labels one liked to use – with barriers keeping the different kinds of societies apart.

Although some governments try, it is pretty difficult to prevent the spread of knowledge and ideas via the Internet. And as we travel and communicate more, we create lots of new links between different peoples – links based on trade or migration for jobs or education or many other things. Of course, most of this international activity is not carried out by governments. It is conducted by ordinary people, flexing their own economic and communications muscles.

At the same time, as countries and peoples are drawing closer to one another, with or without the support of governments, the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs is becoming blurred. Almost all home government departments in Britain have an external affairs division. Law and order is an international business because criminal organisations these days are international in character. Protecting the environment requires collective, international action. Education involves marketing British universities and colleges to attract foreign students to study at them. And so on.

Another change is that international affairs are no longer exclusively about what happens between states. When domestic issues have an international dimension, those domestic affairs can be important for relations between states. So diplomacy is increasingly concerned with what happens within states as well as what happens between them.

An obvious example of this is the drugs trade. 90% of the heroin on the streets of Britain comes from Afghanistan: so the political stability and economic prosperity of Afghanistan – resting on crops other than the poppy – will have a profound effect on British towns and cities.

More dramatically, since 9/11 and in the context of the threat from Islamic extremism, what happens in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan has a direct bearing on the safety and security of western countries, particularly the UK with our large British-Pakistani community. We have a direct stake in whether of not the Taliban succeeds in winning support amongst Afghans and Pakistanis. We can’t afford to treat this as the untouchable internal politics of foreign countries.

In a less extreme way, internal events in Sri Lanka affect Britain. The conflict here makes waves in the UK. For example, as the conflict worsens, we get more asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. It becomes more difficult to manage the movement of people between our countries. More Sri Lankans try to get into the UK illegally. The numbers of those overstaying their visa also increase.

We suffer other law and order problems associated with the conflict in Sri Lanka. LTTE fundraisers extort money from Tamil business people. There are Tamil gangs fighting one another on the streets of London. British politicians, particularly those in constituencies with large South Asian populations, become concerned about human rights violations, the creation of new refugees and the overall suffering of the people caught up in the conflict. They debate the issues in Parliament and demand action from the British government. South Asian affairs have become very much part of British political life.

So for those reasons, as well as others, Britain has a direct interest in the end of the conflict here and the establishment of a fair and lasting peace.

But how Sri Lanka’s conflict affects Britain is only one example of how humanity is becoming more inter-related and more inter-dependent.

Last month, Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a major foreign policy speech, addressing some of these issues. Our Prime Minister is well known for his seriousness of thought and his strategic vision.

Mr Brown identified six new global forces, unique to our generation, which showed humankind’s growing interdependence. These six forces were: violence and instability in fragile states; the spread of terrorism and the risk that terrorists could acquire destructive weapons; global flows of capital and global sourcing of goods and services; climate change; global pandemics such as Avian flu; and world-wide migration.

He also argued that the Internet empowers ordinary people. In the old order, governments affected people but could not be easily affected by them. The Internet gives once powerless people the potential to be heard and see their impact in places far away.

And because the world is so interconnected and so interdependent, Mr Brown thinks it is possible for the first time in human history to contemplate and create a global society that empowers people.

Pursuing the self-interest of nation states can no longer be carried out in isolation. It must be pursued in cooperation with other countries, overcoming shared challenges. And the underlying issue for any country becomes how together, in this new interdependent world, we renew and strengthen our international rules, institutions and networks.

As we become increasingly aware of the common challenges mankind faces, we become more conscious too that all humanity is really in the same boat. We float or sink together. We have to face up to issues, such as global warming, that affect us all and which can only be tackled by collective world action.

This awareness, I believe, is the beginning of a wider and more general understanding of the commonality of humankind or what Mr Brown calls the global society. And because of the empowerment of people through the Internet, that global society will expect its governments to take a global view of issues.

The Rwanda genocide of 1994 is nowadays considered to be a stain on the international community’s conscience. Despite international news coverage of the violence against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus as it unfolded, most countries declined to prevent or stop the massacres. In a period of about three months, more than half a million people were killed.

