We are at the end of a week that began with action that deserved the worst condemnation, which has not been lacking, especially within our own country and our own people. What took place at Aluthgama and Beruwela are more than a timely reminder of what can happen when there is deliberate disruption of the social order to suit the aims of those who believe in being the unquestioned defenders of a race or religion or both; resulting in gross violation of the law in the name of race and religion.
We have now had the condemnations, which were already preceded by appeals for sense, sanity and calm by all political parties and religious groups, especially by the groups most affected by the violence that took place. Such unity in the cause of restoring social order and inter-communal peace and understanding shows that Sri Lanka has the ability to forge ahead, despite the obstructionists around.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not in the country when this violence and social disruption took place. He was in Bolivia, attending the 50th anniversary conference of the Group of 77 and China, a most important event of the post-colonial and developing world.
He kept in touch with what was happening, gave the correct instructions to be taken, and no sooner he returned, went straight to the seat of the trouble and to the midst of the people who were worst affected. It was his own way of showing his concern for the safety of the citizens, and sharing their woes and worries. This is typical of his approach to such serious situations, as seen when he went to Kebetigollawa, soon after the LTTE had carried out one of its most brutal massacres of Sinhalese villagers, in its terrorist war for separation. He is clearly not the leader who tells the people to look after their own safety as President JR Jayewardene did at the height of the violence of July 1983.
Following this visit, where he was able to have a good assessment of what had taken place, he assured the people of an impartial investigation into the incidents, and all action to bring those responsible to book, irrespective of race or religion. He stressed that as a country that has suffered from terrorism for nearly three decades, we cannot allow such a situation to re-emerge. The President was very clear that even though certain parties with vested interests are trying to re-create a Black July of a different form, the government would be vigilant and take all precautions to avoid any such developments.
He urged restraint among the people, and gave the necessary instructions for speedy relief to all those affected, arrange for compensation where necessary, as well as emphasizing that no one would be allowed to take the law into one's hands.
Meanwhile, Parliament gave its strong endorsement of the government's decision not to cooperate with the "independent investigation" into the alleged war crimes and human rights violations during the final stages of the battle against the terror of the LTTE. It seemed both a strange and sinister juxtaposition that the trouble at Aluthgama and Beruwela took place just days before this parliamentary debate, which provoked condemnations from the usual voices of Ban Ki-moon, Navi Pillay and the United States.
G77 plus China
The 50th anniversary commemoration summit of the Group of 77 plus China that was held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was a conference where the developing countries called for a new and fairer world economic order. Representatives of more than 100 nations discussed the destiny of billions of people, largely poor, and decided on the first draft of the "Post-Millennium Development Goals", a set of UN goals approaching their 2015 expiry date. Many of the key leaders, present, especially from Latin America, spoke of the need to fight for fair and sustainable economic growth, in a new world economic order.
President Rajapaksa made a significant contribution at this summit, when he raised several key issues of concern for developing countries, and stressing on the importance of South-South Cooperation towards achieving the Post-2015 Development Agenda. He said the G77's original founding vision of unity, solidarity and development, remains relevant. It is in this context that Sri Lanka has been closely associated with the work of the G77, and is currently the Chair of the Group's Vienna Chapter.
Drawing attention to the issue of Climate Change, he said that human activity had pushed global climate to a near tipping point and if continued with business as usual attitude, the future generations will be condemned to an uncertain existence. The prospect of climate related refugee flows is also of serious concern, he said, adding that Climate Change must be dealt holistically, in a practical manner in keeping with the principle of common, but differentiated responsibility.
Representing an Indian Ocean island nation, President Rajapaksa said the oceans are of immense importance to Sri Lanka and many other countries, particularly small island states, as the oceans produce three trillion dollars worth of goods and services annually. He noted that although many in the developing world are dependent on the oceans for their livelihood and nutrition, the oceans and their resources remain under threat due to over-exploitation and pollution.
He stressed on the need for the G77 + China to take the lead in ensuring that the oceans are adequately protected, and sustainably used. Speaking of the progress made by developing countries, President Rajapaksa said: "Today, we live in a world where many developing countries are no longer dependent on ODA hand-outs from a few developed countries. Some of our members have achieved development comparable to countries in the North. Others have improved their economies to become major players in the world. We can boast that almost 40 per cent of the world's industrial output comes from just two of our members, India and China. Millions in the developing world have been saved from poverty by the economic surge achieved by some members of our Group."
Speaking on the Sri Lankan situation and its relevance to the developing world, he said that: "Despite the burden of 27 years of terrorism, my country has succeeded in leaving behind the indignity of poverty. Sri Lanka has attained middle-income status. We have also achieved an impressive literacy rate, thanks to free education, effective free of charge health care system, and a low unemployment rate. We have constructed a new network of highways and railways, harbours, airports and other infrastructure facilities. Sri Lanka will utilize these new facilities to attain the government's goal to become an aviation, shipping, knowledge and financial hub.
Sri Lankan strategy
Commenting on the success of Sri Lankan strategy in the context of the developing world, President Rajapaksa told the G77 +China leaders that: "The eradication of poverty and hunger must remain high on our agenda. Over a billion human beings are victims of poverty. An essential part of our approach must be to provide relevant education and marketable skills to expand employment opportunities. Unemployment in Sri Lanka has come down to around 4.1 per cent as a result of a policy approach entitled, the Mahinda Chinthana. The Sri Lankan model is not the only one for developing countries, but, certainly, there are lessons to be learnt from our success story. This is especially so, with regard to practical modalities for the elimination of terrorism, which has made stable government as well as economic and social progress possible.
"A future knowledge based economy will need to be reliant on ICT. Sri Lanka in this context, has declared the goal of ensuring ICT literacy for over 70 per cent of our population, by the year 2016. Many economies have surged forward dramatically, by embracing ICT. Therefore, we must have in place, clear policies for the utilization of ICT. While development of ICT must remain a firm priority, we must always be alive to the potential for abuse, which puts in danger the well-being of our youth, in particular. This is why a sense of balance is essential in formulating our policies in this field."
In conclusion he spoke of the need for strong bonds among the developing countries, stating that: "Solidarity manifested at the highest levels among the developing countries, will help invigorate the collective efforts of the South to put economic and development concerns of the Group, on top of the global agenda. This is important to ensure that key issues of concern for developing countries receive due recognition in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. By availing of South-South Cooperation towards this end, 'a new world order for living well', which is the theme of our deliberations today, could be achieved.
"A re-vitalized G77 will no doubt provide the necessary fillip to reach our common goal of a more equitable and just international order."
Among others who made key presentations calling for a new world order for living well, were the President Evo Morales, of the host country, Bolivia, President Raul Castro of Cuba, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. China that has increased associations of growing importance with the G77countries was represented by Chen Zhu, a vice-chairman of the National People's Congress.
The Bolivian Government awarded President Rajapaksa the "Parliamentary Order to the Democratic Merit - Deputy Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz" for his commitment to the advancement of peace and democracy. It is the highest honour of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, which is named after a great son of that country, and it is the first occasion it has been awarded to a foreign Head of State. President Rajapaksa in receiving the honour said it was "undoubtedly and honour to my country and me personally".
It is noteworthy that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development -UNCTAD - also marks its 50th anniversary this year. As part of this anniversary celebrations, the Group of 77 and China, which was formed as a negotiating bloc during UNCTAD 1, held a special anniversary event, which included the launch of the Gamani Corea Forum, named in honour of the distinguished Sri Lankan economist, diplomat and Secretary General of UNCTAD from 1974 to 1984, who passed away last year aged 87.