Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) congratulate President Maithripala Sirisena and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) for the Cabinet decision on 2nd March 2016 for acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) commonly known as Ottawa Treaty, banning and eradicating the menace of the anti-personnel landmines from the world. The SLCBL wishes to thank the Government of Sri Lanka particularly the H.E. the President, Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Hon Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, Hon. Minister of Rehabilitation, Resettlement, Hindu Religious Affairs and Prison Reforms Mr. D.M. Swaminathan and all the officials who were involved in this process. This decision is historical and has got positive media attention locally and internationally particular among the nations working towards a mine-free world and humanitarian disarmament.
Sri Lanka acceding to the MBT will help the country in various ways. Among them, it will enhance the ongoing mine clearance programme and resettling the displaced people of over 10,000 families in the mine-affected areas, more international support can be sought for the mine action programme, enhance the mobilization of international donor funding for the disability sector including landmine victims assistance as well as universalization of the MBT particular among the SAARC nations.
As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on 10th March 2016 made a remark at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council that the next few months will be very important for Sri Lanka and praised its journey towards accountability, reconciliation and durable peace. No doubt that, Sri Lanka’s accession to the MBT will directly help this process. His brother Prince Mired Raad Zeid Al-Hussein is the special envoy of the MBT and he requested several times to visit Sri Lanka on universalization mission of the MBT since the end of the war but the previous government did not entertain his request to visit the country. In recent times, he communicated with the SLCBL again on his willingness to visit Sri Lanka for a mission for universalization of the MBT.
SLCBL met the President on 23rd December 2015 at the Presidential Secretariat and presented the SLCBL publications on “a) Why Post-war Sri Lanka Should accede to the MBT, b) Why Post-war Sri Lanka Should Accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and c) Why Sri Lanka Should Ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).” It is important to note that Sri Lanka was one of the leaders and champions of disarmament particularly within the Non-align Movement and at the UN. However, for more than a decade Sri Lanka did not associate with any disarmament treaties particularly when the opportunity was immense after end of the war in 2009. For many obvious reasons, Sri Lanka should have acceded to the MBT soon after end of the war. It is pertinent to note that previous governments have made several statements with regard to accession to the MBT and other disarmament treaties but these were never materialized.
With Sri Lanka acceding to the MBT, the country would connect to the world disarmament community again and thereby be recognized as a country supporting humanitarian disarmament and regain its position as a champion of disarmament as its used to be in the past. Post-war Sri Lanka should enhance its soft power in bilateral and multilateral fora. Since Sri Lanka did not engaged with any military wars in the past with neighboring countries or the region, will not engage with such in future and also not a military power in the region and the nation could easily become a soft power in the region which will immensely benefit for better economic and investor climate and reaching a higher socioeconomic status.
Early this year (February 8th) Sri Lanka ratified the UN Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which came in to force in Sri Lanka soil on 9th March 2016. This is also another historical milestone that the current government has achieved. In the meantime, SLCBL would like to remind the President and the government, that there are allegations that Sri Lanka had used Cluster Munitions during the last stage of the war which Sri Lanka has denied. Since Sri Lanka did not use cluster munitions, nor possess them and does not intend to use in the future, Sri Lanka could easily accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) without any delay following the same process similar to early this month’s Cabinet decision on the MBT.
The International Mine Awareness Day will fall on 4th April 2016 and Sri Lanka could become the showcase to the world that the country was able to clear the remaining mine fields well before the deadline for “FINISH THE JOB in 2025”. Sri Lanka will be able to convey a message to the world disarmament community that with accession to the MBT when Sri Lanka becomes a mine free country in 2020 as per the “Sri Lanka National Mine Action Strategy”. When Sri Lanka becomes a State Party to the MBT and a mine-free country in 2020, Sri Lanka will be the first country in the world to achieve that status within a very short period of time.
*Vidya Abhayagunawardena is the Coordinator for Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL). He can be reached at email@example.com