What is so shocking, a decade later, is not just the serious attempt at genocide, but the attitude of the international community, at the time, that the killings in Rwanda were not its business. The international community may not be able to stop all attempts at genocide in the future. And the right response may not be military intervention. But I don’t think we will ever again regard genocide, wherever it occurs, as not our business.

This sense that a great injustice committed against a people in one part of the world is somehow an injustice committed against all humanity itself can be seen at work in the British courts.

Philippe Sands, a British professor of law at University College, London reckons that the arrest of General Pinochet in London in October 1998 was a milestone in the general public’s interest in international law.

You may remember the details. Pinochet was arrested while recuperating after back surgery in a private London clinic. His arrest followed a request from a Spanish criminal prosecutor for Pinochet’s extradition to Spain to face criminal charges for violating international laws when he was president of Chile.

Consideration of the extradition request took a long time. The most difficult issue was whether Pinochet enjoyed immunity from prosecution for actions carried out as head of state, a position originally upheld in the High Court. But the House of Lords overturned that view and ruled that a head of state could not claim immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts of another country to avoid facing charges that he had committed, the international crime of torture.

In the end, as we know, Pinochet was deemed too unwell to face trial and so was not extradited to Spain but returned in ignominy to Chile. But the aftershocks of the House of Lords’ decision reverberated around the world.

A further landmark case occurred in Britain, seven years later, in July 2005 when a court found an Afghan war lord, Faryadi Zardad, guilty of heinous crimes of torture and hostage taking, while carrying out a reign of terror at checkpoints on Afghan roads between 1991 and 1996. It was the first time a foreign national had been convicted in a British court for crimes committed abroad and where neither defendant nor witnesses were British subjects.

So international law is not standing still. The political and social sense of a common humanity is beginning to be reflected in our courts. I welcome the fact that judgements like these make it less easy for serious criminals, however important, to find safe havens. The British courts are strengthening the sense that one day people who commit really foul crimes, whatever nationality they and their victims are, will be held accountable for them somewhere.

Within my country I regard it as my business if a stranger is attacked or hurt. One has a natural empathy for one’s fellow countrymen. But I also want to live somewhere safe, somewhere where the rule of law is enforced, where criminals are punished according to the law and where society looks after the victims of crime and the most vulnerable.

If I feel like that about my country, why shouldn’t I have similar feelings about my world?

I don’t want to live in a world where fragile states or oppressive governments abuse human rights and get away with it. This is partly because I feel a natural empathy for my fellow human beings, wherever they may be. And partly because the world will be a safer place for me and those I love if the rule of law obtains throughout and if criminals do not enjoy impunity.

Those who argue for the inviolability of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country are swimming against the tide of history. In the last 50 years, states have voluntarily bound themselves together in a net of international treaties and conventions covering even the most sensitive internal issues, such as human rights.

Treaties are agreements made between States: and human rights treaties are like any others in this respect. A State's obligations under human rights treaties are owed not only to the individuals present in the State's territory but also to all other States Parties to those treaties. As both the UK and Sri Lanka, for example, are party to all six of the core UN human rights treaties, in the hypothetical case that either the UK or Sri Lanka failed to comply with any of the provisions of those treaties, it would be in breach of obligations owed to the other country (and to the other States Parties to the treaties concerned). Sri Lanka or the UK would then be well within its rights, according to the Vienna Convention, to take action to defend its interests in seeing those human rights standards upheld in the other country.

So the sense of human rights being a common interest in a global society is underpinned by international law. And if it is a mistake to view something as sensitive as human rights as a purely internal matter, there can be few subjects that from now on should be regarded as beyond the general interest and purview of our global society.

Sir Harold Nicholson described how diplomatic method had changed from the time of the ancient Greeks until the 1950s. But the international institutions set up after the Second World War for 50 or so countries in what became a bipolar world during the Cold War are not suitable for an interdependent world of over 200 states where flows of commerce, people, information and ideas defy borders. We have to refresh these institutions so that they can play the role that public opinion in our global society demands of them. In particular, we have to find a way to make the UN more effective at dealing with fragile states. Some people argue we need to develop a doctrine of liberal interventionism.

