By G.L Peiris –
Your excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Venerable members of the Maha Sanga, my colleagues in the Cabinet of Ministers, Your Excellency’s, Commanders of the three Forces, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Executive Director of the LKIIRSS, Ladies and Gentleman.
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all here this morning for an event of unquestionable significance. A few moment ago His Excellency President Rajapaksaunveiled the statue of the Late Foreign Minister the Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar on the 8th anniversary of his death.
Lakshman Kadirgamar has many achievements to his credit, his was in every sense of the word a multifaceted career. But what he is most remembered for today is his singular achievement in turning round world opinion at a critical juncture in the contemporary history of our country.Today the terrorist organization which arrested Sri Lanka’s economic and social development for three whole decades has been banned by no fewer than 34 countries, but this is not something that can be taken for granted, could not have been taken for granted. At the time Kadirgamar began his work the extent and magnitude of his achievement has to be assessed in the context of the conditions, which prevailed at that time. The terrorist organization was endeavoring to create the impression in the world community that they were not terrorists, but freedom fighters and it fell to Kadirgamar’s lot to refute that contention with all the persuasive power at his command. He did so in a variety of ways.
Frist and foremost he got the message out loud and clear to the international community, that there cannot be an isolations approach to terrorism, Sri Lanka may be a country far, far away from the West, but what happens here undoubtedly has a very direct impact on situations n Western Europe and other parts of the world. Theses are interlocking, intertwining relationships and Kadirgamar succeeded in making the point with great conviction and emphasis that developments in this country were by no means irrelevant, they were part of the main stream and were therefore worthy of intense attention on the part of the international community.
He did this with great concurrence and one of the striking features of the strategy he employed for this purpose was to link the circumstances in Sri Lanka to situations to which there was a sharp focus at the international level.
I can think of no better example for that than the use that he made of the initiatives of Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela. Graca Machel, at the time carried out a great deal of work at the United Nations systemfocusing attention on the plight of child soldiers, and Kadirgamar was able to point out the harrowing ordeal of child soldiers in our own country and by doingso was able to rivet the attention of the world community to the unfolding scenario in our own country.
The terrorist organization was banned in the USA when Madeline Albright was Secretary of State. In the UK there was a debate as to whether in terms of the applicable laws of the UK this organization could be properly banned. Kadirgamar played a significant role in that debate. He pointed out that in terms of the applicable British legislation the governing criterion was the method that was used by the organization in question, if they resorted to terror as opposed to persuasion no matter what objective they professed to try to achieve, the methods they used, the resort to terrorism, the recourse to violence, was sufficient in terms of the British legislation to characterize the organization in question as a terrorist organization. So he made a very able and persuasive intervention , on behalf of Sri Lanka to bring about a result that the proscription of this organization took place in the UK as well. The proscription of this organization by the European Union meant that 27 countries barred this organization. So that was the extent of his activities in securely the banning of this organization all over the world.That is the most sticking, most prominent achievement that is remembered today, with gratitude and appreciation.
But that achievement sprang from a series of inner convictions on the part of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar. He was a Tamil, the only Tamil foreign minster this country has had, and he was convinced deeply , irrevocably, in his own mind that the Tamil culture was something worthy of esteem. He has profound respect for the traditions and culture of the Tamil people and he thought that those traditions were worthy of emulation and perpetration within the national fabric of Sri Lanka. He was very firmly committed to a unitary state, a state within which all communities would be able to live in harmony and in unison. He saw absolutely no contradiction between the pride and the self esteem of the Tamil people on the one hand, and the cohesiveness of the Sri Lankan nation on the other. He believed these were mutually reinforcing and enriching rather than mutually exclusive.
He also realized that whatever solution is evolved to this issue in Sri Lanka would necessarily have to take into account the reality that the Tamil community is not exclusively resident in the Northern or Eastern provinces of the island. The majority of Tamil people live in amity as they have done for centuries with the other communities in other parts of the country, in Colombo, in Kandy, in Galle, respecting each others culture without strain or tension, that is the proud history to which we are heirs and Kadirgamar’s thinking was very strongly influenced by the awareness of that noble and salutary tradition. He believed the solution to problems must arise ideally from dialogue, but he also realized that there was inherent risk and danger in making compromise when there was no reasonable expectation of reciprocity. The basis of any productive dialogue is reciprocity, both sides have to commit themselves to the accomplishment of a goal. But Kadirgamar, towards the end of his life, realized full well that the LTTE had no serious commitment to a negotiating process for a fundamental reason – the reason was they were convinced of their military invincibility and therefore they saw no reason to engage in a serious dialogue.
Now it is this circumspection which was uppermost in the mind of the late Lakshman Kadirgamarthat made him strongly oppose the P-TOMS agreement. The P-TOMS agreement was something that attracted a great deal of attention at that time. Kadirgamar was an implacable foe of the P-TOMS agreement because he was conscious of its implications and repercussions and he has no doubt in his mind that this agreement if implemented spelt great danger to the unity and integrity of our great mother land.
Another of the deepest convictions of the late Kadirgamar was that this problem has to be resolved within the shores of this island. It is simply not possible to arrive at a sustainable agreement which is evolved overseas, that would not work at all because one of the pre requisites of sustainability is that a solution must be evolved in keeping with the traditions, the cultural morays of the people and must have a homegrown, homespun quality.
So these were the cherished convictions of the Late Lakshman Kadirgamar which infused the whole of his thinking with regard to this issue. Reference was made in the introductory remarks a little while ago to Kadirgamar’s achievement in having the UN system declare the Vesak Poya Day as an international holiday. I think this was reflective of another dimension to the character and thinking of the late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. He was at great pains to point out that the world consist of more than one culture, that there is a whole reservoir of wisdom and worthwhile values entrenched in other cultures and he wanted the world and the UN system in particular to take notice on the impact of those cultural traditions on the resolution of problems that dominate the contemporary world. This was exceedingly successful , particularly during the time of Judge Owada, a Japanese judge as President of the International Court of Justice. For the first time international jurisprudence evolved by the ICJ, began to involve not only sources from Western Europe but the court began to take note of the Dhammapada, Tripitaka, Bhagavath Geetha, Quran and Haggith all of which enriched the collective experience of humanity.
The final comment I would like to make is that Kadirgamar, who was a distinguished alumnus of the University of Oxford, insisted that Oxford has contributed to the icing on the cake. In his own words Kadirgamar insisted that the cake was baked at home, and the University of Oxford contributed to the icing on the cake. I think that is an apt remark because everything he believed in, the values he held to be sacrosanct, evolved in the context of a national tradition, they derived from the soil of Sri Lanka and found inspiration in one of the most remarkable personalities of our time.
So these Your excellency, Your Excellency’s, ladies and gentleman are reasons why today Lakshman Kadirgamar is honored by the highest in our land. Hisstatue has justbeen unveiled by His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is one of our cherished values which we have nurtured over the centuries that we must honor those to which honor is deserved. That is very much a part of Buddhist tradition ‘poojacha poojaneeyana’, honor to whom honor is deserved, and in honoring Kadirgamar we honor ourselves, we pay tribute to a man who made a difference, he transformed life in this country in a variety of ways, he touched the life of a nation in many ways and left behind a legacy which is indelibly left in the conscious of the people he struck. That is why President Rajapaksa the highest in the land now honors the memory of the Late Lakshman Kadirgamar.
*Professor G.L Peiris’s – Welcome Address at at the event of the Unveiling of the Statue of the Late. Lakshman Kadirgamar by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies.