Most Venerable Mahasanga, Christian, Hindu and Islamic religious dignitaries, Excellencies from various diplomatic missions, our distinguished speakers for today, ladies and gentleman.
On behalf of Hon. Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs and the board Directors of Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, I would like to welcome with great honour the Maha Sanga, the Christian, Hindu, Islamic religious dignitaries and all distinguished guests for this gathering.
It is with great pleasure I welcome our Keynote speaker Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, I welcome our eminent panelists for today Ven.Prof. Bellanwilla Wimalarathna thero, Ven.Galkande Dhammananda thero, Rev.Fr.Bendict Joseph,Ven.Ramachandra Kurukkal Babu Sharma, Mr.N.M.Ameen, Dr.Pradeep Jeganathan, Prof.Rohan Gunarathna and Mr.Prasantha lal de Alwis. Our Institute is honored by the presence of such a renowned panel. I thank you for your time and contribution. Many religious members requested to speak at our conference but due to time constraints we had to limit the number of speakers. We welcome all participants for the discussion towards the end of the conference.
This is the 8th conference we are conducting on reconciliation at our Institute. We held the inaugural conference with Secretary of Defense as the keynote speaker in 2011 November. The other conferences focused a number of themes such as the role of Business, women, ICT, youth, education and Art and culture. Our aim is to identify champions of reconciliation in our society and recognize their ideas and thoughts on the subject and thus consequently feed into a dialogue among the public and policy making. Contributions in these conferences are encapsulated in a comprehensive report. We also produce position papers to our Minister on the recommendations made during the discussions. For example from the last conference we had recommendations from a participant requesting a National Reconciliation Day to be declared by the government.
These activities we conduct are mandated under the Act in 2006 which clearly specifies the need to work on post conflict reconciliation and peace building. We are not an implementation body but a place for discussion, debate and research. Our recommendations are directed to the relevant authorities for implementation.
A few months ago I was in South Africa and I observed the use of theology in their reconciliation process. During the TRC process they have used theology as a key element to heal the hearts and minds of the victims and perpetrators, there was lot of praying during the sessions according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness. I am not suggesting that we should necessarily adopt the same here but we could look at certain applicable best practices.
Forgiveness is common to all religions. In Budhism, story of “Angulimala” a ruthless killer was forgiven, in Christianity Jesus Christ when he was crucified he did forgive at his last hour. The other religions also have this essence of forgiveness. Our earth is soaked with the blood of so many innocent people. Two world wars, holocaust, Vietnam, genocide in Cambodia and Ruwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland ,Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Afganistan, Pakistan and so many more conflicts around the world. Three days ago a religious mosque was attacked in Iraq where 20 people died, since April about 2500 Iraqis was killed. With all these we still believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Like I have said at the World Economic Forum at a panel discussion “the pain of one nation should be pain of another we cant ignore another nation since we are all connected. Together we must find solution”.
Religion has an amazing power to unite a divided community and reconcile. Religious harmony was present at the time of great kings of our country. Today as our nation is at an important juncture in postwar period, we could use religion to heal our hearts and minds. When I look back to my childhood I have seen enough of horrors through losing my father and also 117 members of my father’s political party SLMP.=
We all are direct or indirect victims of this horrific period. There were many assassinations of great religious leaders, one such leader was the most venerable Pohoddaramulle Premaloka Thero the chief adviser of the SLMP party who was gunned down soon after Vijaya Kumaratunga‘s assassination. Perpetrators walked in to his temple and shot him twice in the mouth, instantly killing him. He believed in liberal political values such as devolution of power.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of one of the worst manifestations of inter ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, known better as Black July. Today we have a great opportunity crafted by our armed forces with the leadership of his Excellency the President who managed to defeat terrorism. It’s time for us to create a multi-ethnic society with respect and dignity to all ethnic groups. To create a society of meritocracy based on talents and not the ethnic background. When I met Deputy PM of Singapore Tharman Sanmugarathnam, I was fascinated by his speech on his contribution to his country. After speaking to him I found that he was a Sri Lankan who has elevated to this position. Change and transition is hard but it’s vital for the future. I said hard because change on believes and values are the hardest. Humans have to be adaptive or you will be left out of the race. We lost many lives during the last three-decade and now it’s time to learn lessons from past mistakes and reconcile.
Today we are webcasting live in order to reach out to a wider community including the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Questions could be posted on Twitter or Facebook or sent directly to our email, so that our panelists could respond to them. I am pleased that Rev. Father S.J. Emmanuel from the Global Tamil Forum has sent his wishes for this conference and we want the Diaspora to be involved in this discussion.
The process towards reconciliation is a long one. The injustice that has been done for decades will not be made right after one day. The parties to the conflict should indicate a willingness to break the old patterns of conflict. I am certain todays conference will add great value to our national reconciliation process.
I end with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “World peace trough nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.
*National Conference on the Role of Religion in Reconciliation– Speech by Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Executive Director LKIIRSS 23rd July 2013