Some of our philosophical problems with the concept of liberal interventionism start with our unspoken commitment to the ideas that grew out of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which helped create the idea of non-intervention in the affairs of other states. But the modern world is very different from 17th Europe. As I have argued, we are now so interdependent that we cannot continue with the idea of absolute sovereignty. The problem we face now is how we translate our legitimate concern for fellow human beings in other countries into action that is proportionate, generally acceptable to our global society and effective.

Obviously, one doesn’t want a situation where one or two powerful countries act in the name of the international community in an arbitrary way. Nor should liberal intervention be thought to mean military action every time or even most times. There are many non-military interventions that a country can make – from arguing and persuading, to economic and political sanctions. I am not arguing for a return to the raw power days of international affairs when the mighty decided what was right. But nor will well-informed and empowered public opinion be content for us to sit on our hands if action is blocked at the United Nations, as it can be under the present system. The excuse that the fate of other people who are facing genocide or humanitarian catastrophe is not our business will not run. UN reform will be central to solving this conundrum.

The debate at the UN has begun. At its 60th anniversary world summit, in September 2005, over 150 heads of state embraced the concept of "The responsibility to protect" or R2P for short.

The idea of the responsibility to protect emerged from work carried out by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The authors argued that sovereignty needed to be reassessed in light of today’s greater sense of the commonality of humankind. Sovereignty should be firstly about responsibility rather than power.

In the report’s own words: "The starting point is that any state has primary responsibility to protect individuals within it. But that is not the finishing point: where the state fails in that responsibility, through either incapacity or ill will, a secondary responsibility to protect falls on the wider international community."

One task of the new diplomacy is to find a way to give effect to the exercise of this secondary responsibility, R2P, that is generally acceptable to all those states who assented to the concept at the world summit.

This year, the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, is an apt moment to think about such concepts as the doctrine of liberal intervention or the responsibility to protect. Because, as the British peer, Lord Solely, pointed out, in a speech at Chatham House this June, British action to disrupt the international slave trade was not only one of the first liberal interventions, but also entirely illegal.

In international law at the time, the slave trade was legal. It was illegal to interfere with the ships of other nations on the high seas other than in the cases of war or piracy. However, the British Parliament judged that morality should be allowed to take precedence over international law. And history has been on Britain’s side. Who now regrets the position Britain took? Who does not support those illegal actions designed to end the slave trade. And whose side would modern lawyers have been on?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In case any reassurance is needed, let me say immediately that the international community has no plans to intervene in Sri Lanka to exercise the responsibility to protect. The government here is quite capable of carrying out that responsibility for itself. But, as I am shortly to leave this country, on completion of my mission, I would like to finish this speech with some thoughts on the current situation in Sri Lanka. I do so from the perspective of someone who has been intensely involved in Sri Lankan affairs for the past 20 months, drawing on an experience of politics and diplomacy going back 25 years.

In the relatively short time I’ve lived in Sri Lanka, I’ve learned that making predictions about the future is a mug’s game. There is always a surprise around the corner. Each week seems to be absolutely critical to the future of the country. And yet issues that seemed so important last week are quickly forgotten as people and politicians get caught up in this week’s crisis. But paradoxically, despite all the political fireworks and scandals and controversy and crises, little seems to change.

For a number of weeks and months, Sri Lankan politics have been caught up in the vortex of the budget debate. The survival of the government has been at stake. That has neither helped keep tempers cool, nor public statements rational. There has been a lot of playing to the nationalist public gallery. I hope that, once the budget is out of the way, public discourse will become rather calmer.

After the budget, there should be a largish window of opportunity for sensible discussion and for the government to take some progressive steps. The budget debate could be equally fraught next year or it could be a calmer affair as in 2006. We’ll have to wait and see. But there are no elections due until the Provincial Council elections in the autumn of 2009. With the possible exception of next year’s budget, that suggests a period of 18 months’ relative stability. The international community will expect the government to make the most of it.

How will we detect if things are calming down? Well, here are a few indicators.

We should see fewer attempts to demonise UN agencies, NGOs and their staff on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated allegations. For example, the government should make clear it does not support the JVP’s campaign against UNICEF.

Similarly there should be no further equating support for human rights and the rule of law with support for the LTTE. This is a particularly ironic position, in any case, as the LTTE show no understanding of human rights norms and they rule by fear and terror. Being critical of the government’s record on human rights does not mean you support the LTTE. For the record, let me say again, the British government, which outlawed the LTTE in 2001, unreservedly condemns the LTTE’s terrorist activities.

