For far too long Sri Lanka has been at the receiving end of attack for its significant achievement of defeating terrorism, in a world where the battle lines between democracy and terrorism are often claimed to be clear, but are in fact more than vague and undefined.
Some of our diplomats abroad have made useful efforts to set the record straight and show how Sri Lanka has helped South Asia and the world by its defeat of the LTTE. The Defence authorities have also made their own contributions to convince its counterparts abroad, and through them opinion in foreign countries, of the necessity we had to defeat terrorism, show them how we did it, and keep the world informed of how we are treading the path of peace in the post-conflict phase.
Yet the battering goes on with forces that refuse to accept the fact that terrorism has indeed been defeated, democracy restored and the dividends of peace are in fact being enjoyed by the people in many ways today. The attacks are well managed with an abundance of funds that were once procuring weapons for the forces of terror, and the yet undisturbed funds and skills of those who were carrying on the media manipulation and disinformation during the final years of the LTTE's stepped up battle to establish a separate Eelam in parts of the country.
Spirit of freedom
These forces have been falsely described as the Tamil Diaspora, giving them a credibility that is entirely lacking in their strategies and tactics against Sri Lanka, which places right outside the proper description of an actual Diaspora, which is made up of people, scattered in foreign lands, driven out of their homeland, and waiting eagerly to return there. These vendors of gross falsehood against Sri Lanka, not only have no desire to come back to their original homeland - Sri Lanka, but would not even step into the 'homeland' of Eelam they have been loudly supporting, if it were ever established.
It was in this background that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association held its 58th conference in Colombo, the third time in Sri Lanka, and gave Sri Lanka the opportunity to place the truth before the world, amidst the spirit of freedom and the well springs of democracy that are nurturing society today, after nearly three decades of bloody conflict.
While at a pre-conference briefing the media was urged to present the best possible image of Sri Lanka before the arriving delegates, 800 of them from the 54 Commonwealth member states and many others that embrace or practice democracy, the challenge of presenting Sri Lanka in the context of current reality of a world of conflicting interests was taken up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address as both the current Vice Patron of the CPA and Chief Guest at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference.
Having established Sri Lanka's outstanding credentials as a functioning democracy, through four score years and one, which far more than most members of today's Commonwealth, which replaced the former Empire Parliamentary Association formed in 1911, when as he said, "British Empire was at the height of its strength, when the Sun never set upon it," President Rajapaksa made clear our continued support for democracy at home and abroad and readiness to buttress the efforts of the CPA for the further progress of governance through the freely expressed will of the people.
But the more important message of the President was in explaining the tragedy of misrepresentation that Sri Lanka has suffered through recent years, and urge them to discover the truth of a functioning democracy, where elections to three provincial councils had been conclude three days before the conference opened, and urged the delegates to take back the truth about Sri Lanka to their own countries and people.
The reality as he presented it is best said in the President's own words. "It is unfortunate that today, many impressions of Sri Lanka in foreign countries, are based on unverified facts, and wrong or deliberately manipulated disinformation, carried out by those who once supported the forces of terror. These same elements continue to sow the seeds of division and separatism through various media, and also influence politicians in their new countries of domicile, to act against Sri Lanka, based on such disinformation."
"These are people who claim to speak for Sri Lanka or a section of our people, while slandering the country from their shelters abroad. They do not bother to contribute to the reconciliation and development taking place here. But worse, they do not even contribute to the progress of the people whose cause they claim to champion, from their activities abroad."
"Your presence in Sri Lanka gives you a good opportunity to see for yourselves the progress of democracy in our country, after the major threat it faced under terrorism. This is important in the context of the barrage of lies being spread about Sri Lanka today."
"You can now see the truth and return to your countries with a deeper and richer understanding of Sri Lanka," he added.
Emphasizing his own commitment to democracy, President Rajapaksa said: "It is also noteworthy that among the first things done after the defeat of terrorism, first in the Eastern Province, and later in the entire country, was to quickly hold local government, provincial and national elections to obtain a proper mandate from the people, large sections of whom were deprived of their franchise by the forces of terror."
In an important recall of his own search for a proper mandate, he said: "In fact I myself sought a second term in office, even before the expiry of my first term, to obtain a truly national mandate, because the terrorists whose agents are still active in some parts of the world, denied many people in the North and East the right to vote, the first time I sought the Presidency in November 2005," adding that: "We will also hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council next year upholding the principles of democracy."
He explained Sri Lanka's own significant successes gained through the practice of democracy: "It will be interesting to look at Sri Lanka's own record of success through democracy. Our achievements in education and health stand out as examples to other countries and societies. Our 96 percent literacy is a proud record that has come from the blend of democracy, with a great tradition of education that came down from Buddhism and later advanced through the Christian churches. Similarly, our success in providing free health services to all also comes from a great tradition of healing that was advanced through democracy.
"It is also important to note that Sri Lanka achieved 8 percent GDP growth last year, and the year before, after 6 and 7 percent growth earlier even during the battle against terrorism because of our commitment to the people and the values of democracy. It is our strong belief that there cannot be peace without development. The reverse is also true; there cannot be development without peace."
He then moved on to the threats that democracy faces in the world that claims to be supportive of the process, but in fact works to a different agenda. "One must look forward to this conference recognizing the proper priorities in furthering the democratic process. You will no doubt take into consideration the current global realities that often seem to threaten proper and effective democracy, and also seek to challenge the sovereignty of nation states."
"The importance of respecting the different cultures in the Commonwealth as it seeks to advance democracy was underscored by President Rajapaksa when he said: "In seeking to advance democracy in the world, which is the commitment of the CPA, it is also important to appreciate the different cultures and values of each country where democracy has been rooted, or is growing. The Commonwealth is a rich diversity of nations with the common bond of democracy. It is also a rich diversity of cultures, traditions and values. There are countries where culture and heritage date back to many millennia. There are others with shorter histories and traditions. Democracy will truly blossom when these differences are best understood and respected in all our dealings with each other."
He had interesting observations of the current trends of 'regime change' manipulation of Human Rights and the new reality of drone driven democracy. "It is necessary for all of us to be anchored in the true meaning and concept of democracy - which is the will of the people - freely expressed. Recently, we saw fears of this in the very Mother of Democracy, in the early stage of the current financial crisis in Europe.
There is also an unfortunate trend we see of efforts to impose democracy on people and states. There are many who seem to think of regime change as the necessary path to democracy, without seeing the consequences of such action that stare at us today. We are also aware of how Human Rights can be made a slogan by the worst violators of such rights, to threaten traditional democracies. "Democracy, or representative democracy, is today competing for headlines with various emerging national or regional springs. There is also the hum of drones that seek to bomb democracy into place with a carpet of destruction. We must be cautious of all these strategies that experience shows have not helped real democracy to take root and thrive. It is necessary to bear in mind that democracy does not foster hatred within societies among communities and among nations and countries. Democracy stands for unity of purpose in a spirit of mutual understanding."
Concluding his address that many in the audience saw as an outstanding presentation of the realities of democracy in Sri Lanka and abroad, President Rajapaksa stated: "Having your conference in a vibrant democracy, where the will of the people has been cherished, and protected for eight decades and more, there is every hope that your deliberations, amidst the well-springs of democracy that prevail in our land, will produce the best results for parliamentary democracy in the Commonwealth and the world."