It would also be good to see greater recognition that there is no contradiction in being a peace campaigner and a patriotic Sri Lankan. In fact, there are plenty of ways of being a patriotic Sri Lankan and being a peace campaigner is one of them.

If this calmer and more rational atmosphere is achieved, it should be possible for the parliamentary committee, the APRC, to produce its final report on devolution. We would then look forward to the President’s endorsement of his vision of the country’s future, presumably based on the APRC’s work.

The APRC’s work, under Professor Tissa Vitarana’s leadership, for which I have the greatest respect, has been slow and drawn out. But although progress has seemed glacial, the time has not been wasted. The APRC process has moved thinking on devolution along. In the end, of course, what matters is what the President is prepared to endorse. After all, he has got to sell any new arrangements to the South. And, just as importantly, for the proposal to be credible, he has to ensure that it appeals to moderate Tamil opinion.

I say moderate Tamil opinion because I don’t believe the aim of the government’s devolution offer should be to put something on the table that will engage the attention of the LTTE. Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, dismissed the idea of negotiations with the government in his 2006 Heroes’ Day speech when he said the LTTE was "not prepared to place (its) trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path".

In the present circumstances, I see little prospect of the LTTE responding to anything from the government that did not offer them separation. It would be nice to be proved wrong on that but I don’t expect to be.

I have serious doubts as to whether the LTTE leadership would be sincere about reaching a negotiated settlement that reinforces democratic values within a united Sri Lanka. They have never accepted that anyone else should be able to speak for the Tamil people, a fundamentally anti-democratic position. But unless and until they embrace democratic, non-violent methods, they will exclude themselves from any future peace process.

This year, Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day speech was critical of the international community for not putting more pressure on the government over its share of responsibility for the suffering of the Tamil people in the conflict. It is not a baseless charge. But Prabhakaran conveniently ignored the international community’s wish to see movement from the LTTE on the key issues of democratisation and the pursuit of political goals through non-violent means.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam is illegitimate, any more than I would argue that the Scottish National Party’s goal of an independent Scotland is illegitimate. Similarly, I see nothing illegitimate in some crackpot demanding that Yorkshire or some other English county should become an independent state. What is crucial, however, is what methods are used by the SNP or the LTTE to achieve their goals. And the LTTE’s methods are simply unacceptable.

It follows from the fact that I believe the government’s offer on devolution should be addressed to moderate Tamils that I don’t believe that a future peace process should be based on talks exclusively between the government and the LTTE. Obviously, such bilateral talks are probably necessary to arrange a cease-fire. But the political process needs to be more inclusive and also more demanding of the participants.

In Northern Ireland, the peace process included all political parties and some other groups who had a legitimate interest in the future of the province and who could establish that they represented a significant group of Northern Irish people. I think there were ten such groups in all and their representatives were elected to the peace negotiations. But, in order to get through the door into the peace talks, all the groups had to commit themselves to democratic standards and to the non-use of violence to pursue their political goals.

So, I think the international community’s focus, after the budget, will be on encouraging the government to come forward with an imaginative proposal on devolution that is capable of meeting the aspirations of moderate, democratic Tamils and Muslims. The government acknowledges that it cannot win by military means alone. The international community would like to see that acknowledgement backed up with a political vision of how Sri Lanka can be reunited and its different communities reconciled with each other.

A word of caution is necessary. Realistically, constitutional change is not going to happen quickly. It would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament plus a positive referendum result to pass the law to bring in new devolution arrangements.

The usual suspects will oppose them. As Dudley Senanayake found, those Sinhalese forces opposed to devolution and power-sharing with the minorities are powerful. The only time that constitutional change was adopted to address the country’s internal question was the 13th amendment. Then President JR Jayewardene had total dominance in parliament, the resignation letters of his MPs in his pocket and the Indian army on the point of taking unilateral action. That conjunction of circumstances is unlikely to recur soon.

But even if constitutional change seems a long way off, it will still be important for the President to set out his vision. Meanwhile, there are plenty of steps the government can take to establish its bona fides, within the existing constitution, by addressing the grievances of the minorities.

It could make more use of the Tamil language in the public administration in areas where there are significant Tamil-speaking populations. I see that the government has taken significant steps to teach Tamil to Sinhala speaking civil servants. More can be done.

It can make the East a model of development that benefits all communities without discrimination. This is a big challenge but it is essential that government should achieve this if it is to win the hearts and minds of the minorities. Unless it does, the conflict will never end.

As an interim step, the government should explore how to implement the 13th amendment in a way that gives real power to the provincial councils in the North and East of the country, as well as in other provinces.

The government should make clear its determination to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights by taking public steps to bring to justice those who violate human rights, particularly on behalf of the state.

In 1999, a report into the murder of a black teenager in London accused the Metropolitan Police of "institutional racism". This was defined as "the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin", which "can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people." To their credit, the Metropolitan Police acknowledged the problem and have since put a huge effort into eliminating racism within the service. It seems to me that in Sri Lanka the agencies of the state, including the police, need similarly to take a step back and make an honest assessment of whether they are institutionally prejudiced and what steps they need to take in order to ensure that they treat all Sri Lankans equally fairly.

The government needs to think how to develop policy on the internal conflict in a bipartisan manner. We would not have brought peace to Northern Ireland had the government and opposition of the day, whichever parties they were, tried to score party political points on Northern Ireland. Unless there is a bipartisan approach in the south between the two main parties, peace efforts are very unlikely to succeed.

Let me say a word or two about the conflict.

The sooner it ends, the better. The conflict causes too much direct suffering – to the combatants and to the civilians. And over time, it erodes the quality and standards of public life and undermines good governance, as well as holding back development and economic growth.

But the government has the right to take steps to defend itself against the threat posed by the LTTE. It is not realistic to expect that an organisation like the LTTE could co-exist peacefully alongside or within a democratic society. That situation is inherently unstable. The LTTE has to change its ways.

Given the lack of trust on both sides, sadly the prospect is for the conflict to continue. In those circumstances, we expect to see the distinction between combatants and non-combatants upheld as well as other international humanitarian law and human rights law. If there has to be a fight, and given the LTTE’s attitude to democracy and peace negotiations it is hard to see how one is avoidable, then it should be fought in a manner that minimises the suffering of civilians.

I cannot tell whether the government armed forces are capable of defeating the LTTE on the battlefield. But Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and plenty of other conflicts tell us that winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war. Without resolving the underlying issues, even if the LTTE are badly beaten in the Wanni, the conflict will continue in a different guise. The social and political issues, which caused the alienation of so many Tamils in the first place, cannot be left unresolved if there is to be a lasting peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The British government would like to continue to help the Sri Lankan government find the way forward to peace and development.

We shall continue to take steps against the LTTE in the UK, to prevent public demonstrations of support for the LTTE and to disrupt fund-raising.

We shall encourage all parties to look at what worked in Northern Ireland’s peace process. We believe there are lessons that apply in Sri Lanka, though we don’t expect the experience of Northern Ireland to be translatable in total.

We shall encourage the government to come forward with a suitable proposal on devolution and to that end share our experience of devolution in Britain with people here.

We shall promote the safeguarding of human rights and the rule of law as key elements to finding a solution, not as problems to be by-passed. We shall encourage the government to work with international bodies, such as UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and in the UN Human Rights Council, in a constructive, not a combative, way.

We shall continue to fund our modest peace-building strategy projects in cooperation with the Sri Lankan authorities to help address the underlying causes of the conflict.

We shall work with our partners in the international community to maintain our constructive engagement with Sri Lanka, despite all the frustrations. It is important that the EU and the Commonwealth should have sensible policies towards Sri Lanka.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I cannot be certain what Dudley Senanayake would think of the challenges inherent in the new diplomacy. I expect he would be keen to see any new doctrine was founded on liberal principles of good government, human rights and humanitarian concern. But I think he would welcome the networks and contacts that are bringing people together across the world. He would also, I judge, see the potential for those networks to do good: to spread the truth, to empower ordinary people and to create a sense of our common humanity in place of division and difference.

For those of us who are forging this brave new world, we could do a lot worse than remind ourselves of Dudley Senanayake’s life, his principles, integrity and values. Whatever shape the future world order takes, humankind will still need men and women faithful to those qualities.

Thank you very much.